Four-time all-state guard, Kenzie Bowers, traded the red, white and black of the Kent City High School Eagles for the red, white and black of the Illinois State University Redbirds when she committed to the Missouri Valley Conference Division 1 program during her senior campaign.
The standout guard became as big a household name as a high school girls basketball player could hope to become and did so representing a small school basketball powerhouse in one of the Michigan High School Athletics Association’s (MHSAA) smallest divisions under the tutelage of head coach, Scott Carlson (now the Director of Scouting and Student-Athlete Development at Western Michigan University). Bowers capped off her high school career with an abbreviated season due to Covid delays instituted by the MHSAA, but still managed to finish with an impressive 21-1 record and a state runner-up title.
Her 1,822 points are a school record and would have certainly eclipsed the 2,000 point mark, had she been given a full senior season. Bowers finished her prep career averaging 19.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 5.0 steals per game as a four-year varsity letter winner.
Bowers has seen success at every level and has been a starter her entire career, so the shift to the Division 1 collegiate ranks brought with it an unusual experience: coming off the bench.
“The big difference is that in high school I needed to score maybe 15 to 20 points a game, whereas here, I don’t have to score at all. I didn’t score at all today and that’s perfectly fine as long as I’m doing what I can at the point, playing defense, getting rebounds and assists. That’s the biggest difference. I have to play hard all-around and that doesn’t mean I have to score a lot.”
Despite having to learn and adapt to a new role, Bowers has thrived in just her first season as a Redbird. She has set season highs for herself of 17 points (Missouri Baptist), 5 rebounds (St. Louis University), 2 assists (SLU) and 2 steals (Mo. Baptist) while averaging over 13 minutes per game as a true freshman.
On New Year’s Day, Bowers got the call to start for the Redbirds after three players, and ISU’s top two scorers, were lost to Covid protocols. The opportunity could not be more apropos, kicking off the traditional day of new opportunities with her first collegiate start. It also happened to coincide with Bowers’ first appearance in the historic I-74 rivalry against bitter conference foe and defending MVC tournament champs, Bradley University.
Bowers appreciated the opportunity. “It was exciting. It’s a different feel when I’m starting and I feel like I almost play a little bit different. It’s cool that I’ve got to that point and I’ve worked hard for it.”
The fun and drama of her first start was mirrored in the game, itself. The Redbirds (pre-season MVC #4) fell behind the Bradley Braves (pre-season MVC #5) by ten after a blistering scoring spree and things looked to be getting out of hand with just a few minutes left in the first half before ISU responded with an incredible 14-0 run of their own behind a series of three point buckets by senior guard Kayel Newland, which capped the half off with a 35-32 Redbird lead.
The Redbirds came out of the break and continued their dominant play, extending their lead to 14 before the Braves made one last attempt to close the gap. ISU finished things out with the 64-57 victory over their rivals to open Missouri Valley Conference play. Bowers finished the day scoreless, but contributed 21 critical minutes, as well as 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on the defensive end.
“It was great. The coaches came in the locker room and we sprayed them with water. It’s really fun. You can tell there is a big rivalry during the game.”
The victory set the Redbirds off on the right foot, overcoming the shorthanded effort, to begin MVC play 1-0 with lofty goals on the horizon. “This is a good start to hopefully getting a conference championship. That’s a big goal and something that we are all working hard for.”
Bowers had many things to be thankful for in celebrating the big victory and her first collegiate start.
“I’ve had a lot of people help me get here. Scott (Carlson) for example. He’s always pushed me really hard and help me get to where I am today. My parents have helped me a lot. I’ve had lots of good friends and teammates that have pushed me really hard. Kent City is a great place to be.”
Bowers is likely to resume her role as an integral piece of the Redbird attack off the bench in the coming weeks, but the experience of starting this early is instrumental in the growth of her young collegiate career. She and the Redbirds will trek through the next 4 games against favorable opponents Indiana State (MVC #9), Evansville (MVC #10), Valparaiso (MVC #6), Loyola Chicago (MVC #7) and Southern Illinois (MVC #8), before their biggest tests of the conference schedule with three consecutive matchups against the pre-season MVC top 3 programs: Missouri State (MVC #1), Northern Iowa (#3) and Drake (#2).