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High school lacrosse: McKinney driven to be the best

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Brad McKinney didn’t pick up a lacrosse stick until he was in eighth grade, but once he did it was full speed ahead for the versatile athlete.

One moment in particular drew him to the sport when he was attending a Syracuse University lacrosse game with current Watertown teammate Eric Soderquist back in the spring of 2010 when both were in middle school.

“I saw Brian Megill lay a kid out along the sidelines right in front of me,” said McKinney, now a senior midfielder for the Cyclones. “From there, I always wanted to play lacrosse and go to Syracuse. I was like ‘I want to play lacrosse and I want to make it to the big stage.’”

Motivated by what he watched at the college level, McKinney went out for lacrosse and played that season for the junior varsity team.

McKinney has never looked back and at the varsity level emerged as one of the premier midfielders in the north country, if not in Section 3.

“And I’ve kept this going and I still want to be on that stage and be the best player I can be,” said McKinney, who is headed for Syracuse to play Division I lacrosse. “Everyone dreams about being at the top of their game and I just try and get better. That’s what drives me.”

While McKinney appreciates a good check in lacrosse, his game is a blend of physical play and generating offense, whether it’s scoring or setting up a teammate’s tally.

“Lacrosse, there’s just nothing like it,” McKinney said. “It’s a combination of different sports, like it has a little basketball and other sports. Once I switched over, I just fell in love with it. You can train on your own as much as you want and you can pretty much make your future yourself.”

Through Saturday, McKinney has totaled 25 points, including a team-leading 19 goals, for Watertown, which is off to a 4-2 start this season, including 3-1 in Frontier League play.

“I really like just how everyone can be different,” said McKinney, who sports his recognizable free-flowing long hair, which is visible even with his lacrosse helmet on. “You can have your own type of game with your own personal thing. You can make the game come to you or you can go at the game in your own way. ... you can play so many different styles, so that makes it fun.”

McKinney has also bulked up during his senior year by hitting the weight room more frequently and currently stands at 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds.

“I’ve put a lot more work in the weight room,” McKinney said. “Before I committed (to Syracuse) I spent more time shooting, playing wall ball and stick drills and stuff like that. Now I’m just trying to get more physically ready for the (college) game, it’s a lot faster, it’s a lot quicker. You have to be stronger to be able to take hits, some I’m trying to get bigger and quicker.”

McKinney has also excelled in two other varsity sports — soccer and swimming, as his two sisters Lauren and Kathryn also starred for Watertown swim teams.

“Nothing comes close to lacrosse,” said McKinney, who is also known for his skillful throw-ins on corner kicks in soccer. “Once I switched over to lacrosse, I still played those other sports during the seasons ... but I try and focus as much as I can on lacrosse.”

McKinney was also encouraged to play lacrosse by current Watertown coach Brian Navarra when Navarra was an assistant coach for the junior varsity squad.

“When I first started out, with my soccer background I was able to run up and down the field and had good stamina from soccer,” McKinney said. “I started out as a middie because it fit me better in terms of my personality and the type of player I am, and I just stayed with it.”

Both player and coach made the jump to the varsity level the next season as McKinney played for the Cyclones as a freshman and Navarra took over the head coaching job.

“He started with me when I was in eighth grade,” McKinney said of Navarra. “And honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him.”

“He was a great baseball player from everything I’ve heard,” Navarra said. “I think he wanted some excitement and in eighth grade he decided to try lacrosse. He was a raw athlete back then, but obviously he’s grown every year as a lacrosse player and as a leader.”

While he competes in other sports, lacrosse is still nearly a year-round venture for McKinney, who has taken part in travel tournaments, such as in the national All-American game in Maryland, as well as Lake Placid and Vail, Colo., culminating with winning a national title while playing with the Sweetlax Lacrosse team in December in Tampa, Fla.

“It’s real good competition that helps us get better as players,” McKinney said.

McKinney has also joined the coaching ranks of sorts as he’s helped out leading Watertown’s youth summer league, and plans to coach even more this summer.

“I try to help out as much as I can,” said McKinney, who enjoys social studies, studying the ancient Greeks and Romans in particular. “Like sometimes I try to help out at modified practice whenever I can before varsity practice. ... Anywhere they need me to help out, whether its just bringing a kid aside and teaching him how to do a dodge or just being the guy there to help out the coaches in a demonstration.”

Watertown teammate and junior Noah Taylor (10 goals-19 assists-29 points) currently paces the Cyclones in scoring with Soderquist (13-14-27) ranked second on the squad.

“I feel like we’re doing well and we’re getting better, but we haven’t hit out potential yet,” McKinney said of the Watertown team. “There’s been flashes of it, but we haven’t put a full game together yet. So I feel we have a lot more to give, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Even during the school year and as well as the summer and fall when varsity lacrosse is out of season, McKinney still finds time to work on his game outside of practice.

“Lots of times when you drive by the turf field, you’ll see Brad shooting at the net and sometimes he’s alone,” Watertown athletic director Mike Lennox said. “And when I drive by the field later on, he’s still out there. That’s Brad and he shows his dedication to the sport.”

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