BY DEYSCHA SMITH ‘19
Last year, Annika Brooks ’21 spent her time playing pickup basketball with the guys, trying to build her confidence. The sophomore forward from Portland, Maine experienced a difficult rookie season at Wheaton College with little playing time, and knew she needed a change of pace. So, prior to transferring to Mount Holyoke, she found herself spending her last few moments in Wheaton’s gymnasium, playing against men who were taller and bigger than her. She knew she wanted to improve.
She credits these games with her improvement during that first year. “They gave me more confidence the next year when trying out [at Mount Holyoke],” she said, sitting inside of Blanchard Community Center. “[The guys] encouraged me, said, ‘Why aren’t you playing, you should be playing!’”
With their encouragement and a desire to start fresh, Brooks transferred to Mount Holyoke. She enjoyed the beautiful campus and how rigorous Mount Holyoke was academically, as she planned on majoring in psychology. She also knew that she wanted to be a part of a new squad. To become a Lyon with a Y, rather than an I.
“I toured Mount Holyoke last spring, and fell in love with it immediately,” she said. “The campus, the feel. I wanted to give it a shot.”
Her new beginning in South Hadley also occurred at a time of transition for the Lyons. After the departure of long- time basketball coach Michelle Scecina, Jackie Ward took over. However, this worked well for Brooks, who instantly clicked with the other new addition to the team.
“As soon as I met her, I thought this was going to be a really good season. I really like her, great coach, great person,” said Brooks. “She cares about every single player and puts in the time.” Upon arriving on campus, Brooks quickly got along with her new team- mates too and knew she had found the right team.
“When I first met Coach Ward, she introduced me to Katlyn [Grover ’20], GraceAnne [Woods ’21] and Leah [Hodges ’19]. They were so welcoming, and the second week I went out to dinner with them, events for orientation, and that was already a game-changer. They were very accepting, they wanted to get to know me, which was nice,” she said. “We’d go do our workouts a couple of times a week and I felt very included, and I had a spot on the team.”
That type of natural chemistry was important for the team, considering the tough time they have had in past sea- sons. Brooks’ addition made an immediate impact, both physically and mentally. On Jan. 14, she scored a game-high 23 points against Green Mountain College, helping the Lyons achieve their first win in two years. Brooks attributes her performance in the Green Mountain game to not only her ever-building confidence, but the time and preparation she puts into scouting opponents and practicing on the court.
“Sometimes before games, I’d look at film, and I knew that we could win this game,” she said. “So, just [with taking] it individually and just [having] that mentality of ‘you deserve to win,’ you are going to win.”
She also approaches tough games as an opportunity to grow. “I personally look at it not as a whole win or a loss but parts of the game,” said Brooks. “If we have a couple nice plays, that’s a positive. Working together, running the plays right, those small things stand out more than a win or a loss,” she said.
Still, as she prepares for next sea- son, she’s excited to see how the team improves and reaches their full potential. With the graduation of Hodges and Zahkeyah Allen ’19, Brooks will have to step up as a leader, despite her quieter demeanor and lead-by-example attitude.
“I can always do a better job being a leader, I’m a quieter person,” she said. “I want to keep improving as a player, take what I’ve learned this year and apply it next year, maybe get out of my comfort zone and become more of a vocal leader. The whole team gets along with each other, and I’m just excited to get another season.”