Zakirah McGillivary talks about battling injuries, Brooklyn, and the MSU Bulldogs

For fans of the Mississippi State women’s soccer team, there’s been a missing piece to the puzzle during the fall and spring NCAA seasons: Zakirah “Zee” McGillivary. As a freshman in 2018, Zakirah scored eight goals, including five match-winners, and added one assist. She earned a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team and led the conference in shots on goal %.

“I am very proud of myself in my freshman year season,” McGillivary told BGN. “I know I made the All-SEC (Freshman) Team and I was really on top of the world.”

But, her sophomore season didn’t go as well, despite her being on the All-SEC watch list ahead of the 2019 campaign. Zakirah played nearly 400 fewer minutes than in 2018 and only scored one goal (to go with three assists). ” I know a lot of people have a lot of questions about how I had my productivity drop a bunch, my minutes drop a bunch,” she explained.Β  “And there’s just a bunch of questions surrounding like whatever happened to Zakirah McGillivary, native of Brooklyn, New York.”

“What most people don’t understand is that I was playing under an injury ever since my freshman year and that in 2018, when I entered the spring, January of 2019, I uncovered that I had torn my pelvis, AKA a sports hernia. I didn’t find out about that until February of 2020.”

Describing that 2019 season, McGillivary said, “I was playing under a sports hernia my sophomore year season, and it inhibited me from being able to run, shoot the ball with my right foot, which is my predominantly more accurate foot. I wasn’t even able to practice every single day of the week. I was in rehab constantly.”

The injury luck didn’t get any better for Zee. “I found out in August that I was suffering with a stress fracture that knocked me out of the season indefinitely,” she said. “So right now I have kind of just been battling a bunch of injuries and it really does suck, but the only answer I can really give you as to how I’m going to get back to my 2018 self is honestly just getting healthy.

Despite those injuries, McGillivary is still confident in her abilities. She explained, “I know that I still have the potential. I still know how to score goals. I still know how to run. I still know the game. I know the field. I have great soccer IQ, all of that doesn’t just disappear with injury.”

“It’s honestly just being disciplined, going to my rehab, going to my PT, making sure I’m doing all the treatments I could possibly do because ultimately I can’t get back to my stats if my body isn’t allowing me to.”

McGillivary acknowledged how special the teams were in 2018 and 2019 and how much she loves her former teammates that have either graduated or transferred away. For the current team, Zakirah’s noticed from the sideline how much talent and passion is out there. This spring, the Bulldogs won all four of the matches they played. “I’m looking at the numbers that we have right now and I think it’s going to be really fantastic to see how we go forward with the younger players,” McGillivary said. “As we continue to grow and get more generations of younger players coming into Mississippi State, being a bulldog, it’s just been incredible. Seeing how much we have developed, how much we’re going to keep developing, I’m very confident how we’re going to move forward into the 2021.”

If you’re betting against Zee coming back at full force to help this team, you’re most likely not familiar with her journey thus far. She only played one year of high school soccer after cutting ties with East Meadow Soccer Club ahead of her senior season. She explained that she still has love for all of her teammates with East Meadow SC, but her family decided that the lengthy commute from Brooklyn to Long Island would have a negative impact on her daily schedule as a senior, especially since she would be graduating early.

In her lone high school soccer season, Zakirah actually played for the boy’s team at Uncommon Charter High School and was a star. She was named team MVP and finished the season withΒ a team-high 17 goals to go with ten assists.Β “It actually really did help me,” McGillivary said. “You know, playing with boys, it really does make you faster. It makes you stronger. I was really proud of myself for my stats because walking into games, everyone’s saying ‘oh my God, it’s a girl, we’re going to intimidate her’. It’s crazy to see that I was actually the one intimidating them.”

She explained that she took the mindset into college that it’s a level playing field when you’re on the pitch, whether that was against the boys in high school or the physically imposing Arkansas Razorbacks.

Off the pitch, McGillivary enjoys how quiet it is at Mississippi State, especially compared to where she grew up in Brooklyn. “I’m not going to sugar coat it,” Zakirah said. “The area that I’m from specifically is called Canarsie, and it’s not the greatest neighborhood.”

“You know, you have the typical gangs, blood folks, crips folks, and it’s not safe. Whenever I walk around in my neighborhood, you always want to be on the phone with someone just because you’re so scared to walk around. You don’t know when’s your last day walking around in the neighborhood. A lot of drug dealings happening outside on the streets. I won’t lie, the area I come from is not really the safest place and I won’t necessarily bring anyone to that area. But in Mississippi and no, I’m not going to say that crime doesn’t exist everywhere because it does, but I feel way safer walking around in Mississippi. It’s more quiet. It’s more peaceful.”

She added, “I know I can walk down the street, leave my place in Aspen and not feel like I’m going to be in any line of danger. So I think I really like that about Mississippi. It’s calm, it’s great vibes and just a positive environment that I was very attracted to. Opposites really do attract.”

But, Zakirah definitely misses the amount of options for fun that reside in her home state of New York. “I won’t lie, Mississippi is kind of a little bit dull, and there’s not a lot much you can do,” she admitted. “Like, I know there’s a bowling place in Columbus called GT Lanes. It’s a great spot. I know there’s a skate rink here and there’s a movie theater. Sometimes you got to leave, go to a different state, drive a little some, waste some gas, in order to have some fun activities. So I kind of just wish there was more of that”

“In New York, I’m from the city that never sleeps. You go to Manhattan, you go to Time Square, you go have festivals. That’s what I miss the most.”

Not only are there a lot of opportunities to have fun around New York, but the state has also produced countless musical artists. Zee said, “Now, this is interesting. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I don’t listen to music that much. It takes my friends to tell me, ‘Hey, like you heard this new track’, but I would have to say Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, definitely Pop Smoke, 50 cent, and Tupac are like my top five New York artists.”

“They’re rappers. I just feel like they speak a lot of truth. I respect so much of Nicki and Cardi, you know, woman, black, being empowering in that department. A lot of people just kind of take women for granted, don’t think that we’re able to do the things men can do and look at those two amazing artists and all that they have accomplished.”

She said, “My go-to song is “Enjoy Yourself” by Pop Smoke. It doesn’t really correlate to any like life-changing lesson or anything like that. I just liked the idea of just enjoying yourself, enjoying life. You never know when’s your last.”

She explained that during the pandemic she saw a lot of tweets saying that people wished they knew they were in the good times when they were in the good times. “That’s something that you kind of have to think about everyday. Like, times might be bad and unfortunately, we have so many people that are passing away from the pandemic and my condolences out to those families, but you really do got to enjoy what life gives you. Like I was in the good times and now I have to really like be safe and cautious. All I really can do is try to enjoy myself, even though the world isn’t in an ideal spot. But, you know, Rest in Peace to Pop Smoke. I forever love him, but that would be my go-to song.”

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.