McKenna Dale is getting noticed in the United States as a star performer in basketball, swimming and academics. The young New Zealander has signed a scholarship with an Ivy League school, won awards as one of the State of Connecticut’s top student athletes in swimming, basketball and academia. Her father has represented New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games and daughter McKenna is also representing New Zealand by playing for the Junior Tall Ferns. Earlier this week that basketball talent was recognized again – Dale has just been awarded the prestigious Gatorade State High School Basketball Player of the Year for Connecticut.
The Gatorade State Player of the Year award was established in 1985 to recognise the United States’ most outstanding high school student-athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character.
The 17 year old 190cm Guard is about to graduate from E.O. Smith High School in Connecticut State, US, where she averaged 23.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game in her recently completed senior season that saw the E.O. Smith team advance to the state play-offs, where they were eliminated by the eventual champions. Impressively, Dale led the State in three-point shooting at a highly notable 48% (48 made from 88 attempts), her 23.4 points per game were the second highest and her rebounding count of 9.4 per game ranked ninth. These are stats that Dale’s coach for the past four years, E.O. Smith Girls’ Head Basketball Coach Mary Roickle, is proud to quote as she speaks highly of the young talent.
“Dale has developed her game to become a complete basketball player offensively and defensively.
“As a ninth grade starter for EOS High, she was known as the 'three point threat'. Now as she completes 12th grade, she has grown into a versatile offensive player who handles the ball, dribble drives to finish, dribble drives & pulls up, posts up and makes her 'picture perfect, quick release' jump shot out to the 3 point international level.
“She can play any position on the court – point, shooting guard, swing, forward and post as needed. On defence she utilises her quickness and wingspan to disrupt other teams.”
Dale’s ‘All-State’ status follows on from her being named the State’s ‘Female Athlete of the Year’ by the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance earlier in the year.
“I am definitely surprised! I had no idea I would stand out that much with all the talented athletes in Connecticut,” Dale said at the time.
Also a state championship swimmer, Dale has maintained a weighted 5.46 Grade Point Average (GPA) in the classroom. This combination of sporting and academic prowess will see her attend prestigious Ivy League school Brown University later this year. Her GPA is in the upper 10 percentile of her senior class.
“I am extremely excited to attend Brown. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been presented with the opportunity to attend such an amazing school,” said Dale.
Whilst Coach Roickle speaks highly of Dale’s basketball ability, her endorsement of Dale the person is glowing.
“Her basketball statistics and records are impressive. Yet, Dale’s individual talents and accomplishments belie her strongest attribute as a humble, caring leader and teammate who always surrenders ‘me’ for ‘we’. Regardless of her level of talent she desires to be part of a team with a singular focus to do what she can do to contribute to the team’s success.
“My second perspective is to view McKenna in the context of three student-athletes I have had the honour to coach at the collegiate level. All earned ‘All American’ status. Two attained Co-SIDA All American status for their basketball and academic successes - Niagara University’s Joan Thornton – 1980, and Nancy Edgerton - 1981.
Another was an All American and Wade Trophy Finalist - University of Detroit’s Cheryl Williams - 1982. Like these three women, McKenna Dale, at the high school level, possesses the intangible characteristics that led them to their great individual and team successes. Those traits include drive and persistence to continue regardless of setbacks, discipline and humility to remain hungry and keep learning, commitment, focus, determination and competitiveness to not give up, and emotional maturity to keep an even keel despite the game or external conditions.
“A third perspective is academically, McKenna applies herself to her studies as she does to her basketball career.”
With all her success in the United States, New Zealand is in Dale’s blood and heart - she represents the country in basketball and was a member of the Junior Ferns (JTFs) that finished runners-up to Australia at the 2016 FIBA Oceania Under 18 Championships, in Fiji last December.
“I enjoyed playing for the JTF's in Fiji enormously. It was such an unbelievable opportunity, and I feel so lucky that I got the chance to be part of such a talented team. In the two short weeks I was away, I learned a surprising amount, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of my experience,” said Dale
After the season, 2016 Junior Tall Ferns’ Head Coach Brent Matehaere made it clear that he was impressed with the young Kiwi and potentially future Tall Fern.
“First and foremost, McKenna is a great person. She is warm and friendly and obviously driven to be successful an all aspects of life. McKenna came in and worked really hard to get up to speed with the defensive and offensive concepts being used in the team, and her strengths and talent really began to shine.”
Dale’s parents are no strangers to the athletics-academic college route - both are university lecturers. Father Darren is a former New Zealand 400m athletics record holder, talented enough to wear the black singlet at both the 1990 Commonwealth Games and the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
Darren moved to the US in 1994 and did his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Having taught a couple of years at Canterbury University, he now lectures at Eastern Connecticut State University teaching Exercise Science.
Dale is not the only sibling performing well in the family household. Older sister Siobhan (age 19) was a State swimming champion in high school, younger sister Kaleigh (16) will play Division 1 college soccer, entering university in August of 2018 and brother Hunter is 14 years of age and competes in track and field.
Dale is the fifth member of the 2016 Junior Tall Ferns to sign on for a four-year college commitment in the States. She follows teammates Zara Jillings and Kendall Heremaia (both to Fordham), Akiene Reed (Virginia Commonwealth) and Tiarna Clarke (Northern Colorado). All will be playing NCAA Division 1 Women’s basketball in the 2017-18 season.
Dale is hoping to play for the senior New Zealand team at some point in the future and Matehaere has no doubt about her potential.
“She has real talent and as she gains more experience at the elite level she could become a real weapon for the Tall Ferns in the future.”
With FIBA moving the New Zealand national basketball teams into a new competition zone – the Asia Zone – the Tall Ferns and Tall Blacks have a new opportunity to qualify for big basketball events, in front of huge global audiences in the coming years. And with talent like young McKenna Dale and the other American College based players striving for Tall Fern status, New Zealand women’s basketball is certainly developing and looking to the future and being serious contenders on a truly global sporting stage.
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