MCGILL: Akers Brings Energy, Shooting Back to Herd Women
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 25, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Make no mistake, fifth-year Marshall women’s basketball coach Matt Daniel is elated to have McKenzie Akers’ 3-point prowess back on the perimeter this season.
But limiting Akers’ value to what can be found on a stat sheet is misguided. When Akers missed last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee – last Oct. 28, one year ago this Friday – the Herd lost her long-range skills. They also lost an on-court leader.
“McKenzie being back has helped that alone,” Daniel said. “Her ability and her level of comfort to say what’s on her mind is a great attribute to the team. We’re pretty young. We were really young last year and I’m not sure we’re not younger, more inexperienced, than last year.”
Even so, Akers found a way to contribute during the unplanned redshirt season. Marshall finished 21-12 and advanced to the WNIT, and Akers lamented not being a part of it. Daniel contests she was a major piece.
“She undervalues what she brought to the team last year,” Daniel said. “She undervalues and can’t appreciate that right now because she can’t see it. She’ll understand. Energy is irreplaceable. People are replaceable, energy isn’t.”
Akers, a 5-foot-6 junior from Princeton, West Virginia, is back. She joined her coach and senior Talequia Hamilton inside the Henderson Center for Media Day on Tuesday afternoon. She joked about being able to tell whether it was going to rain or not by the morning pain in her knee, but said she is otherwise healthy and ready to go.
“Any injury, I think, is hard mentally but especially something as serious as an ACL,” Akers said. “Some people don’t fully recover. Obviously that was a worry in my heart, but at the same time I love basketball so much … I wanted to play.”
The 22-year-old aspiring nurse played in 60 games (16 starts) in her first two seasons, averaging 5.5 points per game. Most of her point production game on 3-pointers: 87 of them, which ranks No. 11 on Marshall’s all-time list. Akers has 24 2-point field goals in two seasons.
And while she sports a bulky knee brace, her marksmanship remains. The energy Daniel referenced and her passion for basketball only grew during her 12-month absence.
“The love of basketball and the love for my team,” Akers said of what motivated her during rehabilitation. “It was a hard year for me; it made me hungrier to play.”
Akers sustained the injury during a practice last preseason. It was a non-contact drill, and she made a move to go get the ball and the injury happened. She went to the hospital, received an MRI and confirmed her fate for that season. She then started to work her way back.
“Everyone is kind of different,” Akers said. “I was cleared around six or seven months.”
She said she still battles soreness in the knee. The quip about the rain, while it elicited laughs at Media Day, is no joke. She has a lot of fluid in the knee and scar tissue can cause her issues.
“It’s something I can handle,” Akers said. “I have a high pain tolerance.”
A player can overlook a lot in pursuit of a passion. Akers wants to stay on the court and contribute to the Herd in what could be her final season of Division I basketball. She graduates in December and wants to head to nursing school once her playing days are finished. She’ll have one year of eligibility after this season, but how the 2016-17 campaign unfolds will determine if she brings her energy and enthusiasm back to the program for one more season.
“You know, I’m going to see how this year goes and I want to say that I’ll play another year,” she said, “but at the same time I’m an all-or-nothing type. I don’t want this to be half-go with my knee.
“This was supposed to be my senior year. It could be my last.”