Senior Spring: Annie McKenna provides offensive spark for women’s basketball team

by Matt Krivan and Benjamin Ashley | 5/1/20 2:10am

mckenna
by Lorraine Liu / The Dartmouth

After two years of battling injuries and playing primarily off the bench, point guard Annie McKenna ’20 was ready to make the most of her final two years with the women’s basketball team. She did just that, leading the Big Green this season with 11.5 points and 4.3 assists per game and playing more minutes than any other player in the Ivy League.

“Being a senior in your last year puts you in a different mindset,” McKenna said. “You give it all you got, and it’s very mind over matter at that point.”

McKenna has been accustomed to success on the basketball court ever since her elementary school team went undefeated for four straight seasons. McKenna and her four siblings all played on travel basketball teams coached by their father.

“I grew up in the gym, and I went to all [my siblings’] practices and games and played with their teams, so I’ve been around basketball since the get-go,” McKenna said.

McKenna’s dominance continued at Trinity High School in River Forest, Ill., prompting scholarship offers from big-name basketball programs like the University of California, Berkeley. But Dartmouth’s unique appeal led her to join the Big Green.

“The campus, the tight-knit community, the prestige of the Ivy League; I have always wanted to go to an Ivy League [school],” McKenna said. “I made an amazing choice.”

The Big Green was in need of a boost on offense coming off of the 2015-16 season, in which it averaged fewer than 55 points per game.

“She has always been this hard-nosed point guard who could score at will and in a variety of ways,” head coach Belle Koclanes said. “And when we were recruiting Annie, that’s what we were looking for. We were looking for offense.”

McKenna’s ability to create points for herself and her teammates as a spark off the bench made an immediate impact. Injuries limited McKenna’s time on the court during the 2017-18 season, but she still managed to shoot a tremendous 41 percent from three-point range. Heading into her junior season, McKenna was healthy and prepared to step into a starting role.

“Being on for sophomore summer helped; I was on campus, I was living right across from the gym and was training with our strength and conditioning coach,” McKenna said. “Having two years under my belt also definitely made an impact.”

McKenna found her rhythm in the 2018-19 season and started all but two games. The Big Green averaged over 60 points per game in large part because McKenna more than doubled her points and assists per game from the previous season. As the team’s new starting point guard, McKenna instilled confidence in her teammates and changed the tempo of play.

“I really enjoy playing with her because she pushes the ball hard,” forward Paula Lenart ’20 said. “She wants to play fast. I run and she delivers.”

Koclanes said that McKenna loves to push the tempo and utilize her court vision.

“We would tell her teammates all the time: ‘You got Annie McKenna as your point guard, run the floor. She will find you,’” Koclanes said.

Moving into her senior year, McKenna transitioned into an even larger leadership role, acting as a member of the team’s leadership council. Koclanes attributes McKenna’s effectiveness as a leader to the example she set for her teammates, who appreciate her tireless work ethic.

“[McKenna] just stood out, and she absolutely earned her teammates’ respect because she led by example,” Koclanes said. “And again, whether that was on the court when she practiced, in games, the way she performed [or] off the court as a teammate … she really stepped into a leadership role, and her voice was strong.”

McKenna displayed her leadership with her incredible performances on the court during her senior season, topping the Ivy League in both assists and minutes played, in addition to leading the Big Green in scoring and steals. McKenna considers herself a pass-first point guard, and she loved to push the pace of play to create fast-break scoring opportunities. Her threat as a scorer better allowed her to set up her teammates for open looks. 

One of the standout moments of McKenna’s career came in the team’s thrilling Ivy League home opener against Harvard University this past season. Down one point with 13 seconds remaining, Katie Douglas ’22 came up with a steal and passed it to McKenna who hit the game-winning shot.

Another highlight of McKenna’s senior year came when the Big Green visited her hometown of Chicago on its roadtrip to Northwestern University. Despite a tough loss on the court, McKenna enjoyed the postgame with her extended family. They turned out in full force, capping off four years of dedicated support, particularly from her parents, who attended every game.

McKenna’s leadership extended beyond practices and games. She took it upon herself to look after her teammates off the court as well. 

“Being a point guard, obviously you’re the leader on the floor,” McKenna said. “Learning how to lead off the floor was important to me. I just tried to do my best to make sure the other aspects of the game were going well, checking in with everyone.” 

Although McKenna’s run with the Big Green is over, her excellence will leave a lasting legacy. Koclanes noted that she will miss McKenna’s mental toughness the most.

“You knew what you were going to get from her. You knew that she was there to compete every day,” Koclanes said. “But I know that the legacy [McKenna’s] leaving, next year we’re going to have more of [her mentality] because of the example she provided.” 

McKenna’s phenomenal senior year culminated with her earning multiple team accolades, including being named Gail Koziara ’82 Most Valuable Player and co-winning the Larry Leavitt Leadership Award.

In the future, McKenna hopes to pursue a career in finance, but basketball — and the leadership qualities she has displayed on and off the court — will always remain a part of her life.

“No matter what, [McKenna] will find a way to play, whether it’s organized or not. She just loves the game that much,” Koclanes said. “Time will tell what [McKenna] does, but whatever she does, she’s going to impact an organization from day one.”