FASTBREAK: UJ's Higlin leading from sideline
Mackensi Higlin was smiling through tears on Nov. 11 at Harold Newman Arena.
With surgery scheduled in 13 days to repair the torn ACL in her left knee, reality had begun to weigh on the shoulders of the senior University of Jamestown forward. Injured while pushing the tempo in transition during the Jimmies' 87-64 victory over visiting Dickinson State on Nov. 2, a solid playing career at both UJ and Mandan High School was likely over.
"It pretty much means I'm done for the season, which was really heartbreaking to hear at the doctor's office," said Higlin, as the Jimmies were warming up to face 24th-ranked Morningside College just feet away. "I'm kinda ready to get out into the world, even though it stings I can't play."
Higlin, a business administration major, is scheduled to graduate this spring after already extending her academics at UJ in order to finish out her playing career. She picked up a minor in communications to stave off graduation and sees herself working professionally in either the world of marketing or insurance someday soon.
"You see it happen and you hope for the best, and then when you get the bad news ... that's always tough," said UJ women's basketball coach Thad Sankey. "But at the same time, we play college basketball for a little bit more than just to play college basketball, and she's still a really valuable piece to our team."
In high school, Higlin was coached at the AAU level by former UJ women's basketball coach Greg Ulland, who'd eventually sign the 5-foot-10 post player in 2017. As the only senior for former Mandan High School girls basketball coach Abby Thomas that year, Higlin helped lead the Braves to 12 consecutive wins and a West Region tournament championship by averaging 16.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Higlin and the Braves would finish sixth at the Class A state tournament, after toppling Bismarck Century 59-57 in overtime for the West Region crown.
"God, high school doesn't even seem so far away and I don't even remember that," Higlin laughed.
She said that experience didn't quite prepare her for the physicality she'd face in college.
"You know, you think it would but you come to college, and especially at this level, the girls are really good," Higlin said. "You go out there and they're like, 'All right, you're a freshman. Let's see what ya got.'
"I held my own, but it was definitely a different ball game. Props to all the players who came before me, because they make you who you are."
Higlin played in 91 games for the Jimmies -- cracking the starting lineup for the first time this season -- amassing career totals of 425 points, 253 rebounds, 70 assists, 56 steals and 44 blocks. The career 40% shooter from the field was off to an 8-for-15 start through UJ's first two games.
"Higlin was working closer to the basket this year and her efficiency was way up," Sankey said. "In our first two games, it was such a difference-maker for us because she's making 60-plus percent of her shots. Yeah, she won't be on the court, but we want to keep her as plugged in as possible and give her a chance to fill that leadership role in other ways."
Higlin was active on the bench right out of the chute against the Mustangs, providing both instruction and encouragement. The Jimmies narrowly fell to one of the GPAC's premier teams, 68-61.
"They're gonna be hearing me," Higlin said. "Every girl on our team brings a different aspect and I'm ready to let everybody know how they shine."
Higlin said she's hoping she can suit up one last time for Senior Day but knows the sun has likely set on playing competitively. She's one of three UJ seniors this season along with guards Emma Stoehr and Correy Hickman.
"What I'm gonna take away is all of the bus trips that I've had with my teammates and all the moments that I think I've cried laughing," Higlin said. "Some of these girls are gonna be in my wedding. The friendship is the thing that I'm gonna take away the most."