With her fans sporting a sign in the background, FGCU senior Mackenzie Allen prepares to serve during her Saturday afternoon match against Jacksonville at Estero Community Park. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Described by coach Matt Botsford as a game-changer for his FGCU beach volleyball program, it would have been a bummer for the Eagles to see senior Mackenzie Allen lose both of her final home appearances Saturday at Estero Community Park.
No worries, though. After losing a morning match, the Mack that Gulf Coast High School and Florida Gulf Coast University fans have been watching these last eight years was indeed back.
With their FGCU teammates lined up in full support mode, Allen and junior playing partner Amanda Carroll dispatched of their Jacksonville counterparts to close out a 5-0 afternoon sweep of the Dolphins. The Eagles also beat North Florida in the morning matchup (overcoming Allen and Carroll’s defeat), and enter next week’s Atlantic Sun tournament in DeLand having won four out of their last five matches.
Finding some shade behind the court on a dry but hot Saturday afternoon, Allen allowed herself to reflect on her four years at FGCU.
“It’s just very surreal,” she said, “and I can’t believe it’s over … almost! We still gotta win some rings, you know.”
As to that, Allen was asked what the team’s mindset was heading into the ASUN tournament, which will be hosted by a Stetson University squad that has dominated conference play the last couple of years and is ranked 17th in the county in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association poll (the Eagles were among the teams receiving votes).
“We believe that we can do it. That’s for sure,” said Allen, who nearly led Gulf Coast High to a state title in 2013, finishing runner-up instead. “I think we put ourselves in a great place. It should be really good going into the weekend.”
Allen and Carroll — who was the ASUN’s 2017 indoor volleyball Player of the Year — will lead the charge for the Eagles. They’ve been a tandem for much of the last three seasons, posting an overall mark of 30-26, which includes 22 wins as the No. 1 pair. This season, Allen and Carroll are 7-3 against ASUN opponents.
“Amanda has made this experience a great one,” Allen said of her final go-round. “It’s all about who you gel with, and I think our personalities really go well together.”
“Amanda has very limited experience out on the beach,” he said. “It’s a nice complement with Mackenzie’s experience and her skill set coupled with what Amanda does out there — her physicality at the net; (and) Mackenzie’s speed behind it, it really works well.”
Now in his fifth season running FGCU’s seven-year-old beach volleyball program, Botsford has seen the Eagles make great strides. He attributes much of that to Allen, who after playing both indoor and beach volleyball her first two years, decided to focus solely on the beach game after her sophomore season. Allen made the decision because as a hospitality major, she had to work two internships and 500 hours.
Botsford was hired by FGCU in February 2014. (He hadn’t even recruited Allen; that was done by his predecessor, Dave Nichols.) That spring, the Eagles went 2-18 overall and 0-8 in ASUN play. Allen did not play for the beach squad until 2015 (following a freshman indoor campaign that saw her earn ASUN all-freshman honors). Again, the Eagles went winless in the ASUN while going 4-11 overall. However, Allen was a bit of a bright spot during the ASUN tournament, winning two of her three matches with playing partner Caroline Jordan.
The turnaround came in Allen’s sophomore season. She found immediate chemistry with the then-freshman Carroll, and the Eagles’ record improved to 11-8 overall and 3-5 in the ASUN. It got better in 2017 (15-9, 6-4), and this season, the Eagles sit 13-9 overall and 7-3 in the A-Sun.
“When she made the decision to move out here and focus entirely on beach, that was a huge deal for the program to have someone that talented who’s sole purpose was going to be improving at this particular game,” Botsford said of Allen. “It helped change everything. It’s helped us and our trajectory over the last few years. She’s supremely talented, and it’s really been a pleasure to coach her and be involved with her development.”
“I’m glad I chose to stick to one because I think that really helped my level of play for beach volleyball,” said Allen, who calls it a “double workout” playing on the sand everyday while also spending three days a week in the gym.
When her college career ends and after she gets her diploma, you’ll likely be able to find Allen on her hometown beach — playing on the courts just below Naples Pier.
“If anything, I can picture playing for fun for a looong time,” she said. “That’s for sure.”
And with a nod toward FGCU volleyball’s most heralded alum (who played under the last name Youngquist), Allen joked, “But I don’t know if I can be a Brooke Sweat.”
Brooke Sweat, who represented the United States in beach volleyball at the 2016 Summer Olympics, is the sister-in-law of FGCU assistant coach Chris Sweat. Ironically, Chris Sweat was the head coach at Barron Collier High School — the arch-rival of Allen’s Gulf Coast program — in 2013. That was the last time Barron Collier beat Gulf Coast (the teams split two games that season, and Allen’s Sharks have won nine straight). … Allen was asked if she could envision beach volleyball becoming a high school varsity sport. “It’s growing a lot,” she said. “A lot of our incoming freshmen have probably played beach volleyball longer than I have played beach volleyball. I don’t think they’re going to make it a varsity sport anytime soon, but definitely a club.” … Allen was also asked what was her best moment playing beach volleyball for FGCU. She couldn’t remember the opponent (it was either Mercer or Stetson) but said, “Amanda set me a beautiful ball, and I went up and they peeled on me; I slammed it right in front one of the seniors’ faces, and it was great. I’ll never forget that; it was amazing.” … Allen shared FGCU’s Senior Day festivities with Ashley Glickert, who won both her matches Saturday with sophomore playing partner Giovanna Borgiotti.
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