With her mother’s blessing and her father’s presence, MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson rode along to Washington State for an unofficial visit during her freshman year of high school, as an appeasement.
The goal, really, was “just to knock WSU off my list,” Frimpong-Ellertson said. Because after all, no daughter of the Washington Huskies’ all-time leading goal scorer was going to be a Coug.
But Tina Frimpong Ellertson had learned one thing from her own recruiting experience, and that was the value of seeing different types of schools: big ones, small ones, rural ones, urban ones. So she figured, why not make MacKenzie’s dad happy – Brad Ellertson, Tina’s husband, went to WSU – and visit Pullman, just once?
When MacKenzie returned, “she literally walk(ed) in the door, (gave) me a look, and I dropped everything,” Tina said.
“Mom, I have really bad news,” MacKenzie remembers saying that day. “Unfortunately, I really, really like it there.”
Five years later, the sophomore MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson is a starting forward for the Cougars (6-3-2), who will close out their regular season Friday against the 24th-ranked Huskies (9-3-2) in Pullman.
And on the Huskies’ sideline will be Tina Frimpong Ellertson, in her first year as an assistant coach for the program she starred at 20 years ago.
“I realize I haven’t talked to her much this week,” Tina said. “I love that girl to the moon and back, but (Friday), I wanna kick her butt.”
For many years Tina and MacKenzie shared a sideline at King’s Way Christian School in Vancouver, Washington, where Tina was the head coach of the soccer team and MacKenzie was a key player.
“Having my mom as my coach made me the exact player I am today,” MacKenzie said. “Being a coach’s kid is something you have to learn. It was hard for me to be selfish. I didn’t wanna be the selfish coach’s kid.”
Tina Frimpong Ellertson was twice the Pac-10 Player of the Year, in 2003 and 2004, and her 43 career goals and 99 career points are still the most at the University of Washington. She was also twice named to the Pac-10 Academic Honor Roll.
She accomplished all that while co-parenting MacKenzie, who was born when Tina was 18. Tina and Brad split their schedules so they could take care of their daughter, Tina said, and their families helped by taking care of MacKenzie during busier stretches, like finals weeks.
Tina earned a degree in 2005 and Brad finished his in 2008. They married in 2006.
“As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate her story more and more,” MacKenzie said. “I don’t know how she did a lot of the things she did.”
After college, Tina embarked on a professional career as well as an international one. She played for Team USA at the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China, where the United States finished third. MacKenzie went along for that trip – as well as many others – and spent time with some of the best soccer players in the world.
“There are so many teammates who have taken the time to help raise MacK, to help build her up,” said Tina, who has another daughter and a son. “Players would take her out (on the field) and work with her. She had such great examples, elite examples.”
Frimpong Ellertson’s professional career lasted until 2013, and after that she coached at the national, high school and club levels before accepting a position at UW in March 2020.
“When I was playing, I always wanted to coach,” she said. “To have your first college job at your alma mater, it’s amazing.”
Todd Shulenberger, WSU’s head coach, said he talks to Tina after just about every game. Throughout the recruiting process and now, he has been impressed by Tina and Brad’s willingness to “let MacK be MacK,” and to walk her own path, he said. That made recruiting MacKenzie easier than Shulenberger anticipated.
As a freshman at WSU, Frimpong-Ellertson played in all 24 games and started 11 times, scoring four goals. One of those goals was a winner against Virginia during their 2019 NCAA Tournament run, when the Cougars reached their first Final Four in program history.
As a sophomore she has not scored a goal, but Frimpong-Ellertson is playing nearly 60 minutes per match, about 20 more than last year.
When he watches Frimpong-Ellertson play or when he studies game film with her, Shulenberger sees the fruit of her experiences growing up, being around professional soccer players for so much of her life.
“Unbelievable experience for any kid,” Shulenberger said. “That’s the key with MacK: She is a studier of the game.
“When she watches a game, you can have a legit conversation about the game. She gets the tactical piece.”
In a normal week, Tina and MacKenzie would talk regularly. But this week, there aren’t any tactical conversations between the two. The Huskies won their first matchup this season, 2-1 on March 19, and each is eager to secure bragging rights at home.
They are different types of players, Tina said, and MacKenzie can do things that she herself cannot on the field.
In a way, too, MacKenzie’s college choice worked out for the best: Rather than following in her mother’s footsteps, Tina said, MacKenzie is making her own path.
“At Wazzu, she’s writing her own story,” Tina said. “I look up to her for that.”