For Kenesha Saygo, adjusting to the college level — one year removed from dominating high school competition — wasn’t the hard part.
Trying to do so with a chronically injured knee, however, proved to be more challenging.
But Saygo, a star at Ellison and the 2013 District 8-5A MVP, has never backed down from a challenge, particularly on the hardwood.
“What I love about Saygo is, first of all, she’s a fearless competitor,” Texas Woman’s University head coach Beth Jillson said. “You can see in her eyes when she gets on that court she hates to lose.”
That attitude served Saygo well in her first season at Texas Woman’s, helping her overcome a season full of injuries to earn the Lone Star Conference Freshman of the Year honor.
Jillson estimated that Saygo did that while playing at 75 percent.
But the player that Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon came to know and love in high school only knows to give 100 percent when it comes to effort.
“I knew. I just knew when I talked to her coach when she was being recruited that she was going to be a great college player,” McKinnon said. “She wasn’t just going to be good, she was going to be great because she works extremely hard at everything she does.”
Saygo and McKinnon text and call each other regularly. But it was actually fellow class of 2013 guard Deja Pointer, also playing at Texas Woman’s, who told McKinnon that Saygo had been named LSC Freshman of the Year.
Pointer nearly passed on the opportunity to play at the college level before having a change of heart two weeks before classes began.
Now, Jillson is happy to have Saygo and Pointer together, where they feed off each other offensively and brought Ellison’s trademark defensive pressure with them to TWU.
“It was just there, especially defensively,” Jillson said, “They were just up, pressuring the ball, getting after it.”
On the offensive end, Saygo was exactly what Jillson envisioned her as when she recruited her out of Ellison.
Saygo said she had to adjust her game this past season as tougher defenses prevented her from driving the lane at will.
But she said the transition from primary scoring option to bench player actually helped her adjust.
“To have to kind of sit back and watch others humbled me but at the same time it helped me,” Saygo said. “And it developed my game of play because I got to see what the upperclassmen could do.”
And Saygo wasn’t only paying attention to her teammates this season.
She and Pointer followed Ellison closely as the Lady Eagles repeated as district champions and went undefeated in district play for the first time in school history.
And they’re just as proud of McKinnon as she is of her former players.
“I was overboard happy,” Saygo said. “They kept the championship at Ellison where it belongs.
“And just them going undefeated excited me because everybody doubted them.”
The only regret McKinnon has about this past basketball season is that she missed her one opportunity to see Saygo and the Pioneers in person.
But she said that won’t happen again — not when she knows how bright the future is for Saygo.
“She’s only going to get better because that’s always a goal in her mind,” McKinnon said. “When she accomplished that, her next goal is to be an All-American.”
And whenever McKinnon gets to see the Pioneers in person, Saygo will be looking for her.
“Hopefully, she won’t be too busy next year and she’ll get to see Deja and I get out there and do our thing just like we were for her,” Saygo said.