FAIRBORN — Playing Division I women’s college basketball can certainly take guts. Wright State’s 5-foot-6 guard Mackenzie Taylor has proven to be a fearless leader for the Raiders time and time again.
During an illustrious career at Richmond High School, Taylor became the team’s third all-time scorer. She also helped lead the Red Devils to a Indiana Class 4A sectional title during her senior season in 2015, a feat the school hadn’t accomplished since 2000.
Taylor’s high school experience still has an affect on her.
“It teaches you how to win and be humble about it,” Taylor said.
Taylor sustained an ACL tear the summer before her junior year of high school. This injury occurred when several schools were in the process of recruiting her.
“A lot of people wanted me to keep it a secret, but I didn’t want to because I felt like if the coach didn’t have faith in me to come back then I didn’t want to play for them,” Taylor said.
It was the response and faith shown by then head coach Mike Bradbury and assistant coach Katrina Merriweather that impressed her.
“A week after they called me and said ‘We just want you to know the offer still stands,’” Taylor said. “At the time Wright State wasn’t really on my radar, but I thought, ‘That really speaks volumes to the type of people and program they have.’”
Shortly after the phone call Taylor visited the campus and fell in love with it, making her decision to attend WSU set in stone.
To say Taylor is a gritty player would be an understatement. She played through a multitude of injuries and recently became aware of what was causing back pain that flared up last season.
The last vertebrae on Taylor’s spine connects to her sacrum bone in the lower back, which is a condition that only affects about 3 percent of the population.
“It can cause a lot of pain up through your back,” Taylor said. “A couple of weeks ago, I got a steroid shot trying to figure out ways for me to deal with the pain.”
Taylor’s toughness is something Merriweather, now WSU’s head coach, has noticed too.
“Teams try to target her because of her size and she has worked extremely hard defensively because of it,” Merriweather said. “She plays with no fear. She fights through injuries and never lets anything stand in her way.”
In the nail-biting moments of basketball games, Taylor took that literally when she was younger because of nerves. Her eventual remedy to this was painting her nails before every game in high school, which she still does.
“That helped me stop chewing my nails and I kept that tradition. It makes you feel a little better when you look down and seem like you have things together,” Taylor said with a laugh.
This season Taylor has become a key role player with her range and leads WSU in made 3-pointers with 34, seven of which came against Cleveland State a few weeks ago. She also has a significant defensive task.
“For our team, her biggest strength is her role in our defensive transition,” Merriweather said. “She is responsible for getting us matched up in transition and stopping easy buckets.”
Having fellow Richmond guard Kim Demmings and Raiders all-time leading scorer along side her last season had a lasting impression on Taylor.
Taylor didn’t know Demmings in high school, but she had only heard stories of off-the-court issues that had led to her suspension at one point.
“For her to be completely opposite, humble and not let that success get to her head would probably be the most memorable moment.” Taylor said.
“At times, my confidence was really down. She (Demmings) picked me back up and said ‘You’ll be fine. Your freshman year is a little difficult. You’ve just got to keep working hard.’”
Taylor says she is comfortable with having a myriad of roles for the Raiders and willing to do whatever they need to win. This burning desire to see the team succeed can be seen in her reaction to a loss.
“Although it wasn’t her fault, she showed up the next day with the determination to not let her team down,” Merriweather said. “It was so brave and it took so much character for her to bounce back the way she did.”
Taylor is currently dual majoring in accounting and finance. She says she will be ready when the ball stops bouncing with her basketball career, but is open the possibility coaching the sport one day.
With the Raiders currently sitting second in the Horizon League standings, Taylor’s sharp shooting and intensity on the defensive end will be much needed. Merriweather expects nothing less from her guard moving forward.
“I believe she is capable of being one of the best leaders we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Merriweather said. “She is a good student, plays hard and is an all-around great person. She’s that kid everyone should want their daughter to be like.”
NOTE: The Raiders host Oakland at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Nutter Center.