When Autumn McKenzie ’97 was a senior, she led the volleyball team to victory in the NCAA play-in round, clinching a ticket to the Big Dance. It was the first time a Colgate women’s team advanced to the NCAA tournament.

“We celebrated like nobody’s business,” McKenzie remembers. “That moment was huge.”

A neuroscience major, McKenzie became the most decorated volleyball player in Raider history. She won Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and was a First Team All-Patriot League selection in her final three seasons in a Raider uniform. She took home Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year and tournament MVP as a senior. She finished her career by owning several program records, including Colgate’s kills leader with 1,461.

Through hard work and commitment on the court and in the classroom, McKenzie played a large part in setting the foundation for the success of women’s athletics at Colgate. After volleyball’s first tournament bid, the program would make four more appearances on the big stage throughout the years. In the last four seasons, Colgate reached the tournament twice, including last December.

McKenzie says she’s grateful for the women who pushed for change as Colgate adjusted to coeducation in the 1970s. “Women’s sports at the collegiate level [are] necessary,” McKenzie says. “Athletics is one of those things where people treat it as a separate entity. But it’s so important to life. I draw so much from it.”

After graduation, McKenzie earned a master of health sciences from Duke. Today, she’s an emergency medicine physician assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In addition, McKenzie is a public speaker and blogger who encourages people to effect change and pursue life with bold faith. And she’s a mother of four.

McKenzie credits various people for enriching her Colgate experience and helping her to excel. The names include Vicky Chun ’91, MA’94, who coached the volleyball team on its run to the NCAA tournament and is being honored as a Trailblazer of Distinction along with McKenzie.

“She knew how to push me and helped me feel like I was included in important decisions,” McKenzie says of Chun. “I could not have performed at the level I did without her help.”

Off the court, McKenzie’s academic adviser, Jun Yoshino, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, was another important figure in her life. Yoshino was present at McKenzie’s games. He knew volleyball and academics were equally significant to McKenzie, and worked with her in balancing the two.

“He saw it in my eyes and said, ‘OK, we are going to figure out a way to make this happen,’” she says.

Her experience as a student-athlete also led to bonds that exist today. When McKenzie lost her husband to cancer in 2014, her volleyball teammates came to her aid.

“My team folded around me in such a powerful and wonderful way,” she says. “When I say everybody showed up for me, I mean every one of them. They all showed up in some way or form.”

McKenzie has often returned to Hamilton for events and has spent time at volleyball practices, meeting with current student- athletes. “There are so many ways that Colgate continues to add value to my life, so I always look for ways to give back to Colgate,” she says.

McKenzie is one of five women to be honored as Colgate Trailblazers of Distinction. The recognition is part of the University’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX and five decades of women’s athletics at the University.