by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Kansas City Kansas Community College forward Lizzie Stark will resurrect her promising basketball career at Baker University.
Her sophomore season cut in half by a pre-season knee injury, Stark will join an up-and-coming NAIA program under second year coach Justin Rees, who led the Wildcats to a 17-14 season and 12-12 Heart of America Conference record in his first season.
“Lizzie was a great get for our program, especially this late in recruiting,” said Rees, who said Stark will add shooting and depth to the Wildcats’ front court. “Lizzie is exactly what we’re looking for here at Baker. She comes from a great program at KCKCC; has an incredible family supporting her; knows how to win and the sacrifices that come along with being successful and exudes all of those qualities. She persevered through a tough injury to get herself back into the fold and created a new role for herself on a national championship team…what more can you ask?”
Stark suffered a dislocated patella in a preseason jamboree in Lawrence Oct. 16, a date she’ll never forget.
“I had to jump for a ball and landed wrong,” she said. “I heard a pop and my knee on my right leg was sideways. I knew right away it was bad. It didn’t hurt that bad but it was uncomfortable.”
“Lizzie was dealt a very tough hand by her injury but could not have handled the situation any better,” KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry said. “She would have had a much bigger role had she not been injured but she never let it affect her attitude or work ethic or support of her teammates. She is a phenomenal teammate and is so very deserving of the opportunity to play at a very good program like Baker.”
As a freshman, Stark was a key “sixth man” off the bench. Playing in all 32 games with five starting assignments, she averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds and led the team in free throw accuracy, shooting 77.8 percent which is 12th on KCKCC’s all-time list.
The injury kept her out of the Blue Devils’ first 12 games and by the time she returned the Blue Devils’ already deep playing rotation was set. She would play in just 17 games, averaging 1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in limited playing time. Twice, however, she showed her shooting range, making 2-of-3 for 3-pointers.
“It really felt good to step back on the court even though it was only a limited amount of time. Not being able to play was very tough; I wanted to be out there with my teammates,” said Stark, who despite the injury never missed a game or a practice. “I was the No. 1 cheerleader.”
The No. 1 cheerleader on a national championship team.
“It was a season to remember; I’d never experienced anything like it. We never won in high school (Liberty North) and to come here and win a national championship was honestly a dream come true.”
Stark said choosing Baker was an easy decision although she had at least one other offer.
“I really enjoyed the campus, the coach, the girls,” she said. “We worked on some drills and then I scrimmaged with them. I liked the coach a lot; he’s looking to win a national championship. Just so there’s no more freak accidents.”
As a sophomore at Liberty North, Stark tore her MCL late in the season but rehabilitated in time to play her junior and senior seasons.
Despite her injury at KCKCC, Stark feels she learned tremendously from being part of the Blue Devil program.
“From last season to this season and then the final part of the year, I learned so much,” she said. “I’m very glad I came here and played with girls I hope will stay in my life forever.”
“Lizzie Stark is the kind of player every coach wants and needs,” McKinstry said. “She is willing and able to do anything that’s needed. She can spot up and knock down shots. If someone is needed to box out on every play, she’ll do that. If screens need to be set, she’ll go out and do that.”