A look through McMakin’s eyes

Published 5:11 pm Thursday, December 16, 2021

BY KYLA MCMAKIN

Special to LongwoodLancers.com

I love this team. My bond is incredibly tight with my family, and the idea of leaving them to come to college was scary. When I came to Longwood, that changed. I didn’t have any fear coming here because I just knew that I would be taken care of.

I literally have seven moms. I wanted to be somewhere where I have a mom on campus, and now I have seven. If I’m sick, I can call and say, “Hey, what do I take?” The whole staff has made me feel comfortable.

Don’t even get me started on my sisters. This group is something else. I have two younger brothers, and now I have so many sisters. I’ve never met a group of people who annoy me so much, but I would die for them. Our bond is incredible.

The best part is, we all love the game together. I don’t have to lower my standards or hide my passion. I can go out and play, and that gives us a lot of freedom. Everybody on the team is competitive to where we’re all getting on each other and trying to win the drill, and that’s a love for the game.

And that’s just on the court. Off the court? There’s so much joy and goofiness. If I could make something a core value, goofiness would be up there. Our bus rides are a party 24/7. Tension doesn’t last long with this team because no matter what’s going on, there’s someone who’ll say something that will completely break any and all tension. Everybody just has to laugh.

When I see how it all comes together, this is such a fun group because everyone is so incredibly different.

I’ve known Adriana Shipp since fourth grade. We used to play on the same AAU team together, and now we’re roommates. Our lockers are right next to each other. We get really competitive with each other, and we’re definitely very similar in the way we play. Our relationship is ride or die. Someone pushes me? She’s going to foul them hard the next play and vice versa.

She’s the one who can help break the tension, since she just speaks her mind. She’ll probably call it out, and we’ll all laugh because we all realize that she’s right.

As leaders, Tra’Dayja Smith and I are ruthless competitors towards each other, but we still love each other. I think it’s something about that leadership role that we share that makes us even more competitive. Any drill, and I mean any drill, we’re keeping score. We’ll do ball screen reps, which is the most basic drill. I’m like, “We’re keeping score. Every time you score, it’s a point.” And we’ll keep score for that and try to win.

Everything’s a competition. When we’re on opposing teams, I do hate her in the moment, but when we’re on the same team, I love her more than anything. I’ve never played with a point guard that good. Her quickness with the ball and the way she can see people open even before they know they’re open, it’s just crazy. Her ability to be a playmaker and create shots for other people, that kind of selflessness is rare to find nowadays. I love playing with her.

Akila Smith is the most dominating player I have ever seen, and it’s crazy because she doesn’t worry about all of it. She just loves the sport so much that she could go out there and get zero points, all the rebounds and all blocks, and she’d be happy. We have to tell her, “Just take it. Drive it. You dominate.” High Point last season was just a snippet of what she could do.

Her length and her athleticism are just crazy. I hate it when she guards me in practice. She’s one of the most difficult people to go at. My pull-up game is my strongest thing, and she can just extend up and have those big hands in my way. She blocks so many shots.

Anne-Hamilton LeRoy is one of the best shooting guards. Her ability to get to the basket is impressive. The way she can get to the basket and earn free throws, she was probably on the line more than the whole team last year. She has the strength to get there with ease, and now she has more moves. It’s harder to guard her.

This season, Anne’s biggest thing is being more vocal. It’s what we really needed. She’s filling into that point guard spot. She’s coming up with plays that are working, and she’s really getting that confidence level in turn.

Milou Vennema is someone I’ve grown closer to as I’ve been here at Longwood. Now, we’re actually roommates. She’s so unselfish. When she gets in the game, she makes it count. She’s trying to motivate her teammates, and she’s shooting the lights out. When she’s on, it’s pretty much unstoppable, especially coming off a screen.

Sometimes, she wants to look for someone else when she’s wide open, and I’m constantly like, “Milou, shoot it. Shoot it! You are a great player, shoot it!” There’s no lapse in her work ethic. She doesn’t stop playing because she knows her practicing with those players is going to make them better.

Brooke Anya and Hannah Osaro, they are some of the toughest people mentally. They both come in every time, and they play hard. They don’t care about their individual stats. They just work, work, work. They have such a team-first mindset; that’s all they care about. Almost every photo of them when they’re not in, they’re up celebrating. They give me goosebumps.

