Western Harnett's sophomore midfielder takes Daily Record Player of the Week honors after dedicating a two-goal performance to her late brother.
As Western Harnett’s girls soccer team took the home pitch for an important in-county tilt Friday, a pregame tribute echoed from the stadium speakers.
The moment was especially touching for Lady Eagles starter Mikenzie Bradford, whose brother Alex’s unexpected death just weeks prior caused a cloud of grief over the entire Western community.
She had already been sidelined since March 5 due to concussion protocols, a “depressing” period that was compounded by news of her older sibling’s passing on March 30 at UNC Wilmington.
But the sophomore midfielder quickly made up for lost time, scoring her first two goals of the season as the former Western baseball standout still weighed heavy on her heart.
“I felt an adrenaline rush because this night was dedicated to my brother and I was playing for him,” Bradford said after the 4-0 victory over Triton.
“It was very surreal because I thought I was gonna come out and be so, like, not mentally in it.”
Western took the early 1-0 lead via Bradford’s spirited effort, weaving her way through a crowd of white jerseys and firing a low shot from deep at the 38:51 mark.
She put the group ahead comfortably with just under three minutes left in the first half, finding the net again to make it 3-0.
Bradford’s extra offensive punch comes just in time for a Lady Eagles team still clawing for a North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoff spot. The club came into Friday’s matchup looking up to a handful of teams in the NCHSAA 3A East RPI rankings, which decide the top 32 to make each postseason bracket.
With two wins over Triton, marking five victories in the last six outings, first-year Western coach Emma Otten is pleasantly surprised to return a key player to her lineup.
“It was honestly incredible because it was almost as if, when she got out there, she had never left — like she’s been here the entire time,” Otten said.
“And she picked up right where she left off, possibly even a little bit better with her aim.”
The latest RPI rankings released Monday morning have Bradford’s bunch as the final team out of the wild-card race, but she’s hoping to keep providing inspiration as the Lady Eagles wrap up the regular season against E.E. Smith starting Tuesday.
“I’m very excited to play with all my best friends, and just playing for my brother,” she said.
Below is Bradford’s acceptance speech along with her answers to a list of questions from the Daily Record staff.
ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: I’d like to thank my parents and my brother.
FAVORITE SUBJECT: Psychology
FAVORITE APP: Snapchat
FAVORITE PREGAME ROUTINE: Listen to Rod Wave.
FAVORITE TV SHOW To BINGE: “How to Get Away With Murder”