Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer
After her first two seasons, forward Lonica McKinney began her junior year with a bang by scoring five goals in two games.
“Usually I struggle a bit with getting the ball in the back of the net so to start off like that, I was really excited for the season,” McKinney said. “Hoping to continue that scoring streak once I get back out there.”
VCU won 7-1 at Villanova on Sept. 5 in what was McKinney’s most efficient game yet as a Ram. She managed to score four goals off of five shots, earning the Ram her first collegiate hat-trick. McKinney scored one goal during the Rams’ game against American on Aug. 27.
Recently, McKinney has missed four straight games this season due to an injury. Head coach Stacey Bean said that the junior forward will likely miss at least one of this coming weekend’s two home games.
McKinney’s offensive production has grown during her time as a Ram. She ended her freshman year with one goal on 11 shot attempts, earning her a 9% conversion rate. In a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened sophomore season, McKinney improved to a 14.3% conversion rate after scoring two goals on 14 shot attempts.
Although the sample size is small, McKinney’s latest conversion rate has skyrocketed to 62.5% after scoring on five of eight shots through her first two games of this season, according to VCU Athletics.
“She’s always been a very positive and hardworking player, that hasn’t changed,” senior back Janne Wetzel said. “I think she gained more confidence over the year in herself.”
McKinney had never played field hockey before moving from the Canadian Prairies to British Columbia in grade seven. She participated in a variety of other sports including baseball, ice hockey and soccer.
McKinney said that the coaches she has played for in her various sports would all describe her as aggressive, tenacious and fast. McKinney said she lacked skill and relied heavily on athleticism and determination in field hockey before playing for VCU.
“Her speed and athleticism obviously got her on the field,” Bean said. “As she got more and more comfortable being a student of the game that was reflected obviously in her play last year.”
During her first two seasons at VCU, McKinney has had plenty of in-game and practice time to develop her skills. This offseason, McKinney trained with the Canadian Junior National Team as a reserve for the Junior Pan American Games team.
“I really wanted to come into this season having fresh skills,” McKinney said. “We focused quite a bit on finishing — I was really excited to work on that a lot and bring it back to VCU.”
Despite not scoring on a game-to-game basis her first two seasons, Bean said that McKinney has been a large contributor to the team’s success without always finding her way onto the score sheet.
As an aggressor in front of goal McKinney has contributed heavily to the Rams’ 199-124 penalty corner advantage over the last three seasons.
“We’ve had quite a bit of success on our short corners and scoring with those,” McKinney said. “I’m so happy being able to get a short corner and then having them put it in the back of the net.”
Whether the scoring streak continues or not, McKinney hopes to continue contributing to the team wins once she returns from her injury.
“If I’m not scoring when I get back I’m going to be a little upset,” McKinney said, “but as long as our team is winning I really don’t care too much about whether it’s my name on the stats.”
Field hockey will be back in action on Friday when they start conference play against Saint Joseph’s at 3 p.m. at Cary Street Field.