Former Tiger standout Kennett: ‘Enjoy the moment’
HAYS – Kacey Kennett, a stalwart on the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team the past four years, is back.
No, she didn’t receive an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA because of COVID-19. Instead, she will be in the film booth and on the sidelines as a student assistant coach for the Tigers while working on her master’s degree in public health administration.
As Kennett looks forward to the start of the season, she wants to impress on the current Tigers the importance of embracing the moment.
“I tell the players, especially the seniors, to stay in the moment,” she said. “because no games are given to you at this point.”
Such was the case already this season, even before it got started. The women’s games with Washburn University and Emporia State University originally scheduled for last week were postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.
“With COVID-19, we don’t know what could change week to week, day to day,” Kennett said.
Kennett found that out the hard way earlier this year. Of all the lessons she learned from playing the game of basketball, the most impactful one might have been the last one of her college career.
Kennett was one of the seniors on the Fort Hays State University women’s team looking forward to one last chance at making the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament last spring.
FHSU finished the season strong and earned a berth in the Central Regional in Warrensburg, Mo., in March.
The players naturally were excited but a little nervous about playing in a near-empty arena. The team had learned while en route to the tournament that attendance would be limited to mostly just family members because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
This would be quite a change for the Tigers, who were used to playing in front of large crowds in Gross Memorial Coliseum and on the road in MIAA arenas. The Tiger women’s team has been ranked second in home attendance in NCAA Division II for the past six years running.
But college athletes are adaptable, and Kennett and her teammates seemed to take it in stride, welcoming a new experience.
Kennett said they chatted about how “weird” it would be in that kind of atmosphere and were joking about it as they checked into their hotel.
Then, barely settled into their hotel rooms, the players received the shocking news that the regional tournament, and all post-season action for NCAA Division II, was canceled because of the outbreak.
Just like that, Kennett’s senior season – and her college basketball career – was over.
Like any athlete, Kennett had experienced disappointments over the years. She knew that with basketball, nothing is certain.
“You’ve always got to be ready for whatever is thrown at you,” she said.
But this was more deflating than any loss.
“Oh, wow, it was so surreal when we found out,” Kennett said. “There was a lot of sadness, crying, all kinds of emotions.”
The Tigers got back on the bus and returned to Hays that same night. They learned more discouraging news on the return trip home. FHSU was moving classes to online learning for the remainder of the spring. A week later, students were asked to leave campus.
Now eight months later, following the most unusual sequence of events in her life, Kennett finds herself back in familiar territory. She graduated in May and decided to return to her alma mater to work on her master’s. As she anticipated the start of the season, Kennett reflected on life lessons learned during the past several months.
“After really thinking about it, even though we were disappointed with the way last season ended, a lot of us realized how grateful we should be to have this kind of opportunity,” she said. “We got to come to school and play basketball while getting our education.”
Kennett hopes she can pass on that knowledge of basketball – and life – to younger players.
“I just enjoy being around the game, whether playing or coaching or being in the stands as a fan,” she said. “With coaching, it’s fun see the flip side of what I’ve been accustomed to as a player. I look forward to bringing what I’ve learned and experienced and hopefully help the current team.”
Kennett has started more games (116) than any other player in FHSU women’s basketball history, and she is one of only 21 who have scored more than 1,000 career points. She moved up to ninth on the list her senior year and finished her career with 1,393 points. A 6-foot guard, Kacey also ranks second on the Tigers’ all-time list for career 3-pointers made (176).
Kennett, a three-time All-MIAA pick and a finalist for the MIAA Winter Student-Athlete-of-the-Year Award this past year, was a standout in the classroom, too. She was a three-time recipient of the MIAA Scholar-Athlete Award, given to individuals with All-MIAA honors and a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher in the same year. She made the MIAA Academic Honor Roll all four years.
Now, Kennett said her goal is to help the current players succeed.
“I’ll be the first one to rebound for them, make up some drills,” she said, “whatever it takes to help them improve their game.”
Most of all, Kennett wants to impress on the players the importance of enjoying the moment.
“I think you have to embrace the opportunity, even if it’s not exactly where you want to be at that moment,” she said. “Your college career moves so fast. You blink, and it’s over.”