ICC's Maisa Marcal's Long Trip To Friendship And Success
The average community college student commutes about 10 miles. For Maisa Marcal it’s 5,270. A third year sophomore for Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, the Brazilian native is having her best year yet.
Her journey from Lençóis Paulista, a town of fewer than 70,000 people in the State of Sao Paolo, to Kansas was a classic combination of serendipity and determination. When she was seven years old, she went to her older sister’s basketball practice and the coach invited her to play. Her ball handling ability immediately became evident.
“I always liked to dribble,” says Maisa, “so when I watched the NBA I always liked Kyrie Irving.”
By 15 she was playing in “the city,” which for her meant Sao Paolo. Her skill and work ethic were quickly noticed by her club coach, Eduardo Cartier, who sent her game film to a fellow Brazilian coach in Texas, Julio Pacheco. The Kansas connection was completed when Pacheco posted footage online of Maisa, and soon got the attention of former Independence coach, Leslie Crane. A circuitous route for sure but, like all good fortune and luck, much of it was earned.
New Culture - On And Off The Court
Culture shock is inevitable for any young athlete moving 5,000 miles to a different country. There is the issue of food; for Maisa, Mexican and hibachi rice is the closest she can find to her native Brazilan rice. Language is another. Unfortunately for Maisa she came to Independence Community College speaking little to no English.
“Normally our international students come speaking some English, but I came with nothing,” Maisa said. “All I could say was ‘Hi my name is Maisa.’ It was hard to understand what people were telling me, especially what the coaches wanted me to do.”
Like millions of immigrants and newcomers to America have done before her, she used American television as a gateway to learn the language. While she devoured shows such as “Friends,” her favorite show is “The 100”, a post-apocalyptic science fiction show about a group of people who arrive back on earth only to discover it has been devastated by a nuclear war.
In addition to adapting to a new culture, Maisa was soon adapting to a new style of play. “In Brazil she was more of a small forward and wasn’t playing point guard,” says Associate Head Coach Rob Beckmann. “When we [a new coaching staff] came in we saw that she was tall, incredibly quick and dynamic. She can shoot, dribble, she can do a little bit of everything. It made sense to move her to the point guard position.”
The switch to point guard was an obvious move, even if it didn’t seem so to Maisa at the time, who felt apprehensive about the move and needed some convincing.
“I told her In America it’s [the point guard position] kind of the QB of the football team. It’s the most important position,” Coach Beckmann said. Now in her second year as point guard, Maisa has reduced her turnovers without losing any of her breathtaking speed. “Not many point guards have her size and speed,” Coach Beckmann said. “When you put it all together, size, speed, and experience, and the extra year because of Covid, I think it makes her one of the best players in all of junior college.”
Photos by Nick Dailey, Independence Daily Reporter
New Friendship - On And Off The Court
The extra year, however, has come at a high cost. Due to the coronavirus, Maisa hasn’t been able to travel home to Brazil since before the pandemic began. Concerns about possibly not being allowed back into the U.S., coupled with the possibility of quarantine in Mexico because of the circuitous route she needs to take to get back home, led Maisa to decide it was not worth the risk. She has been forced to acclimate at an accelerated pace. Aiding her along the way is Kaitlyn Rasmussen, a former player and now team manager. Kaitlyn has provided Maisa with a second family.
Like many friendships, theirs was brewed among seeming conflict, with both competing for playing time because they played the same position. After they became friends Kaitlyn invited Maisa to her family’s Christmas celebration. So it was natural for her to offer the Brazilian refuge during the pandemic.
“The day I went to pick up all my things from my dorm I heard Maisa wasn’t going to be able to go home so that day I asked if she wanted to come to my house. We’ve been inseparable ever since.”
“They brought me to their house and made it feel like it's my own house,” Maisa says. “They treat me like a daughter and the connection I have with them is special. Her family comes to watch my games like a daughter. I call them mom and dad. It’s like family.”
Entering her third year, Maisa has been flourishing. Her game is flourishing as well. “She’s averaging 14 points. On another team she’d be scoring even more, we happen to be a pretty balanced team though. She also is leading the team in rebounds,” Coach Beckmann says.
Head coach Jim Turgeon has witnessed this transformation firsthand: “Maisa is an incredible playmaker who creates, both off the dribble and off the pass. She is long and dynamic, with an excellent ability to finish at the rim and beyond the arc.”
In addition to the improvement in her game, the hours of Netflix have paid off as well.
“Now I can communicate better, talk to coach, ask questions and find out what I need to do to get better and how to improve.”
All this is necessary on such a diverse team. Only one player is from Kansas this year. Independence Community College has players from Spain, Chile, Germany, and only last year had players from France and Africa as well.
“I like having international and American girls on the same team. We can teach each other jokes from our country. They teach us things about America,” Maisa says.
But of course, none of this would matter if she didn’t perform well on the court.
Independence Community College’s biggest rival is Coffeyville, only 15 minutes away and in the same county. Last year they split a pair of games, with each team holding serve at home. Maisa played an important role in the buzzer beater in the home win. But that isn’t enough for Maisa. “After each game I upload our games and she watches them that night,” Coach Beckmann says.
Last year, for the first time in 25 years, Independence Community College won its region but lost in the first round of nationals. “The goal this year is to repeat as regional champions and win the nationals in Lubbock, Texas,” says Coach Beckmann. If they do, Maisa will need to be an integral part.
With the style of basketball changing at all levels of the game, from the NBA to people’s backyards, the game requires more skill than ever from every position on the floor, and Maisa fits perfectly into this new paradigm. She is currently being recruited by several Division 1 teams and is one of two captains on the team. She leads the squad in points (14.4) and rebounds (5.8). It’s fair to say that her acclimation process is near complete. She hopes to finally make it home to Brazil after the season with news of where she will be playing Division 1 ball.
“For my 21st birthday, my parents gifted me a card that read 'for your special day – your gift is a paid trip to Brazil,’” Kaitlyn says. Fittingly, her birthday is the same day as Maisa’s. So after an extended stay due to the pandemic, Maisa will be finally making the 5,270 mile commute home, and this time she won’t be going alone.
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