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BEREA – Makenzie Stoner knew something had to give.
Now, though, the Anderson County native is taking, as in taking it all in as her competitive basketball career is winding down at Berea College.
Stoner, the backup point guard for the Lady Mountaineers' basketball team, has traveled a different path through her college career – think give up her passion for a year, then return – but she is glad she did.
It all came about when Stoner, who graduated from Anderson County High School in 2009, found herself in a quandary during her junior season. A nursing major, Stoner was involved with her clinical training on Tuesday nights and Saturdays.
They are often game days.
That is just a bit of a problem when the nursing major is also the team's backup point guard.
“Nursing, from the basketball standpoint, is not the ideal major,” Stoner smiled moments after playing extensively in her team's 90-37 win over St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
Stoner knows first hand.
“I was going to see how it would work out,” she recalls. “It didn't work out as well as I had planned, obviously. We got about six games into the season and I was struggling to get everything done and go on road trips and do things like that.”
Stoner had a rigorous class schedule. She was working a job on campus, which Berea requires of all students. She was driving to Lexington or Somerset for her clinicals.
And she could barely hold her eyes open in class.
“I went to the coaches about taking last year off with the intention of coming back,” she says.
Those that are able to do so in college are rare. Many might have the intent, but few carry them through. But Stoner has proved to be up to the task, but it wasn't easy. “Taking the year off, I didn't enjoy that,” she smiles.
But Berea is in a different world when it comes to the emphasis on collegiate athletics. Browsing the home page of the school website, a visitor has to look for the link to athletics. Classwork is at the top. Court work is well down the totem pole.
“When Makenzie told me about leaving the team because of academics, I could do nothing but respect her decision,” Berea coach Terrence Brooks recalls. “As a coach, we want to have kids in practice everyday, never miss a game, and win each night. But, these kids are here to get the best education available to them, so I told her that I respected her decision and that if she wanted to come back out her senior year that I would allow it.”
And Stoner has thrived in her final go-round on the court.
“Makenzie is our back up point guard. We can always can depend on her to play tough, hard-nosed defense,” Brooks said. “We look to Makenzie for leadership while she is on the floor, especially to the younger players.”
When she entered the game at the 14-minute mark on Jan. 19, she immediately began directing traffic offensively and pressured the St. Louis guards defensively. It was a game in which Berea forced 35 turnovers.
“It's kind of hard to play in a game like this,” she said, “but it was a (Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic) Conference win, so that was good.”
Which is what Stoner says Berea has been for her.
At Anderson County, Stoner was backup point guard for three seasons, but moved into the starting lineup as a senior, when the Lady Bearcats won the 30th District championship for the first time in 31 years. Ironically, one of her best outings that year came against Paris in the Kentucky Bank Shootout at Bourbon County.
The Paris coach? Terrence Brooks.
Stoner scored only six points that night but played a flawless floor game against the Greyhounds' relentless pressure as Anderson prevailed 39-37.
About that same time, another former Anderson player, Summer Smith Simmons, then an assistant coach at Berea, approached Stoner about playing basketball at the school
Stoner admits she was not familiar with the school but did her research. She talked to several people, including Anderson boys' basketball coach Glen Drury, a Berea grad, Lady Bearcat coach Tony Kays, and long time Lady Bearcat assistant Wayne King.
She found it was not for everyone, but it has been the perfect place for her.
“You are here to get an education first and foremost,” she says. “Berea has changed me. I struggled here at first because it is a completely different world. It has made me a better person. … Through basketball and academics, I am prepared to go out into the world and pursue my career.”
And there are no allowances made because someone has basketball practice.
“They require us to do our academics as well as our labor program,” says Stoner, who works 10-12 hours a week in the college post office. “It is a challenge daily to go to class, to go to work and come to practice.”
But Stoner would not change a thing. She will start applying for jobs soon, hoping to land a nursing job in Lexington or Louisville. “I don't have a clue where I will end up,” she smiles. “Obviously, coming out, I will take about anything.”
It is apparent Stoner is proud of what she has accomplished, but also a sense of resignation that sometime in March, she will walk off the basketball court as a competitive player for the final time.
She would love to stay around the game, but says, “As a new nurse, you probably get on the night shift, so it will be difficult.”
Just as leaving Berea will be.
“It is almost unreal,” she says. “It seems like I had just gotten my foot in the door and now I am going out the door. It is almost unreal to think four years ago, I was playing my first college game.
“It is kind of bittersweet.”
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