CHEYENNE – Something caught Jeff Norman’s eye the first time he saw McKell Brenchley on the pitch as a freshman in 2017.
The Cheyenne Central coach wasn’t sure what Brenchley would later become, but he knew she could contribute right away. Just how much Brenchley would push herself was the pleasant surprise.
“She was an unexpected starter, and she ended up earning a starting spot,” Norman said.
That season, Norman inserted Brenchley into the left middle back position, partly because that was the position she was used to the most, but also because Central had three returning backs, including Sarah Krysl.
“I was comfortable playing (Brenchley) out there, and she had earned that spot,” Norman recalled.
Brenchley helped the Lady Indians to a third-place finish at the 2017 state tournament. With a year of starting experience under her belt, Brenchley only added to a roster flush with talent as a sophomore last spring.
After losing Krysl to graduation, Norman switched Brenchley to center back early in the season – a vital role that “is the leader of the defense,” he said. Norman quickly realized the added pressure put on the shoulders of Brenchley, so he moved her to the outside of the back line.
“I had Kieli Stults, who was left-footed, and I wanted her on the left side because of her left foot, but she was also older and more experienced and had played on the backline with me the most and was used to my expectations and how we played it,” the coach added.
Brenchley fit right in and made a name for herself, leaning on her work ethic, determination and technique to set herself apart from others.
“She’s probably one of, if not the most technical player on the team. Her footwork is excellent, which is rare to find in a back,” Norman said.
Brenchley helped Central to the Class 4A state championship last winter and an 18-2-0 finish. She also was part of the state’s most dominant back line – a unit that allowed the fewest goals in the state (12).
“Last year, it was very nerve-wracking my first game,” said the Central junior standout, who was voted the top back in the state following last season’s run.
But her success was achieved through her work ethic. The transition from positions wasn’t easy, Brenchley said, and it took time for her to adjust. She had to learn to stay back more to help the defense, rather than join the attack.
As the season wore on, Brenchley became more confident in herself. She trusted her training.
“I became less nervous and more confident in myself,” she said. “I think that’s what really helped all of us win the state championship. I always get nervous for games. … We all felt more confident in each other and trusted each other more.”
For someone who had never played the position, Brenchley became a player Norman relied on. He will continue to do so this season as the Indians set out to defend their state championship.
“It was quite a unique thing,” Norman said. “And now I’m leaning on her as a coach to lead the defense. She’s experienced now, all the way to (last season’s) state championship. If we’re going to repeat, it’s going to be because she’s holding down the anchor back there.”
Brenchley now realizes the role she has taken with the club. Sporting a 4.0 grade point average, she and her teammates are eager to get back on the field when they travel to Casper for a pair
“I feel like I am more of a leader,” she said. “We’ve all agreed that we want to win the state championship already. We’ve all discussed it, and we’re all super excited.”