Mckenzie Hecht had a great four-year run at Princeton High School with championships in all three sports she played.
The funny thing, two of the sports almost never happened.
Burned out on softball playing a heavy travel schedule, Hecht nearly opted for soccer, which she had been playing since the third grade, her freshmen year at PHS.
And she nearly didn’t go out for basketball, which was not her favorite sport, more than once.
She not only went out for and stayed in both sports, she helped both teams put up championship banners on the gym wall over the next four years.
As a senior, she was a top contributor to the Tigresses’ volleyball team winning their first regional championship in 10 years and led the basketball team to a historic season with its first conference championship in school history.
Along the way, she received First-Team Three Rivers All-Conference honors in all three sports.
For all of her continued success and accomplishments this year, Hecht is the 2022 BCR Female Athlete of the Year.
She is the first to repeat since Jasmine Kunkel of PHS in 2011 and 2012 and just the fourth girl to repeat those honors in the 27 years it’s been awarded.
Hecht is pleased she moves on having no regrets of missed opportunities.
“I’m definitely really happy that I decided to stick with softball, especially with our success the first year. The summer before freshman year my travel team played almost every weekend and had multiple practices a week so I was a little burned out and I also missed playing soccer,” Hecht said.
“My dad was very influential in keeping me out for basketball. He reminded me that I could regret it if I didn’t go out. He also worked with me outside of practice so that I would be more confident in games.
“If I had not have played softball and basketball I would’ve deeply regretted it because I made so many great memories and helped those teams to have great success. We got the first regional title in 10 years in volleyball. Then basketball conference champs for the first time. And then we had a pretty tough go the first round for softball, but I think we had a pretty good season.”
Of all of the sports she’s played, Hecht says volleyball is her favorite.
“I have a really big passion for it,” she said. “Just the high intensity of it. You have to always be communicating with your team. It’s such a team sport. You got to have a good connection with everyone. Making those big plays, everybody goes crazy.”
And she’s not ready to give it up, gearing up this summer to play for the Sauk Valley College Skyhawks this fall.
“After we lost in the sectionals, I definitely realized I wanted to keep playing because I wasn’t sure before. I just knew I couldn’t stop after high school,” she said.
The senior striker led the area with 265 kills, playing a key role in the Tigresses’ run to their first regional volleyball title in 10 years. She finished seventh all-time for PHS with 507 career kills.
“We had a lot of expectations for her this year,” PHS volleyball coach Andy Puck said. “She struggled at the beginning of the season, but worked incredibly hard to become the player she ended up. She worked herself into a first team all-conference player and her competitiveness and talent has put her in the top all-time at PHS.”
A big kill in volleyball is what excites Hecht the most in all the sports she plays, but it’s a close call with hitting a home run.
“It’s probably the big spike. The home run’s still cool, because you get to run around the bases. Everybody crowds around you (at the plate),” she said.
Falling in love with basketball
Basketball grew on Hecht, even if she needed a little nudging from her dad, Jason, an old Morris baller, to stick with it along the way.
“I didn’t want her to have any regrets later if she didn’t play,” Jason said.
Hecht, the BCR Player of the Year, was the senior leader on a team full of juniors that secured the TRAC East Conference banner, the first conference championship in program history. Their 19-3 record netted the third most wins for the PHS girls.
No where close to the 5-10 she’s often listed as, not even on a good day, the senior forward played much bigger with her incredible jumping ability. The unanimous all-conference player led the Tigresses in scoring at 11.9 and averaged 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 1.7 assists.
She capped her career by receiving All-State Honorable Mention recognition by the Champaign News Gazette.
First-year PHS coach Darcy Kepner said Hecht was the team leader from Day 1 and always “stayed humble and works 100% and she’s just a great kid to have in your program.”
Big hit in softball
The would-be soccer player was a big hit for the Tigresses’ softball team since the moment she stepped onto the diamond.
She helped the Tigresses’ win their first regional championship in school history as a freshman and many more wins to follow over her final two seasons after missing her sophomore season due to COVID-19.
After starting every game at third base last year, Hecht shifted to anchor the Tigresses’ infield at shortstop this season. A unanimous Three Rivers East All-Conference pick, Hecht put up big numbers at the plate, batting .459 with three homers, 29 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and three triples while scoring 29 runs.
PHS softball coach Joe Bates said Hecht is the complete package every coach loves to have.
“She has the traits the very best ballplayers all share: they have the desire to play at a very high level, they know what it takes to play at that level, and they are willing to do those things,” he said. “It’s these things that make Mckenzie an outstanding softball player. She is an exceptional athlete, but it all begins where it has to, with her perspective. She is a winner on and off the field.
“Her competitive spirit drives her to put in the work in the offseason and in practices, and she then puts it all to work during games. She demonstrates that an athlete can be fiercely competitive and still be a great sport, showing respect for everyone around them. Her support of her teammates is as strong as her will to achieve personally.”
Sauk College bound
Hecht will be playing both volleyball and softball at Sauk. The Sauk basketball coach is also pursuing her to join their team as well.
“I was glad that we could make it work,” Hecht said. “At this point, I don’t know if I could pick a sport to play in college. So it’s nice to be able to do that and see if can do that at the college level.
“I’ve been doing open gyms (for volleyball) on Wednesdays and meeting the new girls. Seems like a good group. I think it’s going to be fun and I’m excited to start it,” Hecht said.
Hecht plans to study business accounting in the transfer program at Sauk.
The Mckenzie Hecht file:
• Two-time BCR Athlete of the Year
• 2021-22 BCR Basketball Player of the Year
• All-State Honorable Mention in basketball
• First Team All-BCR, All-Conference in three sports
• Four-year varsity player in all three sports