Staff Writer: Faith Haren
“Excitement, joy, winning in general… all that work you put in is paying off with your best friends next to you.”
That’s how it feels when you play well, according to McKenna Grace DeLong. The senior Finance major from Reading, Pa. stands 5-3’ and sports a leopard-print scrunchy on one wrist, smartwatch on the other. Her signature ponytail frames a freckled face; golden-brown strands loosely swept back.
Saturday night, she set Pride Park ablaze with a goal in the opening minute leading Wingate’s women’s soccer team to a 3-0 victory against Newberry College. In the spring, she’ll start her new role at one of the nation’s largest certified public accounting firms, Cherry Bekaert.
How did she get where she is today? It all started with family.
DeLong’s soccer career officially began at age eight, when her parents noticed their daughter’s potential after enrolling her in a local league.
“Her mother and I saw that she needed to be in a program that could develop her skills,” said her father, Bruce DeLong.
Soon after, DeLong joined the Philadelphia Union Junior Academy; only 30 out of 200 applicants were selected. There she received high-level coaching and a positive recommendation from a sports psychologist.
“McKenna scored really high [on the grit test]- not just in athletic ability- but also mental prowess,” said her father. “She treats academics the same way she treats soccer. A lot of nights, she’d do homework to and from practice. She’d fall asleep doin’ homework, but always with a smile on her face.”
From 12 to 16 years old, she played at Lehigh Valley United (LVU), advancing to FC Pennsylvania Strikers at 17; continually supported by her father who drove to games two to three hours away several times a week.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am without him.” said DeLong, “For him to sacrifice his time- all that back and forth- it’s very special”.
Freshman year, she was recruited to Wingate University where she made 14 starts and 16 appearances during her first season as a forward. However, her relentless drive was also her worst shortcoming. “I put that pressure [to score goals every game] on myself,” said DeLong, “It’s in the back of my mind: I have to score”.
Her father saw it coming: “She’s too tough on herself, she expects perfection.”
Yet the flame could not be extinguished. DeLong diligently improved her workout routine, running three miles a day to increase her speed and endurance.
“A lot of the work you put in has to be during the offseason because in season, it’s game time,” she said.
Sophomore year, DeLong started all 22 games and earned first team All-South Atlantic Conference honors as a midfielder. “She is vital to our offense because she never stops working off the ball, and on the ball. She is strong and creative, which helps create all of the chances that we get every game,” said teammate Haley Faucette.
Junior year, DeLong was named an Academic All-District III honoree; her 78.9% shot on goal percentage ranked the best in the SAC.
“I could tell that she took soccer very seriously because she was always super meticulous about her preparation,” said her partner, Roy Stepanov. “Also, I could see that she is a very passionate player on the field and works extremely hard.”
2021 is DeLong’s final year playing for the Bulldogs.
“I think that this year she will win the SAC conference championship with her team,” said Stepanov. “I’m also looking forward to seeing her graduating from Wingate with high honors!”
“My favorite memories of McKenna have come from watching her dance around the locker room before every game,” said Faucette. “She brings a contagious positivity every day and a calm kindness that makes her so easy to be around and to love.”