Macy Kempf’s rise from bench player to Mitchell High School’s go-to player was meteoric.
It came to fruition partly out of necessity after the Kernel girls graduated six seniors from last year’s team, though that’s far from the only reason given the motivating factors and her offseason work.
For all the highs the junior has experienced, they’ve come with crashing lows. Kempf was named an all-conference soccer player as a freshman, but a chipped bone in her knee derailed her next 10 months.
She received surgery in December, 2017, as a freshman, and wasn’t cleared for full contact until September, 2018.
“It was hard for me,” she said. “I wanted to be out there so badly, but I knew I couldn’t. That just gave me more motivation to say, ‘OK, you have to be ready to go when you can play.’ You can’t take that stuff for granted. You have to appreciate everything you have.”
When Kempf returned, she remained sidelined in favor of a more experienced rotation. She had a minimal role, something that motivated her even more.
It was more than waiting her turn, though. Kempf also had to overcome the injury’s mental hurdle. She admitted it was a struggle for her to trust her knee again, as the then-sophomore would “freak out if something didn’t feel quite right.”
Kempf played through the worry. And once she cleared that final hurdle, she felt like herself on the court again.
“I got over that mental obstacle and just played through it,” Kempf said. “Once you get over that, you be yourself and you start to play.”
This season, she’s playing like her best self.
Kempf took after the work ethic of her former teammates. She tried to develop an outside shot, despite mostly staying in the post for the Sacred Hoops summer team. Her shot went from being “ugly,” according to Kempf, to a consistent weapon that’s turned her junior season into a breakout campaign.
Still, she didn’t expect to average 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. It’s better than Mitchell coach Cole Knippling expected, too.
“I knew she was going to be our go-to defensively,” Knippling said. “Offensively, I kept trying to encourage her that (she) needed to look to score more. This summer, she was a really good assists player. She was always setting up her teammates. ... I think you’ve started to see her understand her ability offensively.”
The 5-foot-10 post’s quickness, strength and anticipation makes her a versatile defender. She’s able to bang down low in the post, but also defend on the perimeter while staying out of foul trouble.
It’s also what makes her an effective offensive weapon, whose role continues to increase.
The Kernels try to give her post touches in the first quarter, but she’s also been given a bigger on-ball role. A summer filled with setting up her teammates has leaked into the regular season, as her decision-making and handles gives Mitchell a third point guard option when Adaya Plastow and Camryn Krogman have tough defensive matchups.
“It’s a little bit different playing here, but you learn to fill your role,” Kempf said.
As Kempf’s role has increased, so has her production. She has scored in double figures in eight of the past nine games, averaging 15.7 points per game over that span.
“I think she’s really stepped up. She played a little bit at the end of last year … but she’s been even better than expected,” Knippling said. “... You have to have that person that gets you consistently four, six, eight points a quarter. And she does that for us.”