By Ray Hamill — Zoe Macknicki’s career path on the soccer fields has taken some exciting twists and turns along the way, not to mention a lot of traveling.
And that will continue to be the case in the next chapter of that journey after she committed to play for a powerhouse Division-III program almost 3,000 miles away.
On Friday, in front of a gathering of teammates, friends and family, the Arcata senior signed a letter of intent to play for the women’s team at Penn State Berks, a commonwealth campus of Pennsylvania State University.
Macknicki, who played a key role in leading the Tigers to a league title in the fall of 2021 and back-to-back North Coast Section championship games over the past two seasons, is going from one successful program to another.
The Penn State Berks women, also known as the Nittany Lions, contend for the United Eastern Conference championship annually and tied for the regular season title in 2022.
But that wasn’t the only attraction for Macknicki, who knows what she wants to major in.
“I went there on a visit in July last summer and I got to see the field and the facilities, and I liked their campus,” she said. “And they have a really good kinesiology program. It kind of all fit for me.”
Longtime Berks coach Adrian Munteanu believes Macknicki will be a good fit for his program.
“Zoe is a tremendous athlete and she can play a variety of positions on the field,” Munteanu said. “I think her best spot on the field is as an attacking midfielder playing in between the lines.”
Macknicki landed on the Nittany Lions’ radar while competing at the annual Jefferson Cup in Virginia, where Munteanu saw her play before reaching out to her.
That interest won’t have surprised anyone who has watched Macknicki develop as a player here on the North Coast over the past decade.
“Zoe is a very smart and skillful player,” Munteanu added. “She likes to go forward and she will fit in well with our style of play.
“I’m excited to have Zoe as part of our program and I expect that she will contribute immediately.”
She first began playing the sport at the age of 4 and honed her talents for several years while competing with the local travel club AC Samoa.
“We were traveling every weekend,” Macknicki recalled about her time with AC Samoa with a chuckle.
In addition to being the driving force for the Tigers in recent years, Macknicki also has been a part of the Olympic Development Program, making the traveling roster with the Cal North team for the regional tournament early last year.
Many of her Arcata teammates were also on hand on Friday, showcasing their support for their friend, and they made a lasting impression on the senior.
“Honestly (I’ll remember) just everybody,” she said. “(Head coach) Patrick (Stranahan) for sure. He was a great coach and always super motivating. He made me want to push harder. And also my teammates.”
Macknicki also paid tribute to her parents and AC Somoa coach Nick Parker, who spoke to the gathering on Friday, recalling Macknicki’s determination and remarkable skills with the ball.
“I think my parents definitely pushed me to be a better soccer player and were always driving me, and I’m very grateful for that,” Macknicki said, when asked about her biggest influences. “And also Nick Parker.”
Macknicki is a three-sport athlete at Arcata, having also competed in track and cross country as a freshman and track this spring.