Sara MacKenzie: Raising the Bar

Posted at 6:58 PM, Feb 28, 2019

Back in January, Cal Poly promoted Sara MacKenzie to Director of Strength and Conditioning. With the hire, MacKenzie became one of just two women among NCAA Division 1 schools with a football program to hold that title. She’s literally, and figuratively, raising the bar for women all across the nation.

“For some reason, there’s not a lot of girls that have taken that step forward and say, ‘I want to work with football and not be ruled out as that and be the director of Olympic sports,’ so if that makes it kind of a trailblazing thing, then awesome, I’ll take it,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie started at Cal Poly as a coaching assistant in 2011 after completing her undergrad at Kentucky and grad school at Arizona State.

She expressed her love for the area and the university,  “I love how they rally around their sports here. It was an instant first love.”

In eight years with the Mustangs, MacKenzie has been interim director twice, the latest coming in September when previous director, Chris Holder resigned. It was yet another opportunity for MacKenzie to prove she belonged.

“It’s not like a male-female thing, but you just never know if you’re going to be the right one for the position,” MacKenzie explained. “It was really nice that I had this interim time to prove that I was the best candidate.”

And she was. MacKenzie earned the nod from Cal Poly athletic director Don Oberhelman, Cal Poly head football coach Tim Walsh, and most importantly, the Cal Poly athletes.

“She just wants you to get better, to better this program, and better her athletes for Cal Poly,” said Jessica Johnson, a junior on the Cal Poly women’s soccer team.

“I know Sara, and if anyone is going to do it, she’s got the right personality to do it,” added J.J. Koski, a junior wide receiver on the Cal Poly football team. “She can take on just about anything. She can deal with different types of personalities. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a guy, she doesn’t care.”

Sara doesn’t just train the female athletes. She trains every athlete, from every sport, during every season.

“You learn something different with every single team,” MacKenzie said. “It kind of makes you a little more well-rounded. It’s fun, it’s a challenge because every day is completely different. It never gets boring.”

‘Boring’ is the last word you’d use describe a Sara MacKenzie weight room, especially when the football team is involved.

“She gives us a lot of energy,” Koski said. “She’s kind of creating a new culture in here which is awesome.”

“At the end of their workouts, there are like 50 guys surrounding one rack cheering somebody on. That is something we haven’t had in the past,” MacKenzie added. “I mean, everybody cheers for each other, but we’ve kind of done a really big change these past few months. It’s really exciting.”

MacKenzie is making great strides for Cal Poly athletics, and she hopes in the near future, that other females can break through as she did.

“Keep proving that you should be there and be consistent with what you’re doing,” MacKenzie encouraged. “There will be a job for you, a place for you to make your name and make yourself known.”

MacKenzie hired Jordan Davis as her assistant. Davis received his bachelor’s degree at Purdue and master’s degree at Eastern Illinois. He has also worked as an intern at Notre Dame, Missouri, and Eastern Washington.