Even today, Mackenzie Loesing becomes emotional and animated when she recites the date aloud.
“Dec. 5, 2014,” Loesing said last week at Alumni Arena. “I’ll never forget that day.”
That was the day when a doctor told Loesing that she had torn the anterior talofibular ligament in her right ankle for the third time. She would need a third reconstructive surgery, her second in eight months. Her basketball career was over.
The doctor said he would prepare the medical disqualification papers. Loesing, who was early in her junior season, drove to a parking lot and stared out the window for a good, long time, and decided she wasn’t ready for it to end.
Loesing met with her head coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, and they decided on a plan. She would not get the surgery. Loesing, a 5-10 guard, would practice only on the day before games and come off the bench.
She played the rest of the season in pain. Often, she would leave the game so the Bulls’ trainer could pop her bad ligament back into place on the bench.
“We said, ‘We’re going after the Sixth Player of the Year award,” Legette-Jack said. “She could have been first team all-conference if she played healthy.”
Loesing averaged 13.3 points in only 25.9 minutes and, yes, won the Sixth Player award. She was a key factor in the UB women winning 19 games and reaching the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals for the second time ever.
Late in UB’s loss to Ohio in the conference semis, Loesing scored 11 points in a six-minute stretch to keep the Bulls in the game. It was inspiring. Watching her battle on a bad ankle, I told myself, “I’m going to write about that woman next season.”
But next season never arrived for Loesing. If she had played that Ohio game as if it were her last game in the MAC, there was a reason. Last week, she ended her career after three seasons.
“You can’t sugarcoat it, it’s devastating,” Loesing said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get over it. But I have to deal with it. I can say, I feel blessed to be able to say this is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life. So many people have it worse.”
The Cincinnati native has a mature and refreshing perspective. She’s a competitor from an athletic family of five children. She grew up competing with her siblings. Her brother, Brad, played at Wofford and is now playing pro ball in Germany.
But Loesing also understands that a basketball career is fleeting, especially for a woman. There are more important things, like education and family and making a difference. She has a 3.6 GPA in biomedical sciences and plans to become a doctor.
Loesing could have put off surgery again and tried to play hurt as a senior. She couldn’t put herself, or her coach, through that again. Ever a team player, she figured leaving would allow Legette-Jack to bring in a player who could contribute to UB’s rise in the MAC.
“I would only be a fraction of the player I know in my heart and my mind that I could be,” she said. “That would cause even more frustration and emotional pain, not being able to give everything I know I can give to the team.”
She’ll get the surgery this summer. Sitting out a year as a redshirt was out of the question. Doctors said injuring the ankle again could compromise her health later in life.
“I want to have a family,” she said. “I want to be able to run around with my kids. I want to be a doctor. I’m going to have to be on my feet 15 hours a day. I don’t want to compromise those things for another season of basketball where I’m a shadow of my potential.”
She has dreams outside the game. She’s excited to apply the passion she has for basketball into other things. Next season, Loesing will be with the team as a student assistant. No doubt, she’ll remind them how lucky they are to be playing basketball.
“She gave everything she had and inspired each and every one of us,” said senior Kristen Sharkey, UB’s leading scorer. “We had to know that we also gave it everything to feel OK.”
Loesing raved about the development of her teammates this past season, especially Joanna Smith, who gained a larger role when Loesing became a reserve. She said it hurts to know they could have won a MAC title if she had been fully healthy.
“If I had been able to deliver my full self to that team, no one would have beat us,” she said. “We would have rings on our fingers right now. But a lot of good things came out of it. So I’d like to think this needed to happen for our team to mature.”
Loesing called her career a gift. Many of the men could use a reminder. Close to 800 men’s Division I players have transferred this year – seven at Niagara alone.
I’m not sure what they’re searching for, and how many were motivated by higher learning. They’ll be lucky to walk away as Loesing did, certain they got every ounce out of their ability and took full advantage of the gift.
As a sophomore, Loesing averaged 16.3 points and was second-team all-MAC. She was the first UB woman to reach 800 points in her sophomore season. If she had remained healthy and played as a senior, she could have become the No. 2 scorer in UB history.
“I was raised in a family that ingrained in me how important education was from day one,” Loesing said. “Learning and being in school is something I love. A lot of athletes take for granted what they’ve been given.
“Being given a free college education, how amazing is that? It’s something really special, that you can go really far with. Because you never know when your sport is going to be taken away from you.”
Last week, UB lost another starter when forward Alexus Malone transferred to Louisiana Tech. Legette-Jack said Malone will be easy to replace. Loesing is another matter.
“You can’t find a Mackenzie in a day,” Legette-Jack said. “The grind that she has inside her stomach … she’s the toughest thing I’ve ever met. She told me, ‘Coach, I am playing to the end of this season. That’s not negotiable.’ That’s what I loved about her.
“She’s going to be that kind of a doctor, too. She’s never going to quit. She’ll always find a way to make it happen to save a life.”
Basketball isn’t life and death. Loesing admits it hurts to lose your career and a player’s identity. She also knows that as a doctor, she will see people every day who remind her how lucky she was to play hurt.
“It’s put my whole life into perspective,” she said. “I feel so blessed. It’s just the end of a chapter. It’s not the end of the world, as much as it might feel like that sometimes.
“I can’t say it enough. If this is the hardest thing I have to go through … I think I’m going to be OK.”