Go back to when Walla Walla Community College won the Northwest Athletic Conference championship on March 18, 2018.
On that day after a title was clinched, Warriors coach Bobbi Hazeltine went up to backup point guard McKenzie Gunter and told her it was her team now.
Gunter had played about a half-minute in the championship-clinching victory and averaged 3.2 points and 1.1 assists in 13.1 minutes per game in her freshman season, but her coach just knew, as the starting point guard has led a stat-stuffing season in 2018-19.
“I didn’t realize how big of a role I would have, but I knew at that moment I would definitely have to step up and become the leader and that this would be my team,” Gunter said. “I didn’t know exactly what that entailed until the season began, but it’s been fun ever since.”
After being seldom used as a freshman, the 2017 Marsh Valley High School graduate has become everything for her team in her sophomore season: leading scorer (14.8 points per game), assister (4.7 assists per game) and a potential all-league defender, according to her coach. Gunter is second in the NWAC in minutes per game with 37.5 and is averaging 39.9 during conference play.
“McKenzie has more energy than anyone I’ve ever coached,” said Hazeltine, a 19-year WWCC coach. “She’s high energy 24/7. She’s our most intense player. She’s our hardest worker.
She’s our best defender. She’s the total package, and she doesn’t get tired.”
What Gunter has been asked to do has even exceeded what Hazeltine envisioned because two guards informed her in the summer that they would not be healthy enough to play this season, so Gunter’s role only grew.
And it keeps growing. Walla Walla’s only true point guard has played the entirety of each of her last eight matchups, including three overtime games. Gunter is coming off a 59-56 win Monday against North Idaho in which she tallied 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting in 40 minutes.
“If my team needs me, then I’ll push through,” Gunter said. “I find energy somehow. I honestly can’t tell you how.”
After WWCC lost every starter from last season, Gunter has kept the team running and has it on pace for an NWAC tournament bid. The top four teams from each region secure a berth, and the Warriors are tied for third in the East Region with an 8-5 conference record and an 18-8 overall record.
“We’re really young and inexperienced, and we’ve been in a lot of close games, so we just kind of feel like to give us a chance we have to have her on the floor,” Hazeltine said. “She’s really calm and understands the game. She’s kind of like a quarterback out there. She’s an extension of the coach and she knows what to call.”
Gunter’s assists per game are fourth in the NWAC, plus she is 19th in scoring average, third in free-throw percentage (79.7) and fifth in free-throw makes (98).
With what she is achieving, it is easy to see why Gunter said playing college basketball “was one of my best decisions of my life so far.”
“My coaches helped me through and my teammates stuck by me,” Gunter said. “We all just believe in each other and I think that’s what helps me get to where I am now.”