Atascadero High girls basketball standout Mary Kate Evans eagerly anticipated a memorable season in her last hurrah as a senior.
After playing three years on varsity and coming off of a knee injury in playoffs that ended a stellar junior season, Evans signed a letter of intent in the fall to play basketball at Cal Poly.
Fully healthy and eager to build on last year’s 18-9 Greyhounds record, Evans got off to a strong start.
She scored in double digits in each of her first seven games, including a performance of 20 points, four blocks, 10 rebounds and three steals in the Greyhounds’ opening victory against Santa Maria.
Then her right foot began to give her trouble. Evans tried to play through the pain, thinking it would improve.
But over the next few games, the discomfort continued and her production fell. She averaged just four points over a three-game span and a doctor diagnosed her with a stress fracture.
After playing in 10 contests, Evans hasn’t played since Jan. 9 when she learned she’d have to sit out the season to heal her foot.
Evans still attends every practice and game, serving as a mentor to her teammates.
Evans admits the injury was “frustrating,” but says it’s the right decision for her basketball future to rest it.
“It was an injury that kind of just developed over time,” Evans said. “I basically had to stop and let it heal so that when I go to practice at Cal Poly in June, I can be 100 percent.”
Evans expects the healing process to take another two to three weeks and she’ll be fully healed for college ball.
Cal Poly’s basketball coaches have given her a workout plan. And as she heals, she has been swimming and lifting weights to strengthen her upper body.
On the bench in Atascadero, Evans has helped teammates on low-post moves and shooting, along with other techniques while wearing a boot and using crutches. She keeps stats and plays a role akin to an assistant coach, Greyhounds coach Jim Stecher said.
“I really looked forward to my senior year,” Evans said. “I still can be a leader and encourage however I can. It gives me a different perspective on how to get messages across.”
At 14-8 and 6-5 in league, the Greyhounds will finish in fourth place in the PAC 7 after they play their last regular season game tonight against Pioneer Valley at home, giving them an automatic postseason berth by placing within the top four of a seven-team league.
The 6-foot1 forward led Atascadero with 18 points and 12 rebounds per game as a junior before she suffered a meniscus tear in a CIF-Southern Section quarterfinal game that her team won before losing in the semifinals.
She was averaging about the same number of rebounds this year. Without Evans, the Greyhounds have adjusted to a more collective team effort on the boards.
Stecher said that Evans’ production and presence in the paint can’t be replaced. But the decision was the best for her not to try to play through it.
“She said it just wasn’t feeling right,” Stecher said. “I told her ‘You’ve accomplished just about everything you’ve wanted to in high school basketball. The team has gone to CIF and done well. You’ve had a great high school career.’ ”
Evans, a four-year varsity player, said that Stecher has been a mentor, calling him “a motivator” and teacher of how to handle difficulties on and off the court.
Evans said that she still doesn’t know yet exactly what her role will be with the Mustangs.
But her versatility could allow her to play a variety of roles. Evans’ athleticism has allowed her to slash, cut, dribble-drive, shoot and fast break in addition to pounding the ball inside and grabbing rebounds.
“It kind of depends on where they might need me,” Evans said. “Basketball is a sport that I love and playing in high school has been an amazing experience. I feel thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to play in college. I’m very excited to start working out there.”