I’ve never seen Hannah mad, in fact. She’s always so even. When she messes up, she’s just like, “Oh, it’s okay,” and she moves on. I wish I could have that, I really do. Right now, her ability to catch and put that ball up, she’s going to be special. She is a strong, really strong woman.

Brooke is someone, with her ability to screen and be there defensively with how she can guard, it’s something serious, especially coming from a big post. She’s got this switch she flips when she steps on the court, and she has the strength where she can just be physical and body it up. She’s tenacious, the type of player that is really hard to play against.

Kennedy Calhoun is a very special player. Her heart and love for the game resonated with me right away. I was like, “I want to play with you.” She’s a feisty competitor. Even as a freshman, she came right in and handled the pressure. On our team, point guards have a lot of control. They also have a lot of responsibility. She just took it and moved on like, “Okay, I’ll learn these plays, and we’ll run them. I’ll handle Dayday’s pressure, and we’ll do it. I’ll guard the best players. I’m out there, I’m going to do it.”

I like to call her and Dayday, when they play together, the assist crew. They’ll just pass it together, back and forth, waiting for the other person to shoot it because they want the assist so badly. If Kenn messes up, she goes out and tries to get a steal.

She just loves the game, and that competitiveness is great.

Isabel Tillett also loves the game. She truly does. Even though she’s been injured, she’s locked into the game. I’ve known her for a long time, with her mom, of course, being our coach. I’m sure people were all, “Ohhhh, coach’s daughter.” But as soon as they got in and saw that Bel was playing hard, moving the ball around and stuff, that opinion changed.

She has handled the pressure of being the coach’s daughter really well. Even when she was injured, you could see in our practice film that she was on the sideline cheering. She’s supposed to be doing her stretches, but she’s watching the game. She’s won people over with how much she is into the game.

If I need a shot of energy in the morning, I never have to look farther than Cayla Copeland. She may seem quiet, but she has so much energy. Don’t want to be at the 6 a.m. lift or the Toughness with the Marine Corps (TMC)? You just hear a loud Cayla, “Kyla, good morning!” You can’t help but laugh. She’s always so energized.

That’s how she plays too. She is everywhere on the court. She will dive on anything like it’s a loose fumble in football. I love playing with her because of her pure athleticism. She can jump out of the gym, and her goal is to dunk. She’s getting there. She’s quick, she has length like Akila, and she has that freshman energy. One second, she’s down by the block while you throw a pass to the wing, and the next thing you know, she’s stealing it because she’s so fast and her eyes are everywhere.

Jael Hall is someone who is quiet but dangerous. Just like so many women on this roster, she’s unselfish. She’s going to help us get better while we work on our stuff. She’s going to play hard defense, no matter what. She’s going to shoot the lights out on us no matter what.

She’s a really good teammate, the ideal teammate. She’ll do anything. She’s in the gym more than probably half of us, and she’s shooting and getting work in. And then, she’s working with the guys on our practice team so we can get reps. And she does it because she loves us. I truly believe that.

Even though she was a late signing, Geassy Germano has become one of my closest friends. We eat lunch together every day, and she has a real love for people. She texts me every day at 9 a.m. to take my medicine. She coined a phrase, “Time Out,” for when we are being mean to each other. She goes, “Time out,” and we can’t talk for a little bit. She loves everybody on the team and wants everyone to be nice.

But on the court? She’s going to yell at you or tell you to come on. She’s got that same ability to switch it on and off, and she’s a really good competitor. She has a length and quickness that not a lot of posts have, and she has some really nice finishing moves.

Bri Johns is a shooter. Shoots. The lights. Out. I mean, she says it’s off, and it’s a swish. If you give her that little opening, she can shoot it and hit it with someone’s hand right in her face. That’s really dangerous. We need someone who has that ability, who’s going to come out like, “I’m gonna shoot the lights out on you.”

She’s a little quieter and doesn’t yell as much as someone like me, but you know she’s out there because she’s going to be shooting in your face. She is definitely the type to let her game speak for itself.

I’ll say it again. I love this team. We laugh together. We hang out together. That’s the key, together. I will compete with these women ruthlessly in practice, and then afterwards I’m like, “You want to hang out?”

Don’t forget, I’m close with my family. This place feels like home.