By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
While not exactly a Cinderella team, Princeton was an improbable contestant at this year’s girls basketball state tournament.
The Tigerettes were small, but they played with heart and gusto — just like their leader, Mackenzie Akers, The Register-Herald’s inaugural girls basketball Player of the Year.
“We had eight seniors and we wanted to do something big before we left,” Akers said. “We wanted to make a bang.”
Princeton did just that, compiling a 19-6 record and upsetting George Washington 71-66 on its own floor to earn a trip to the Class AAA quarterfinals.
Akers made the Tigerettes go, averaging 25.2 points, 5 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 3 steals per game.
Coach Debbie Ball said Akers set goals for herself before the season.
“Mackenzie wanted to go upstate, to be first-team all-state, to pass 1,000 points and to break the school scoring record,” Ball said. “She did that.
But not without help.
“When someone scores all those points, on some teams you would have had a lots of problems,” Ball said. “But Mackenzie’s teammates helped her accomplish a lot of those goals.”
There was no jealousy, just plenty of effort and pride from a team whose tallest starter was 6-foot Rachel Surface. Akers is only 5-6, and second-leading scorer Marissa Mullins stands in at 5-3.
“We were a little team in Princeton playing in a hard conference (MSAC), and a lot of people didn’t expect us to do as well,” Akers said. “We wanted to prove people wrong and get somewhere.”
She had a great role model in her sister Tesla, a former all-stater herself at Princeton and a standout the past four seasons at Ferrum College. Four years older than Mackenzie, she was recently named an honorable mention All-American.
“Tesla has helped me get to where I am. She had big shoes to follow,” Mackenzie said. “She got All-American at Ferrum and that motivates me to be just as good.”
She’ll begin her own college career this fall at Marshall University. She considered several offers before settling on the Thundering Herd.
“I told the coach I wanted to come and I wanted to contribute,” Akers recalled. “He told me how much playing time I get is up to me.”
The Register-Herald sports staff — Cam Huffman (sports editor), Gary Fauber (assistant sports editor), Dan Stillwell (staff writer), J. Daniel Rollins (staff writer) and Rusty Udy (sports clerk) — voted on the award. Fan support was also considered.
Akers won with 24 votes — five more than Westside sophomore center Hope Lester.
Lester, a 6-foot center, averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game for the 25-2 Renegades, who finished runner-up at states to Bridgeport.
Nicholas County’s Shealyn Shafer (20.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.1 steals, 3.2 assists), Greenbrier East’s Bianca André (19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 blocks) and Fayetteville’s Jessica Brown (22.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals) were the other finalists.
Jessica Brown won the fan favorite award, receiving the most support from e-mails and Tweets.
— E-mail: dstillwell