Sports Person of the Week
Neviaser Was All Heart for the Warriors
Mackenzie Neviaser helped the Valley Regional volleyball team win its first Shoreline Conference title since 1987 this year. The senior captain middle hitter recorded 61 kills with 22 aces, while fostering a family atmosphere among the Warriors. (Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Neviaser )
Mackenzie Neviaser has an indomitable spirit and great love for the sport of volleyball. As a senior captain for the Valley Regional volleyball team, Mackenzie created an inclusive environment among the Warriors that helped spur the club to its first Shoreline Conference title in 32 years this fall. At the end of the season, Mackenzie earned the Heart of the Warrior Award for her mental toughness and competitive edge.
Valley was considered an underdog heading into the Shoreline Conference Tournament. The Warriors were the No. 6 seed and had to go through No. 3 seed Cromwell and No. 2 Coginchaug before taking on top-ranked Hale-Ray in the final.
Mackenzie knew that her team wasn’t the favorite against Hale-Ray, but she still felt confident in Valley’s ability to pull off the win. Valley ultimately rallied for a 3-2 victory versus the Noises to claim the conference crown.
“That win was insane. I’m so proud of all of us,” says Mackenzie. “It was a rough season and our record [10-13] didn’t show how well we worked as a team. So, it was big for us to get that win against a team that we lost to in five sets during the regular season.”
The Warriors were down two sets to one against Hale-Ray and then fell behind 13-5 during the fourth set. Even when things looked bleak, Mackenzie believed in her team, and a key play from fellow senior Mahi Shah helped reinforce that notion.
“There wasn’t a doubt in our mind. There were a lot of games where we were down, and one game we were even down by 13 points. We knew we could do it,” Mackenzie says. “We pushed through, and we never really gave up. One shot, Mahi dove for something, and that was an amazing point. That kept us in that never-give-up mindset. After that fourth set, we realized we could take it.”
Mackenzie played a big part in developing the Warriors’ culture this season. In addition to their tenacity, Mackenzie and fellow senior captain Carlee Kirla wanted their teammates to feel like a family.
“Carlee and I were the communicators on the court. We knew that if we both had a never-give-up mindset, then everyone would follow our lead,” Mackenzie says. “I was always determined to make everyone feel part of the team. I wanted to unify everyone, even the JV players. I always want to be a positive person. If you were down, you can find me on the court being the one to encourage you and make sure you don’t get down on yourself.”
Mackenzie played middle hitter for the Warriors and put some serious mustard on her shots when necessary. On the other hand, she also made sure that she kept her opponents guessing by using a variety of methods to send the ball over the net. Mackenzie finished the year with 61 kills and 22 aces.
“I think for me, my ability to change it up is my best asset. I tell myself not to always go for the big swing,” says Mackenzie, who lives in Essex. “If you can get a push or a two to a spot, that can be effective, too. There are many things that work other than a big hit.”
Head Coach Kathy Scott was impressed with how Mackenzie upped her game during her tenure with the Warriors. Coach Scott says that Mackenzie and her sister Madison helped each other become better players on the court through their commitment during the offseason.
“Mackenzie was a gymnast before she joined us as a sophomore. Last year, she played largely on JV, though her commitment to improving was noticeable. She and her sister played club and beach volleyball in the offseason,” says Scott. “Mackenzie started this season with a great attitude and an outstanding work ethic. We needed an outside or middle hitter and Mackenzie said, ‘I’ll play anywhere you want. I just want to play.’ She turned into a smart player with power and a diverse attack. It was great to see everything come together with her tough serving and play, especially those last two weeks of the season.”
Mackenzie was always bolstered by Coach Scott’s support. That, along with a healthy dose of motivation, helped Mackenzie become a better player.
“Coach Scott is the kind of coach that will always push you. That’s what makes the team so great,” Mackenzie says. “She’s always supportive, but pushing us to be better, and that goes for everything, not just volleyball. She has that comforting side, but she’ll always just tell you how it is, which is really nice.”
Off the court, Mackenzie receives plenty of encouragement from her parents, Ian and Erin. Mackenzie credits them with helping her become the person she is today.
“My dad once told me to, ‘Play like it’s your last game ever, don’t worry, and do your best.’ My mom Erin, she’s always supportive, just like my dad,” says Mackenzie. “At the beginning of this season, I asked if she could be that voice hyping us up on the sidelines. I could always hear her, and that made me relaxed and feel supported.”
Mackenzie enjoys any chance to play volleyball alongside her sister. The Neviaser sisters play a lot of backyard volleyball, and that’s paid major dividends for both of them. Mackenzie’s love for volleyball started when she saw how much her older brother and Valley alum Ian enjoyed the sport.
“I started in 7th grade at [John Winthrop Middle School]. My brother had done it and loved it, so I thought why not? Then I made my parents get a volleyball net in the backyard. My sister fell in love with it, too, and now I play with her,” Mackenzie says. “Madison came up to varsity at the end of last year—I think because I make her practice with me so much. I love playing with her, and it’s always a comfort to see her on the court. We can almost read each other’s minds.”
When Mackenzie isn’t playing volleyball, she enjoys exploring the world of fashion. Mackenzie has completed internships with local designers like Georgia Caroline Milton of RUBA RUBA Designs.
“I love fashion. I do a lot of internships with fashion designers, and I make a lot of my own clothes,” says Mackenzie. “I think it’s because I’ve always loved making anything, really, but clothing, especially. I know that if I make it, no one else is wearing it. So, it’s my own thing. It sort of separates me from the crowd.”
Looking back at her high school volleyball career, Mackenzie feels so proud to know that the 2019 edition of the Warriors will forever be etched in Valley Regional history.
“Two years ago, we were so close, and that was my first year on the team. Winning it now just feels full circle,” Mackenzie says. “It just feels so amazing. I’ll always come back and be able see my name and my number up there.”