By Greg Gielczyk

NORMAL, IL–Kenzie Bowers finished her high school basketball career at Kent City as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,822 points.

That total is No. 1 among girls and boys at Kent City.

But, it’s an entirely new ball game in college and Bowers learned that lesson on the run this year as a freshman with the Illinois State Redbirds women’s basketball team. The Redbirds compete in Division 1.

“It was a pretty big change,” Bowers said of her freshman season playing college basketball. “But it was fun to meet so many different people, from different places, and play on the big stage, especially in March Madness.

“I mostly had to change my mindset,” she said “I wasn’t one of our top scorers, so instead it was just taking open shots and getting shots for my teammates. I had to improve on handling pressure and passing.”

Photo Courtesy of LSJ photographer Jake Szetela

The Redbirds lost to No. 2-seed Iowa, 98-58 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Bowers played seven minutes.

Bowers averaged 15.4 minutes a game and averaged 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a game.

Her role on the team was as a sixth player. She was typically used on defense.

That was a far cry from what the 5-foot-9 guard had been used to in leading Kent City to an 84-12 record with four conference titles, four district championships, two regional titles and a state finals appearance her senior year. She averaged 20 points, nine rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.8 steals a game in her final season as an Eagle.

“It definitely was a transition from scoring 20 points a game,” Bowers said.

Adjusting to college life – and living in a new town – came a little easier than accepting her new role on the court for Bowers, a majoring in recreational or sports management.

“It’s fun meeting new people and living on your own,” Bowers said. “College basketball is so competitive  and everyone around you is just as good, if not better than you.

“So, you have to work really hard.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Jake Szetela

While she was busy trying to fit in with her new team and teammates, Bowers kept track of how her former squad was doing back home.

The Eagles came up short in their bid for a Division 3 state championship, falling to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, 54-50 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Kent City ended the season 26-1, with Kenzie’s younger sister Lexie scoring nine points and hauling in 10 rebounds.

“I’m so proud of Lex and Kent City,” said Kenzie. “I was able to make it to the finals game, which I was super excited about. I think a lot of people didn’t expect them to be as good this year.

“But, I knew they would be a really solid team still, mostly because I knew Lex would step up big into that leadership role and that ‘star’ role,” Bowers said.

“Maddie (Geers) was another one that I knew with a year under her belt would step up big and she provided a lot for KC also.”

Bowers is already preparing for next season at Illinois State.

“Next year, I’m hoping to step into a starting role and provide a couple more buckets for our team,” Bowers said. “And still getting buckets for others and playing hard-nosed defense.”

Bowers had mixed feelings about her freshman season.

“I guess somewhere in between,” she said. “I was glad I got to play a good amount of minutes and get in every game, even start a couple.

“But, personally, I wish I would’ve shot better percentages from all over the floor and handled the ball better,” she said “But, now I know what I have to work on.”

She also can now offer some advice to other small town high school athletes looking to play Division 1 sports.

“I would say don’t quit and don’t let things upset you too much,” Bowers said. “There are  going to be people and things that become obstacles throughout the way.

“Just stay in the gym and keep working hard, block out the negativity,” she said. “Also, get in the weight room. if you can get faster, stronger and jump higher, you’re going to become a better athlete and all-around player.”

Illinois State, which competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, finished 19-14 overall and 12-6 in the conference this past season. Coach Kristen Gillespie will be back after agreeing to a contract extension through the 2026-27 season.

All photos below are courtesy of LSJ photographer Jake Szetela