SE: Different Paths, Same Celebration

While the four seniors on the K-State women’s basketball team may have taken a very different path getting to Manhattan, they’ll be celebrated together tomorrow afternoon in Bramlage Coliseum before their final game. 

For seniors Bri Craig, Stacey Malone, Antoinette Taylor and Megan Deines, tomorrow’s game against Baylor will hold added emotion. While there is still basketball left to play after the 3:30 p.m., contest against No. 4 Baylor, it will mark the final time these four seniors perform before their passionate Wildcat fans on the court they’ve grown to love. 

“I hope I don’t get too emotional,” said Deines earlier this week. “Even though I’ve only been here a couple months, it’s been a great experience to meet new people, be with new players and new coaches. Of course it’s going to be emotional, especially because it’s going to be my last home game; that will be tough.”

Deines, a guard from Springfield, Missouri, has only been with the program for one season as she transferred to K-State after playing three seasons at Louisville.

A much different path than Deines, Craig, a guard from Lincoln, Nebraska, came to K-State in 2012 and, a member of an injury-ridden 2012-13 roster, was on the court making an immediate impact as a freshman.  

Taylor, a guard from Gary, Indiana, transferred to K-State two seasons ago following a successful playing career at State Fair Community College where she earned 2014 NJCAA Division I First Team All-American honors. 

Finally, and perhaps the most different path of them all, Malone, a forward from Tyler, Texas, came to K-State in the same season as Craig, suffered back-to-back injuries in her freshman year, was granted a medical scholarship and has spent the last three seasons on the sidelines helping the team as a student assistant coach. 

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had this unique of a class in terms of the different ways they came to the program,” said K-State head coach Jeff Mittie. “In a lot of cases, a senior class is made up of roommates who came together as freshmen, were recruited together, but this class is just very unique.” 

Though the four have their differences, their love for K-State couldn’t be more similar. 

“For a senior class who came about the path as differently as they did, they’ve really bought in quickly,” continued Mittie. “It feels like they’ve all been here longer than they have. They’re all very invested in K-State and, from what I’ve seen, have all had a good experience, which is really a credit to our campus because, my sense is, they all have really enjoyed their time here.”

Craig opened her Wildcat career with a bang, playing in 36 games with 34 starts and posting 1,220 minutes – the fourth-most in school history – in her freshman season. Averaging 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, Craig helped her team to an exciting 2012-13 season that was capped with a run to the semifinals of the 2013 WNIT. 

“One of my favorite moments, specifically, was during my freshman year when we only had seven healthy players and we beat Oklahoma State at home,” said Craig as she flashed a nostalgic smile. “They were in the top 25 that year and somehow we rallied and were able to beat them with just seven players. It was crazy.”

Craig let out a laugh. In her Wildcat career she’s overcome adversity both on and off the court. She’s experienced changes within the K-State women’s basketball program and learned lessons that will last her a lifetime along the way. 

“I’ve definitely grown a lot,” Craig said. “I was looking at pictures from my freshman year and just how much I’ve changed physically, it’s crazy. I’ve grown a lot as a person, I’ve learned a lot of life lessons being here and I feel like a lot of that will be able to transfer over after basketball. I’ve definitely gone through adversity, but I’ve overcome it both on and off the court, and it’s all been very beneficial for me and my growth as a person.”

During her senior campaign, Craig is averaging 5.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in addition to recording 12 steals and 21 assists. 

In her first and only season at K-State, Deines has started all 25 games. She is third on the team in scoring as she averages 9.1 points per game, while she’s also averaging 2.2 rebounds per game and has totaled 60 assists, 31 steals and seven blocks this season. 

“My time at K-State has been great,” said Deines. “They were pretty determined with just throwing me into the fire and having me go with the flow. I caught on pretty quick with the system we’re running, and overall, everything has been great.”

Mittie said Deines’ ability to adjust so quickly was an important factor in her success this season. 

“Megan is a player who adapts to situations right away,” explained Mittie. “While some may take three or four months to get along with their teammates, she stepped in right away and it feels like she’s been here forever. I think she’s had a great experience here. She is playing good basketball.”

Providing the Wildcats with a spark off the bench, Taylor has been consistent in her role as well. Taylor is averaging 3.2 points and 0.8 rebounds per game in 2015-16 and had a career-high night against Florida Atlantic earlier this year where she helped lift the Wildcats to a win with a career-high 14 points. 

But her time on the court isn’t what she’ll remember the most about playing at K-State. Rather, it’s the people and the moments she’s spent with her teammates that will stick with her. 

“I’d say I’ll remember the laughs in the locker room, getting to know everybody and building that friendship with each other,” she said. “That’s what it all boils down to and what I’ll remember the most. I really enjoyed myself here; it wasn’t necessarily what I expected, but I loved the experience.” 

Malone played in just nine games during her freshman year (2012-13) before suffering a season-ending injury. She spent nearly a year recovering, and, though it looked like she’d be back on the court, another setback kept her out for the remainder of her career. Malone was granted a medical hardship scholarship to finish her degree at K-State, and, instead of walking away from the game, she decided to spend her remaining three years at K-State working with the team. 

“It means a lot to me because I didn’t think I was going to have one,” said Malone about her recognition at tomorrow’s senior day celebrations. “With the new coaching staff, I didn’t have the chance to play for them, so I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I’m really thankful I’ll get to have a senior day because it means a lot to me to finish this time with these people who I care about.”

There were times when Malone wanted to go home to Texas, times when the fact that she’d never play basketball again was just too much. However, with the help of her family, friends and teammates, she was able to find the good in a bad situation and make the most of her unique experience. 

“It was a blessing in disguise,” said Malone, who will graduate in May with a degree in kinesiology as she continues working towards becoming a physical trainer. “My time here hasn’t been anything close to what I expected, but it’s been a good time for me and I’m really happy now.”

The paths that Craig, Deines, Taylor and Malone took were different, but their passion for K-State is the same. Tomorrow, their emotions will be at an all time high.

“I’ve thought about (senior day) a little bit,” said Craig. “It might be the last time I’ll play in Bramlage. I feel like we were just here my freshman year; these four years have just flown by. There’s definitely a lot of memories in that building. So it’s going to be weird, very weird.” 

For game notes, ticket information and more on tomorrow afternoon’s game, please click here.