A series of firsts have flung the University of Akron women’s basketball team to the forefront of the Mid-American Conference.
Zips coach Jodi Kest’s team set a team record with 21 victories. They won the East Division for the first time since joining the MAC in 1992.
Topping it off, they recorded a 12-4 conference record, and star forward Rachel Tecca won the MAC player of the year award. Kest is quick to deflect any credit for what happened to her team this year.
“Everybody that’s playing right now and also the coaches that came before me when I was here, my assistant coaches, they’re part of this too because they helped bring in a lot of the players, so it’s team effort,” Kest said after a recent practice.
Comprised of a core including Tecca, point guard Kacie Cassell, forward Sina King and guard Hanna Luburgh along with guard Taylor Ruper and forward Carly Young, the Zips expected to be successful this season.
Although they lost Tecca last year, Kest took something from that misfortune. The proof is in the way King, Cassell and Luburgh developed while Tecca was gone. It would seem that success has exorcised the ghost of Tecca’s loss from last season.
“With all we’ve accomplished, we’ve put it behind us. At least I have,” Tecca said. “The team really got better last year when I got injured. They really developed in their own ways.”
“It’s over with. We have to move on,” she said. “I’m always trying to look at the positives of anything. When you look at the two positives of that, you get Rachel back for another year — that’s a huge positive — and I think a lot of players had to step up their game last year and they got a lot of positive experience which is helping us today.”
When they say it’s over, they mean last season. They don’t presume to be finished just yet. In fact, their season has been about that one word — finish. It’s their mantra. Their goal.
To do so, however, winning the MAC Tournament is necessary.
That begins with a 2:30 p.m. game today at Quicken Loans Arena against Buffalo. The Zips swept the Bulls in two East Division games this season.
The Bulls possess at least one similarity when compared with the Zips: the ability to push the ball. The Zips offense, which led the MAC, often resembled a track meet.
“We’re a high-octane team. We like to push the ball when we can,” point guard Kacie Cassell said. “It’s just more up and down and more of a track meet. But I think we’re in shape. We can handle it.”
Bulls freshman guard Mackenzie Loesing scored 24 points in the second round against Miami. Tecca said the Zips have to be on their game against the Bulls.
“Buffalo, you have to get back on defense for their fast break, they like to kick it for the 3-pointers a lot,” Tecca said.
Tecca, the Zips’ leader, received the league’s award for best player earlier this week. She is just 14 months removed from injuring her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. Tecca, a former standout at Archbishop Hoban High School, led the team and the conference with 19.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
“I was very surprised. I definitely went up against some good competition,” she said. “I was really shocked that I got it and I’m very honored.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.