The end of McKenna Beach’s high school career wasn’t sugarcoated with championships or on-court heroics.
The Cape Coral graduate was 14 points shy of reaching 2,000 for her career a year ago when she chose to skip the last four games of the season to recover from an ACL tear she sustained early in her senior campaign.
The thinking was: Rehabilitate in time for her debut season with Stetson, where she hoped to get on the floor right away as an impact freshman.
Almost a year later, the decision has proven perfect. Beach, who has started the last five games for the Hatters (9-5), has found an immediate role.
“That kid, I tell you,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said, “She plays hard, and she’s so coachable. She’s just tough. She’s a tough kid. I can’t tell you how glad I am she’s here and how proud I am of her.”
The Hatters face Atlantic Sun Conference favorite FGCU at 4 p.m. Saturday at Alico Arena in the first game of a doubleheader, followed by the men’s teams. The game brings Beach, a 5-foot-6 point guard, back to Southwest Florida to face a program that once recruited her.
“I’m exciting to come back and play in front of my family and friends,” said Beach, whose brother Kam attends FGCU. “A lot of people are supporting me, and I’m just excited to be a part of the Stetson family here.”
Meaning, there’s no ill will toward the Eagles, who offered Beach a deferred scholarship — walk-on status which would lead into a scholarship the next season.
Instead, she signed early with Stetson in November 2014, tying her future to a school that has won at least 20 games for five straight seasons.
“I don’t have any hard feelings,” Beach said. “I actually played in that gym a lot, and I’m excited to play there again.”
She started her first game for the Hatters on Nov. 23 against Armstrong State, tallying 32 minutes, six points, six rebounds and an assist in a 61-45 win.
She started again on Dec. 15 against North Carolina-Wilmington and has remained a starter since.
“She’s steady as a rock,” Bria said. “She’s really been great for us. Not that I didn’t think she wouldn’t be good. But I didn’t think she would be this solid this soon.”
And while she’s currently putting up modest numbers (4.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg), she’s helping the team win. They’ve gone 3-2 with her in the lineup.
She’s gained experience playing against power conference schools like No. 12 Tennessee and Minnesota.
And Beach feels there’s ample room to grow.
In her last game, on Jan. 1 against Hampton, she had nine points, all from the free throw line. She also had six rebounds. And more importantly, Stetson won 68-59.
The days for Beach to display that smooth shooting form are soon to come.
“I think she has the ability to score a lot more than she does,” Bria said. “I think her stroke is good. She’s got to take the open shots. We want her to do that.”
But right now, heading into conference play against a league rival, all she’s concentrating on is helping the team win.
“In the beginning of the season, the first couple of games, I definitely felt the change of pace of the game. It was a lot of up and down and very fast play,” Beach said. “But I’ve gotten more comfortable lately, especially at the point guard position. My teammates have helped me get adjusted to the game.”
Beach is one of three 2015 Lee County high school graduates making immediate impacts as freshmen for their college women’s basketball programs, including Dunbar’s Keri Jewett and Kiara Desamours.
High School: Dunbar
College: Southern Mississippi
Stats: 23 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.8 spg
High School : Dunbar
College: Lamar University
Stats: 26 mpg, 6.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.1 spg
High School: Cape Coral
College: Stetson University
Stats: 23 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg
FGCU vs Stetson doubleheader
When: Saturday, 4 and 7 p.m.
Where: Alico Arena
Women’s game, 4 p.m.: FGCU 12-4 vs Stetson 9-5
Men’s game, 7 p.m.: FGCU 9-7 vs Stetson 6-10
Tickets: 590-7145, fgcuathletics.com