Mike Keen, W.F. West fastpitch coach, could have gone in a number of directions when he was asked who has been the Bearcats’ most valuable player so far this season.
The defending Class 2A state champions are once again stacked with talent and feature depth that would make the Grand Canyon envious.
His pick was senior Jessica McKay.
“She’s been remarkable for us,” Keen said. “She is such a positive person. The truth is after what happened, she doesn’t really have to be out here, but she is. That shows you just how much character she has.”
McKay, a three-time all-2A Evergreen Conference recipient at shortstop, played a huge role in helping the Bearcats win the 2015 state championship. She batted .532 as a junior and .583 as a sophomore while adding a combined 106 hits, 10 home runs and 67 RBI over the last two seasons.
Her play was impressive enough to draw the attention of several DI programs, including Boise State, the school to which she eventually committed.
With the graduation of Ali Graham, W.F. West’s three-time EvCo MVP, McKay was poised to step into the role of conference’s best during her senior season.
A major knee injury on the basketball court in late December changed all that.
The Bearcats, who had played for the state basketball championship in each of the past three seasons, opened the year 7-0 with McKay leading the team in scoring.
“I was going up for my own rebound and when I came back down someone took me out from behind,” said McKay about the incident during a non-league game with Burlington-Edison. “My knee just snapped. It was just a freak accident.”
The end result was a torn ACL and meniscus, and partially torn MCL, which placed the three-sport athlete on the sidelines for the first time in her life.
Without McKay in the lineup, the Bearcats, who had made five consecutive trips to the state basketball tournament and won the 2014 state title, saw their season end with a loss at the district tournament.
“I talked to her when I found out what happened,” Keen said. “I told her she was going to get through it and we were going to miss the heck out of her. I told her she didn’t have to come to practices and she said, ‘No way. I’m there.’ She’s a team-first player. She’s always been that way.”
There was never a time when she sulked about the injury which briefly took away the sport she loved. McKay simply viewed it as a role change. Gone from the lineup was her consistently dangerous bat and stellar defense. What remained was her leadership and positivity.
“I love hanging out with the girls and just being a part of the team. I never want to be away from it,” McKay said. “This program has never been about a single player. It’s an entire team. Everyone just loves being around each other and playing together. That’s kind of our thing here (at W.F. West). That’s how it’s always been for me. The team is like my family. It’s more than just a single individual.”
There are athletes who are so gifted they don’t need the ball in their hands to help their team win. McKay took that to another lever as she didn’t even need to be on the field.
“She’s our anchor. We have a bunch of young kids who get all excited and she’s the one who is the professional. She’s helping out every day at practice,” Keen said. “Someone makes an error, she’s the first one to pat them on the back and say next time. She’s never stopped being the leader of this team.”
Keen and the Bearcats got a recent first-hand look at just how big the impact she has on the team is during W.F. West’s 6-5 extra inning EvCo showdown with rival Tumwater.
“We were down five-nothing and I talked to them, and then she walks in there and takes charge. She got them going,” Keen said. “When I talk to them it’s like, ‘Yeah right, coach.’ When she talks to them, they listen because she’s been there. She’s been through the wars and she knows. They respect her.”
McKay will receive her medical release in July. By that time she will already be in Boise where she will finish up her physical training before beginning her collegiate fastpitch career with the Broncos.
“I can’t wait for the day to come. I love to be here for the girls and just support them, but I can’t wait to get back out there,” McKay said. “It’s been tough not playing. Sometimes I try to get out there (in practice) and do some little things, but coach gets on me. I’m really excited to get back.”
The Bearcats are looking to capture their third state crown over the last five years and join Montesano (2000-01) as they only teams to win back-to-back 2A titles this season.
It is interesting to think how much more dominant a team that is undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the state and riding a 25-game winning streak would be with McKay in the lineup.
“I think about that all the time,” McKay said about how her senior season would have gone had she been able to play, “but this (injury) will just make me a better person. I will be better off in the long run after I overcome this.”
Spoken like a true MVP.