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Kennady McQueen focused on future after tough freshman year

McQueen fulfilled part of her lifelong dream of playing at Utah

Kennady McQueen moves the ball down the court for the Utes. After appearing in 21 games last year as a freshman, McQueen hopes to play a bigger role for the Utah next season.
Courtesy of Utah Athletics

For years, Kennady McQueen dreamed of following in her mom’s footsteps and playing Division I basketball at the University of Utah. She dreamed of running through the tunnel and onto the court before the game with an arena full of people and finding her family and friends in the crowd. Her dream is what kept her in Utah in the first place.

She accomplished half of her dream last season, as she finished her freshman season with the Utes tied for fifth on the team in points per game (5.1) and first in three-point percentage (38.2%). McQueen had to overcome the difficulties of adjusting to Division I basketball and playing through the peak of a pandemic in addition to the usual challenges of being a freshman in college.

The first part was expected, as McQueen, who was a star guard at North Summit High, recognized that there would be a steep learning curve going from playing Class 2A basketball in Utah to playing in the Pac-12, arguably the best women’s college basketball conference in the country. McQueen went from being the big fish in a small pond to a minnow in an endless ocean pretty quickly.



“I have to understand mentally, like, this is very different from high school,” McQueen said. “The competition is very different, so I think that’s very important to remember.”

The biggest adjustment was also the hardest to swallow: Losing. The Utes went just 5-16 last season, and their .238 winning percentage was the worst in school history. Granted, Utah didn’t play any out-of-conference opponents outside of a 73-63 win against Montana State, so the Utes didn’t have any tune-up games to pad their record.



Still, the losses weighed heavily on McQueen, who didn’t even lose 16 games across four years of high school ball, let alone in one season.

“Coming from a winning program in high school and not really knowing what it was to lose, whether it was in my volleyball career in high school or basketball, like, we just really didn’t lose,” she said. “We weren’t winning, and that’s hard. That’s frustrating.”

But the pandemic also robbed her of the second half of her dream: Playing in front of her friends and family. The trip from her hometown of Henefer to Jon M. Huntsman Center is just under an hour. Part of the appeal of playing at Utah was that she would always have friends and family cheering her on at home games, but that wasn’t possible with the pandemic and the Pac-12 not allowing fans in the stands.

Starting in late January, Utah, in accordance with the Pac-12’s guidance, opened up attendance to four guests per athlete, but it still didn’t feel the same.

“We still haven’t gotten the word on that, but hopefully this season a bunch of people will be able to come, so I’ll be able to have grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, extended family, friends — I can’t wait,” McQueen said.

The pandemic also kept McQueen isolated from both her team and the rest of the community on campus. Athletes had to be careful with whom they were around as to not test positive for COVID-19 and miss games or, even worse, spread it to their teammates. For a freshman trying to become comfortable in a new home, it was difficult.

“During the season, we weren’t really able to go out and put ourselves out there to meet other people, like whether it was in classes, we were online,” she said. “I lived in dorms, so I was able to see people a lot, but I couldn’t actually introduce myself and hang out with people, so that made it really hard to meet people just because we had to be so careful with COVID and who we came into contact with.”

McQueen mentioned having to wake up even earlier for practice to allow time for testing. Teammates couldn’t stay together on the road, so everyone had their own hotel room.

“By the end it got old,” McQueen said. “You just wanted to be around people, so you looked forward to practicing on the road because you were finally able to be with your team again.”

Utah guard Kennady McQueen leads the Utes' offense against UCLA. McQueen, a North Summit graduate, finished her freshman year leading the team in three-point percentage.
Courtesy of Utah Athletics

But now, with the world starting to return to normal once again, the focus will come back to basketball. Obviously, the Utes have a lot of work to do to turn the program around and avoid a repeat of last season. McQueen is excited to be a part of it and hopefully have a bigger role, as she didn’t start in any of the 21 games in which she appeared last season.

“I can already tell in workouts, like, everyone just has a focus that we’re not going to have a repeat of last year, and I know the coaches are on the exact same page,” McQueen said. “So, it makes it exciting that we all have the same goal in mind, and so I think that’s going to make things turn around.”

The lessons she learned as a freshman have created a solid fundamental base to build on. Now that the adjustment period is over, McQueen is finding that everything is coming together much more easily.

“I can remember being little and you’d learn a new move and you’d be so excited,” McQueen said. “And now it’s like that all over again. Like, I thought I knew basketball, but I’m learning so much that I’m just so excited to apply it all.”

The next challenging part for McQueen will be setting herself apart from the rest of the roster. Utah’s roster boasts three returning guards who had more playing time last season. The Utes also signed incoming freshman Gianna Kneepkens and added grad transfer Maka Jackson to address the guard position. As both an accurate shooter and a reliable defender, McQueen believes her versatility will set her apart from the others.

But finally fulfilling her dream of wearing the red and white in front of a vibrant Utes home crowd is what excites her the most about the upcoming season. The entire town of Henefer, which has under 1,000 people, could all comfortably fit inside the sprawling, 15,000-seat Jon M. Huntsman Center. If it were up to McQueen, that’s exactly what she would want.

“I seriously can’t even express how excited I am to run out that tunnel and finally look up and see my fan section,” McQueen said. “That was just a huge part about why I chose Utah. Like a little hometown hero, you know? And having all of my community come out to support (me) because that’s just what kind of community I’m from. That’s a big thing coming from where I’m from to go play D1 basketball, let alone when it’s 40 minutes away, you know?

“The big dream was to play D1 basketball at Utah, yes. But like, when I imagined it and when I was committing there, that’s how I pictured it was just running out and seeing all of my people in the stands. So now hopefully that finally gets to happen, and that’s the cherry on top.”

 


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