MCGILL: @HerdWBB Senior Day Celebration Highlights Local Products
The Word on the Herd -- Feb. 24, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - About six months after his hiring was announced in May 2012, Marshall University women's basketball coach Matt Daniel introduced a quintet of signees - his first in charge of the Herd.
In that release, he noted that Princeton native McKenzie Akers wanted to rush her letter-of-intent in so she could be the first official signee. Huntington native Kiana Evans was not far behind. And just like that, the pair of West Virginia natives became the cornerstone of Daniel's rebuilding efforts here. He wanted to shop local for recruits, and he found two of the first in Akers and Evans.
This Saturday at 1 p.m., when Marshall (12-14, 4-11 Conference USA) hosts Charlotte (17-9, 9-6 C-USA) in the Herd's regular season home finale, Akers and Evans will be honored for their contributions to the MU program. Akers is a junior athletically but a senior academically, so the 5-foot-6 guard will forgo her final year of eligibility to enter nursing school. Evans, a 6-0 senior, has exhausted her eligibility. They enter the game 61-61 in four seasons, with an appearance in the WBI and WNIT - the second and third postseason appearances in program history.
"They were the foundation and have been with us ever since," Daniel said. "It's who we hoped we'd be and it's who we've been come. They established a culture here that's going to be local. They made Marshall women's basketball relevant and made it something you want to pull for. You want to help them win, not just hope they win."
Evans has evolved from a seldom-used bench player to pivotal piece of the team. She played in 35 games with two starts during her first two years with the program, but has played in 58 games (52 starts) the past two seasons. She made 12 of 54 shots (22.2 percent) and averaged 1.3 points per game as a freshman and sophomore. Since then, she is 192 for 478 from the field (40.2 percent) with 615 points - an average of 10.6 points per game.
"I think she's grown a lot in the last four years," Daniel said. "Her first two years she didn't really play. The last two years she's blossomed. Academically, she's really strong. She's a tough matchup in our league. We've shifted her to the `4' spot. She has the ability to play multiple positions on the floor and I think she's seen them all. She'll be sorely missed."
Evans said the perception used to be that the doors weren't always open to local talent. The two-time all-state selection at Huntington High School decided staying home was the best move after Daniel's hire.
"It went so fast," Evans said of her collegiate career. "Who knew it would fly by like that? I'm happy I could make it through four years without any crazy injuries and be completely healthy. I'm happy I could represent the Herd and I'm glad I was able to help open the door for other locals.
"I'm definitely happy I stayed home."
Akers was a first team all-state captain at Princeton High School, where she exited as the all-time leading scorer. She tore her the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee in a non-contact drill prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, so she had an injury redshirt built into her academic career. In addition to the knee injury - she still sports a bulky knee brace during competition - Akers has broken her nose twice at Marshall.
"I feel a little bit old," she said. "I have a lot of miles on me. I only know one way to play and that's hard, so injuries are a part of it."
Akers enters Saturday's game with 128 career 3-pointers, which ranks No. 4 in program history. She is only 18 3-pointers away from tying the program record, which is held by Sikeetha Shepard-Hall (146, 2002-06). But Akers will forgo that pursuit.
"McKenzie is going to be somewhere on the all-time list of 3-point shots made," Daniel said. "She was part of the first recruiting class we had. She's hard-nosed and she's been on the wrong end of injuries, but she has always been optimistic about whatever is going on."
Akers has scored 476 career points in 86 games (32 starts), an average of 5.5 points per game. She has made 157 career field goals, 128 of which have come from beyond the arc. Her family will be there Saturday to support her wearing special T-shirts.
"My mom got these neon green shirts made and it has `Princeton Pistol' on the front," she said. "My whole support system will have the shirts on."
Akers said she never gave much thought in pursuing the all-time 3-point record.
"I'm just thankful to even make one 3-pointer," she said. "I didn't know I could come close. For me to be up there with other people is an honor."
Marshall will also recognize Huntington native and Spring Valley High School product Madison Morris, who missed this season with an ACL injury. The sophomore has endured a pair of knee injuries and is going to focus on academics. She scored 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 19 games her freshman season.
"Madi is part of the recruiting class that was ranked No. 52 in the country," Daniel said. "She's a wonderful, personable, hard-nosed kid who has been on the unfortunate end of injuries."