By Steven Eggert
MyNeshia McKenzie joked around about her change from her freshman year at Rider until now. She said that she used to be so skinny that if she set a screen on the three-point arc and drew contact, she would end up all the way at half court.
The senior guard’s biggest game happened on Feb. 6, when she tied a Rider-single game point total record with 37 points and added 19 rebounds to lead the Broncs to a 92-90 overtime victory over Iona, a team that had won 18 straight games and hadn’t lost since Nov. 12. In addition, she became Rider’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,046. McKenzie joins Jessica Beck, ’96, as the second women’s basketball player to compile 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“It was probably one of the best performances you’re going to see from a Rider women’s player,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “It was a great testament to how far she’s come, how far her talent has risen, and what she’s capable of this February. It’s crunch time and where she can really lead her team.”
The strength of the players at the Division I level was overwhelming to the young player early in her career and she needed to learn to adjust at the next level.
The goals she set were simple, but needed time in order for them to be fulfilled. McKenzie needed to work hard in the gym to gain strength and develop her skills. It would be the only way she could build herself to a decorated collegiate basketball career.
“My first year at Rider, I didn’t realize it, but I was really skinny,” McKenzie said. “It wasn’t what I wanted. I always wanted to have the ball-handling skills and be a shooter. I worked on all of that, but my biggest thing after my freshman year was to get my weight up. I knew for me to be successful, I couldn’t be as skinny as I was.”
After a sophomore year where she was selected to the third team All-MAAC, the Springfield, Pa., native felt that it still wasn’t enough. She decided that she needed to spend two summer sessions before her junior season at Rider to enhance her skills even more and develop consistency. As a junior, McKenzie averaged 14.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, ranking top-five in the MAAC in both categories and earning first team All-MAAC honors. This year, she has increased her average to 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, second in each category.
In an 82-72 win against Niagara on Feb. 9, McKenzie added to her reputation as a double-double machine, notching 20 points and 11 rebounds, giving her 40 career double-doubles and 14 this season.
McKenzie’s game is about getting to the basket and outworking her opponents, not by shooting three-point jump shots, where she has 20 attempts all season, three in her last eight games. A majority of her points are scored from posting up and working on the interior.
The fearless attitude of getting contact in the low post was a trait that she needed to develop early in her Rider basketball career.
“My freshman year, I’d shy away from contact,” McKenzie said. “You’d see me trying to step back with jump shots over people. Now, I want contact, I want to scream, ‘And one.’ I feed off of that. I love that I can go in with no problem and get hit and still take the two points. I really like the strength here.”
Getting stronger has been a reason for McKenzie’s ability to perform at a level that few can compete with in the conference. No matter who Rider faces, if she is able to get her points and pull down her share of rebounds, the Broncs are a tough match for anyone.
Besides putting up the statistics to help her team to victory, McKenzie has also shown it through her character. Her teammates respond to her leadership effectively. They try to work as hard as she does, both on and off the court.
“She’s a great leader,” freshman center Julia Duggan said. “Just the way she plays is really encouraging. We look up to her a lot and she can do everything. If you do something bad, she’ll tell you what you need to do to get better, and next time, you’re going to get that.”
McKenzie admits that the ability to lead did not come to her naturally.
At Springfield High School, she was a McDonald’s All-American, second team All-State, had an undefeated senior season, and was even named the player of the decade.
Though she received many accolades, it took her four years of high school and another few at Rider before coming out of her shell. She realized that being a leader consisted of other qualities besides skill.
“In high school, I was shy and I didn’t know what it meant to be a leader,” McKenzie said. “I was a leader only because of what I could do on the court. I didn’t get advice that I needed to talk, that talking or body language was being a leader. Every year, coach has harped on me about being this leader. You can’t just show talent on the court; you’ve got to talk.”
The time McKenzie’s leadership will truly be tested is now. There are six regular season games left and February is the last full month of basketball before the Broncs go to Springfield, Mass., to compete in the MAAC Championship.
She’s won several individual conference awards, but still wants to fulfill the team goal of winning a MAAC conference title. That’s one void in her résumé she’d like to fill. It will be her last chance to take the Broncs to heights no Rider team has ever achieved before.
“I don’t think it’s hit me,” McKenzie said. “I don’t care about my personal accolades. I want to hang a banner. That was my ultimate goal when I got here. The personal accolades are great, I love them, but I just want to hang a banner, and that’s all I want with this entire career here.”
Statistically, she has 1,454 career points, 18 points behind Becky Hower, ’95, for fourth all-time, and 1,046 rebounds give her the all-time Rider record in that category.
Being around the Rider basketball program since the late 1980s, Milligan has no question that McKenzie can be considered one of the best Rider women’s players ever.
“There are a lot of women’s basketball players in the Rider Hall of Fame that I had the privilege to play with,” Milligan said. “I can make a comparison between her and Beck, whose record she just broke, Kelly Eckardt, ’90, and Debbie Snyder, ’94, all players who I played with. MyNeshia has put together one of the best careers of any women’s basketball player at this university.”