Indianola High School graduate and current Simpson College freshman Markayla Mahr provided a presence in the paint for the Simpson women’s basketball team this season.
Her defensive demeanor resulted in an Iowa Conference-leading 60 blocks in her first season for the Storm – an average of 2.73 blocked shots per game. Her average mark is ranked 21st in all of Division III and had almost half of the Storm’s blocked shots this season at a total of 117 – good for second in the conference.
Going into games, Mahr said there was a lot of pressure going into games knowing she has that title of being the conference’s leading blocker. Her goal for every contest since then: one blocked shot a game.
“Once I started getting more than one block a game, I was like ‘OK this is pretty cool,’” Mahr said.
Mahr began the season with a four-block game in a 77-73 win at AIB on Nov. 18, 2013. With all the basketball Mahr has played since she was six-years-old, freshman jitters were bound to kick in. She said this game was “the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“I was well prepared going in, but nothing really prepares you for the first game,” Mahr said. “It was like that in high school – it’s always the first game that gives you the most butterflies. And there were some pretty big butterflies going into that game – I was so nervous.”
For the next two months in a span of 16 games, Mahr achieved her goal of swatting one shot per game, and then some. She’s recorded three, five-block games and an astonishing six-block game in the Iowa Conference opener against Loras at home Jan. 8.
“Coming into Simpson I didn’t think I would be starting or even getting a lot of playing time since we have a lot of talented players, so I didn’t think I was going to touch the court at all. During practices, I just got out there and worked my butt off because I know I had to.”
Mahr was mistaken, however, as she appeared in 22 of Simpson’s 26 games played while starting 19 this season. Her only slump came during a four-game stretch from Nov. 23-30 due to a sprained ankle. But don’t be fooled, Mahr can chip in a few baskets here and there, especially at the final sound of the buzzer.
She dropped a 16-footer with a little under two seconds left in the game to seal a 55-54 conference win at Dubuque on Jan. 29. That shot couldn’t have been drawn up perfectly, even though it quite wasn’t.
Mahr admitted to being the “last resort” at that moment and time.
“Coach [Brian] Niemuth called a timeout and said ‘OK we’re going to run “circle” and whoever catches the ball, shoot it,’” Mahr said. “He said ‘Whit I want you to go here, Mackenzie I want you to go to the corner, Terp I want you to drop down low to the block and Markayla, you just come up because it will bring the tall girl out of the paint.’”
The Storm’s first attempt at the play was knocked out of bounds, so the team had one more opportunity. Mahr and the inbound passer, Bailey Myer, made eye contact, the pass was successful and the shot followed for the victorious combination.
“It wasn’t the best shot, but it went in and that’s all that matters,” Mahr said grinning.
Through all the highs and lows, the biggest transition from high school to college basketball has been the time commitment.
“I thought I was really committed in high school, but I didn’t know what commitment was until I came to Simpson all this stuff we’re [the team] is involved in. It’s always basketball on the brain,” Mahr said. “That’s the major difference along with how I could manage college basketball with college classes.”
Simpson was tabbed the No. 4 seed during the Iowa Conference Tournament, but the quest for its seventh conference title in a row (third outright) was cut short with a first-round 55-54 upset from the No. 5 seed, Wartburg College. Simpson ended the season 14-12 overall, 9-5 in conference play. A season plagued constantly with nagging injuries, the 2013-14 season was the first since 2003-04 the Storm were unable to record a 20-plus win season.
But with losing just one player from this year’s squad and the newcomers gaining experience, Mahr and crew will look to regain the Storm’s dominance in the Iowa Conference in seasons to come.