Mid-Atlantic Christian's Kayla Kent Can
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Kayla Kent could never have predicted this scenario with two full months left in the 2023 season.
An empty bench.
Just five players. No subs. No breaks.
An opportunity to surrender. To give in to the mounting pressure. To succumb to reality.
Or maybe, just maybe, an opportunity for extraordinary.
A Musical Youth
Kayla's earliest opponents on the court were also her biggest supporters — her brothers Kobe and James. They introduced her to basketball as she approached middle school. Kent then found herself torn between family tradition and her undeniable basketball talent.
For Kayla, family meant two things growing up — faith and music. Her grandfather played the keyboard, her brother played the drums, and the rest of her family sang. Throughout her youth in Wilson, North Carolina, Kayla attended her uncle's congregation, where she quickly became a standout in the choir.
Growing up in a talented family, it's no surprise that a keyboard, a Christmas present from her mother, formed the foundation of her musical upbringing. Kent taught herself to play the piano, a skill she practices to this day.
Kayla participated in her school's choir and eventually landed solo parts in big performances. However, as she grew musically, her basketball skills also flourished, and the two talents soon became intertwined.
Kent utilized her ability to handle the pressure of performing in front of large crowds to assist with the newfound interest in basketball.
“It helped a lot to gain confidence,” said Kent, “I think that singing has really helped me build my confidence up to where I can actually be in front of a lot of people.”
She soon found herself gaining recognition for her basketball skills, but she would have to put her musical talents on hold if she chose to focus on hoops.
Difficult decision. Kayla struggled.
Prioritize basketball or her lifelong dreams with music.
Going with basketball would require her to transfer as Sallie B. Howard Middle School did not allow play until 7th grade.
So she opted to follow the dreams.
The ones on the court.
The ones with the ultimate goal of playing college hoops.
An Early Talent
Kayla’s transferred to Springfield Middle School in Luaoma and began her competitive basketball career. Although middle school basketball rarely gets recognition, Kayla stood out.
“I scored like 27 in one of my middle school games,” said Kent, “That was a big game for me. It was in the paper.”
And in eighth grade she received a high honor - an invitation to practice with the varsity players at Hunt High School.
Kayla struggled mightily.
But she worked hard. She pushed herself. She wanted to prove she could play with these oder girls.
She then received another invitation from the high school coach - play on varsity as an incoming freshman.
Kent actually turned it down.
“I knew [coach] had certain people that he was going to play."
So Kent wisely chose the junior varsity team, the route that would allow her to grow and increase her chances of making it to college.
As a JV star with unlimited minutes, Kent's talent was undeniable.
“The first game, I think I dropped 32 points… I had another game where I dropped 35… I had a good run my freshman year."
She joined varsity her sophomore year during which had a lot of learning to do. She had to learn how to face a loss, many losses. And she had to learn how deal with a game in which she didn’t play to the best of her abilities,
She had to learn in order to make it to college.
She just had to.
In her junior year, a new coach arrived - Tiffany Parks. And the constant losing stopped. The team opened the season on a massive winning streak with Kent at the center of it all. She then won MVP of the Christmas tournament.
And colleges began showing interest.
And the goal became closer.
Kent, however, found it hard to receive significant recognition during the recruitment process. Most players are scouted on the highly competitive AAU circuit. But AAU proved too costly, leaving her with only her high school.
So she entered her senior year focused and determined, with one of the best teams in the state.
And she injured her ankle. A crushing blow.
She worked tirelessly on her rehabilitation, with the support of her family and teammates. Though the injury took its toll on Kayla's performance during the playoffs, her talent was still recognized, as she took home conference MVP.
This recognition bolstered her spirits, and Kayla continued to work on her recovery, determined to play college basketball.
And then another entity recognized her talent: Johnson and Wales University - Charlotte.
She did it.
A Challenging Start
As a freshman at JWU, she played off the bench, and built a good reputation for herself. With lots of potential, she believed she was in a great spot to become a starter her sophomore year.
Life had other plans.
