Kayla Agentowicz’s college basketball career has been far from ordinary.
Agentowicz came out of high school as a top-100 guard in the country, per ESPN. She chose Mount St. Mary’s, which was gearing up for something special.
But the injury bug hampered her second and third seasons, and the COVID-19 pandemic added even more challenges to an already arduous tenure for the backcourt contributor.
Yet here she is, now in her sixth season with the Mountaineers, helping lead a team that has righted the ship in recent years and is looking forward to continuing to make a name for itself on the national stage of women’s college basketball.
“My injury journey was something that was very hard,” Agentowicz, 23, said.
“At times, it was like, ‘Is this even worth it anymore?'” she added. “In the end, I wanted to be here, I wanted to play ball and I wanted to get healthy.”
A season-ending foot injury halfway through her sophomore year in 2017-18 caused her to miss her entire junior year. Agentowicz played through the lingering effects of the injury during her fourth season in 2019-20 until the pandemic halted the Mount’s season in its tracks during the Northeast Conference tournament. The Mountaineers had won 20 games and were fighting for an NEC title at the time.
Upon the team’s return the following fall, the Mount had to play through unconventional circumstances. Empty gymnasiums, constant testing, contact tracing and travel restrictions loomed over a program beginning to come into its own.
“It was definitely a very different season,” Agentowicz said. “I think everyone could agree [that] there would be times when we were all suited up on the court for shootaround, getting ready to go, and we get a call and the game’s canceled because the other team has COVID.”
But despite all of the roadblocks along the way, the Scott Township, Pa., native has seen the program grow from its 12-18 finish in 2016-17 to an NCAA Tournament appearance last season. Agentowicz underwent another foot procedure this past summer, something she says has made her more comfortable on the court.
The Mount is at its best when Agentowicz is at her best. After averaging 4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in 26 contests in 2019-20, she returned to form last season, averaging 6.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 24 games, all starts. The team posted a 17-7 record, winning the NEC and making its first NCAA Tournament trip since 1995.
Agentowicz’s return from injury, combined with her immense experience within the program, has helped Mount St. Mary’s achieve that success. She is averaging 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game through eight games so far this season.
“She’s been through her bouts with injuries on and off the court throughout the seasons,” redshirt junior guard Aryna Taylor said, “and I feel like her energy and her positive vibes definitely do help our team in the best way they possibly can.”
“When she was injured she worked hard every single day, she put in so much effort,” Taylor added. “She worked out on days where none of us would work out. She put so much work in to get back to our season and to get back on the court with us. It definitely does help our team out in that aspect.”
Agentowicz’s influence has become even more important this year. Former Mountaineers assistant Antoine White was named head coach of the Mount’s women’s basketball program in March. The team has adjusted to a new coach as it works to make back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Luckily for the Mountaineers, Agentowicz has played under White for the entirety of her collegiate career. White joined the team as an intern with the program the same year Agentowicz first joined the team. As the two have climbed the team’s proverbial ladder, the combination of coach and player has yielded a strong bond.
“It’s funny, Kayla and I have spent the same amount of time at the Mount with each other,” White said. “… Her and I, for whatever reason, started gravitating toward each other and we started working out and I just really enjoyed her.”
“She’s a really talented player,” he added. “She can score the ball at all three levels, so yeah, she’s definitely one of the hardest workers in the program.”
White’s perspective on the game is not new to the Mountaineers. He has been forging relationships with his players and working in his playing style for years, most recently with his defensive scheme as the associate head coach of the Mount since the summer of 2019.
At such a pivotal point in the Mountaineers’ trajectory, White believes that his team is ready to make that next big jump. That’s precisely why he set his team up with a rigorous nonconference schedule. For White, the Mount is ready for that next big step.
“If you look at our nonconference schedule, it’s pretty tough. There’s no nights off for us,” White said. “And I like that for this group. I wanted to challenge them headed into conference play so that way when we kick conference play off … we’re hitting on all cylinders, and we’re playing some really tough games.”
The Mountaineers have gotten off to a slow start in a nonconference stretch that featured games against Clemson, Maryland, Seton Hall and Ohio State, but Agentowicz isn’t worried. She’s spent enough time with this team to know how a season can ebb and flow. And with White, who has the experience and the relationships to repeat last year’s success, the team is prepared to push forward.
“[White] being passionate about the game brings a lot of fun into [this team],” Agentowicz said. “I mean, he can be hard on us on the court and a couple minutes later we can step into his office and crack some jokes. … That’s what we love about him.”
Photo Credit: David Sinclair