CWU Athletics: Winter athlete spotlight

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CWU Athletics: Winter athlete spotlight

Alex Mackenzie passes off the ball downfield to his teammate.

Alex Mackenzie passes off the ball downfield to his teammate.

Alex Mackenzie passes off the ball downfield to his teammate.

Alex Mackenzie passes off the ball downfield to his teammate.

Dez Rodriguez, Assistant Sports Editor

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Jonnae Richardson, Denver, Colorado. Women’s basketball

Down by one, season on the line, running up the court while coach yells the decisive play. The ball is passed through the air as you make a cut to the basket, but all of a sudden your knee buckles as you hear a loud pop. The gym goes completely silent as you’re falling to the ground. Athletic trainers surround you while your knee swells to three times its normal size. It’s a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) that ends your season. The long recovery process is an emotional one and it’s exactly what CWU junior forward Jonnae Richardson went through not once, not twice, but three times after tearing her ACL.

Richardson was introduced to basketball when she began playing for her uncle’s AAU basketball team in Denver, Colorado. It was an all male team that provided lessons not normally taught that early on an all female team.

“I learned my physicality aspect really young,” Richardson said. “Guys are always so aggressive and very competitive all around. It definitely taught me a lot.”

When high school came around, Richardson found success playing volleyball and basketball. At the end of her freshman year, she tore her ACL playing in a summer league. The injury forced her to sit out the entirety of her sophomore season. As junior year came around, Richardson helped her team earn a playoff berth. Unfortunately, she tore her ACL for a second time right before the playoffs started.

“The second time was more of a downer for me because it was my recruitment year,” Richardson said. “A lot of my bigger recruitment went out the door because they wanted to see me play that summer.”

Richardson returned her senior year strong enough to lead her team to a conference championship. Still, with most of her recruitment gone, she contemplated taking a year off to get stronger before making a decision. Lucky for her, her uncle, former five time NBA all-star Chauncey Billups, was there to help make the choice.

“My uncle actually knew Jeff (Harada) the old coach, and he had let him know about me,” Richardson said. “Jeff looked at film and let me come out for a visit. I did a work out over the summer with them and he eventually offered me a scholarship.”

Harada used to help coach Billups at the University of Colorado Boulder before he was selected third overall in the 1997 NBA draft. Billups put Richardson through workouts that included driving, finishing and post work.

“He’s a guard but he knows a lot of post moves. He’s actually a really good post,” Richardson said. “One of the workouts that stuck with me was his star shooting drill. I had to make five out of six shots to end the drill and it got tiring at times.”

The success story still had its struggles, as the injury bug followed Richardson to CWU. She tore her ACL her sophomore season, forcing her into a medical redshirt her junior season. For the third time in six years, her strength was tested once again.

“The love for this game, I wasn’t ready to give up,” Richardson said. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was five and still to this point don’t know what life is without basketball. If I have the opportunity to do so, I’m going to keep going until I absolutely cannot anymore.”

Lewis Pope, South Whidbey, Wa. Men’s basketball

CWU freshman guard Lewis Pope grew up on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. A four year varsity starter at South Whidbey High School, Pope has lived and breathed basketball since he can remember, even after the unexpected death of his father, Henry Pope, when he was just 12-years old.

“My whole family has always been basketball driven,” Pope said. “I remember when I was little, I had those little tiny hoops and I would always just dunk on that.”

Henry Pope played at the University of Washington before returning to coach the town’s high school basketball teams in South Whidbey. His older sisters, Taylor and Sam, helped contribute to Lewis’s success with support on and off the court, giving him rides to the gym when he wasn’t old enough to drive.

Playing basketball, baseball and football all the way up until his freshman year, Lewis decided to only play basketball moving forward. It was an easy decision considering how much he loved the game.

“I’ve always been better at basketball,” Lewis said. “Coach (Mike) Washington gave me a lot of confidence when I was a freshman. He believed in me more than I did in myself.”

Once sophomore season came around, Lewis got taller, bigger and more comfortable with the team. He took the newly found confidence to their high school basketball camp hosted at CWU. Recruitment coaches kept in contact with him and eventually offered him a scholarship after he came back for his senior year of camp.

Currently one of eight underclassmen on CWU’s young team, Lewis loves the unselfish play of his teammates.

“This is the best chemistry I’ve had with a team for a while,” Lewis said. “Players are more excited to see someone else hit a three than when they hit a three. It’s been a really cool process.”

Alex Mackenzie, Seattle, Wa. Men’s Rugby

Focused on only playing football through high school, CWU eight man Alex Mackenzie’s career looked to be coming to a close after his senior season ended. While weighing his options, one of his football friends introduced him to rugby. After making it to one of the practices after school, he fell in love with the new sport immediately.

“I’ve always loved contact sports. Rugby caught my eye because it’s the ultimate team sport,” Mackenzie said. “I liked how it was a lot more fast-paced than football was. You get to play offense, defense, kick off, everything.”

Mackenzie tried out for and made the Seattle Vikings rugby club team. He credits the similarity of football and rugby for him being able to pick up the rules so quickly. There, he helped the team reach the state finals while also being selected for the all-state team. The roster of players were selected from around the state to compete in a regional tournament in Oregon where they finished second.

From being first introduced to a new sport to being selected for the all-state team only months later, it all happened very quickly for Mackenzie.

The fast success earned the recruitment of CWU. His all-state coach reached out to previous CWU head coach Tony Pacheco to set up a recruitment trip. However, later that year, Pacheco resigned and Todd Thornley took over.

“I hadn’t talked to Todd, so it was kind of hard,” Mackenzie said. “I had to reach out to Todd, he had to talk to my previous coach and go through the whole process again. Eventually I got recruited and it kicked off from there.”

Now in his junior season, Mackenzie was voted as team captain by his teammates. As the team’s eighth man, he is tasked with scrums and lineouts but also has the option to play with the backs. It’s one of the most important positions on the field that requires both speed and power.

“It means a lot getting the players vote because it shows that my boys trust me,” Mackenzie said. “They like how I play and how I lead, so I’m going to do everything in my power to do that.”


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