Her coach, Jennifer King, left for the Washington Commanders to become the first black woman full-time assistant coach in NFL. Wonderful for Coach King. Not so wonderful for Kayla.
Johnson and Wales hired a new coach who took a dislike to Kent. To this day, Kent isn’t sure why. But the coach clearly had an issue with her, and by the beginning of the season, Kayla had been dismissed from the team.
“I don’t think she had an actual reason. Every time I told everybody why I got kicked off, it didn’t really make sense,” said Kent.
Despite all of the hard work Kent had put in to get to a Division III college, she lost her team and her academic scholarship.
Others would have packed it in right then and there, and likely never played competitive college basketball again.
That’s not Kent.
She took it upon herself to start reaching out to schools and figure out a way to make it back to college hoops. She reached out to Carolina University and Clinton College.
No and no.
She also contacted Coach Charles Troxell at the USCAA's Mid-Atlantic Christian University.
“I sent my film over and he said he remembered me from playing with Johnson and Wales against them,” said Kent.
Troxell set up a visit and she signed that day. Kent had a chance to start over.
“Kay’s recruitment was kind of different,” said Troxell, “I knew she could really play. . .we just clicked.”
A Tumultuous Season
Kayla quickly had to get adjusted to a different lifestyle. The private apartments and showers of JWU - gone. The prior friends and teammates - gone as well. But in their place was something much more important — an extremely dedicated team.
“Once it all came down to basketball, we were strictly teammates,” said Kent. “Nobody could break us on the court.”
Kent began her MACU career strong, taking over a starting role and becoming a lethal scoring punch for the Mustangs. She finished her junior year averaging 10.8 points per game. Her season ended slightly early because of another injury, but she still considered it a success due to the relative consistency. On the court, everything was great, and Kent was ready to finally have some calm in her college basketball life entering her senior year.
Once again, life had other plans.
The team began the season with seven players. However, the top point scorer, Tyeisha Williams, planned to graduate in December, leaving them with just six to finish out the season. Despite this, Kent was ready to step up and fill the hole Williams left.
Then the team lost two other players.
That left only four. And half a season to play.
“I’m like, here we go again. I’m about to end my season short again,” Kent said.
Desperation set in as the Mustangs realized their season was about to be over.
Athletic Director Andy Meneely came to Kent looking for advice on whether they should try to find another player. Kent’s answer was an emphatic yes.
A Resilient Group
“She’s always on the floor,” said Kent of her new teammate Emily Hill.
Hill's penchant for diving for loose balls actually made a lot of sense - she started the season on MACU’s volleyball team.
Armed with a plug-and-play starter, the Lady Mustangs of MACU exited their month-long winter break with a monumental challenge — to compete despite having no bench players.
The season had to be shortened. There was no way around it. Their second half of the schedule was cut off at the mid-February mark, eliminating the chance for them to play playoff basketball. But for four final games, the Mustangs would try to display resilience, and possibly, possibly not embarrass themselves - they lost their last game by 28 points and had a bench.
But who better to lead this scrappy, remarkable team than Kent?
The first test — a January 23 matchup with Appalachian Bible College. Appalachian’s whole team versus MACU’s five, non-stop, for 40 minutes.
“Once we started the game it was like, I’m already tired, but we had no choice. We had to keep going,” said Kent, “I think both of my legs cramped up.”
With nobody to sub in for her, Kent simply had to manage despite limited mobility. For much of the second half, she would stay back on defense, while her team played 4-on-5 on the offensive end.
The result — a 63-34 win. Nothing short of remarkable.
“She stepped up,” said freshman Carly James, “it helped relieve the pressure.”
Anyone else would’ve given up many times during the life she faced.
But that’s not Kent.
She proved her worth, on the court and off, and following the victory against Appalachian Bible College, her leadership helped MACU win two more of those final three games despite the insurmountable odds. To top it off Kayla made second team All-New South Atlantic Conference's The result of this turbulent season was another victory in a life of dedication that will surely continue to propel Kent to new heights.
Life may have another plan, but Kayla Kent can still find a way to make it work.
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