Her muscles were sore. An ice pack was taped to her right calf following a recent practice. The skills that made her an all-state soccer player seven years ago have not yet totally returned.
But after serving in America’s team the past four years, McKenzie Redberg is thrilled to be playing for Beaver Nation.
The former Corvallis High School standout, now just two months shy of her 25th birthday, is playing for the Oregon State women’s soccer team, fulfilling a dream that was deferred, but not denied, by a four-year tour as a medic in the United States Air Force.
“I used to be a ball girl at games growing up, watching Jodie Taylor, [fellow CHS grad] Ashley Wood” and other Beaver notables from days of yore, the junior forward said recently, recalling her younger days in an interview following a morning practice.
“I have always wanted to play soccer at Oregon State.”
“I have always wanted to play soccer at Oregon State.”
Time hasn’t stood still since she last patrolled the sidelines at Lorenz Field. Taylor is now a World Cup star with England’s national team, and Corvallis and the university have grown considerably in the interim.
“It’s been four years since I’ve really been home, except for maybe a week or two [on leave],” McKenzie said. “Corvallis and Oregon State have changed a lot since I left.
“But I’m very excited to be home and playing again.”
The undefeated Beavers (4-0-2) returned to action on Sept. 17, when they traveled to Provo, Utah, for a showdown against No. 8 BYU.
A junior eligibility-wise, McKenzie has one shot on goal in two appearances this season. After not playing in the first four games, she logged 22 minutes in a 2-1 overtime victory at Kansas on Sept. 6 and 13 minutes in a 1-1 draw at Texas on Sept. 10.
She’s discovered that Pacific-12 Conference soccer is far superior to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Hawks, the men’s rec-level club team she played for the past three years.
“I’m very rusty,” she conceded. “The league I played in was made up of older guys, so it’s completely different playing against guys who were 33 or 34 years old to playing against women who have played in college, high school and club.
“I’m definitely rusty and sore from daily doubles, because I haven’t used some of these muscles in four or five years. But I definitely wouldn’t change it.
“I find myself being quieter because I don’t know what to say a lot of the time, but the team has been welcoming. I feel very much at home with everybody,” even though she is at least three years older than her teammates.
OSU coach Linus Rhode said he can’t recall if OSU recruited McKenzie out of high school. But he clearly was impressed when McKenzie shone at an OSU prospect camp.
“She had a great day, and she’s super athletic,” Linus said. “We talked to her, she told us her story that she’s from Corvallis, had been in the Air Force and wanted to play again.
“I still wanted to have that team aspect in my life, but I wanted to take it to another level.”
“She’s been a great addition to the team. I really admire her for what she’s doing. She does a great job.”
McKenzie played at CHS from 2005-08 and was a four-time Mid-Willamette Conference all-star. She was second-team 5A all-state as a junior, first-team all-state as a senior, and also competed for the FC Willamette Pride club team and for the Oregon ODP 90s.
A torn hamstring sustained at the 2009 state track meet temporarily ended her soccer career, however. So she enrolled at Western Oregon and ran track in 2010 before changing gears and enlisting for a four-year hitch in the Air Force.
“I realized there was more to my life that I wanted to do,” she said, explaining her decision. “I still wanted to have that team aspect in my life, but I wanted to take it to another level.”
She went through basic training in San Antonio, then began the vagabond life typical for men or women in the military.
McKenzie did her medical training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, then was stationed at Eglin AFB in Destin, Fla., before being shipped to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, her final assignment.
“I wanted to go overseas also, but they never sent me,” she said.
She said the Air Force instilled the discipline and drive to succeed she may not have discovered had she followed a more-traditional path straight out of high school.
“The Air Force is a team where, at the end of the day, [other people’s] lives are in your hands. And that’s the best team you can be a part of,” she said. “Especially as a medic.
“You deal with all branches of the military. These guys go out there every day and do things that ‘normal’ people can’t do. To have the opportunity to work on those people, and to get them better so they can go back out there and fight the fight,” was extremely rewarding.
She also worked in off-base hospitals, treating servicemen and servicewomen from the Vietnam- and Korean-war eras, and their dependents. She was promoted to an instructor in the later part of her tour, and also supervised several hundred students who rotated through Wright-Patterson during their medical training.
“I’d like to become a physical therapist,” she said.
She will be reunited with her fiancé, Gabriel Nix, when he completes his military service in September. They met at Wright-Patterson; a fellow medic, Gabriel will attend Linn-Benton Community College for a year before transferring to OSU.
In the meantime, McKenzie’s thrilled to be playing again on an all-women’s team.
“I thought I’d probably never get to play soccer again,” she said. “Everyone is really positive and there’s a high level of energy.”
This story was originally posted at OSUBeavers.com.