[Karen Naess for Shaw Media]
Through her injuries, MacKay Zacker never stopped working.
She's trained since seventh grade at Chris Conrad's "Barn" in St. Charles. Two, three days a week, when all MacKay Zacker could do is walk and dribble, in the freezing cold when the barn would not warm up, she worked.
"We'd see our breath," MacKay Zacker said, "but it was worth it."
Her third ACL tear was eye-opening. Junior year is the year everybody talks about it. The year when players get on recruiting lists and get known.
MacKay Zacker at one time held offers from Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. Then three knee injuries happened.
"Not going to lie, I did worry," MacKay Zacker said. "I did panic. 'I thought 'what the heck am I going to do, I've been playing basketball since sixth grade.'"
She applied to a lot of schools, several Big Ten schools. Academics, always a priority, became even more urgent with MacKay Zacker's basketball future on shaky ground. She plans to double major in health science and sports management.
But each time, after every injury, she popped right back up. As a senior, finally a full healthy season, MacKay Zacker averaged 6.1 points and 1.8 rebounds. She made all-conference, and was all-tournament in every one Montini played in.
"It looked very bleak for a time, but she played her way back into a spot," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "She was one [injury] away from being done. To get through all of that, to get an opportunity to play her senior year and play in college, that says a lot about her."
MacKay Zacker hardly plays like a kid who's been through ACL tears. Fearless, she looks forward to a future unafraid and thankful.
"People always ask me 'Are you hesitant when you play?'" MacKay Zacker said. "If I played scared the rest of my life I wouldn't enjoy it. It's a mental game as well as physical. My teammates at Montini game me so much support. Just knowing how much it meant to be on the court and be a presence, it's irreplaceable."