Valparaiso University women’s basketball coach Mary Evans has given her program a boost by announcing the addition of two newcomers who will join the team for the 2019-2020 academic and athletic year.
Zoe MacKay Zacker (St. Charles, Ill. / Montini Catholic) has signed to join the program as a true freshman, while Grace White (Redby, Minn. / Red Lake) will come to Valpo as a transfer from the University of Denver.
White played in 29 games for the Pioneers as a freshman in 2017-18, making five starts. She averaged 4.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist while playing 14.2 minutes per game. In 2018-2019, she played in 31 of the team’s 32 games, once again averaging 4.6 points while pulling down 4.2 rebounds per contest. During her high school career, White racked up 2,400 points.
“From her high school days to now, Grace has shown she is a very versatile player,” Evans said. “She can really score the basketball, and her best quality is her passing ability. The last two years, she’s played a lot in the post. Her skills set will fit right into our system and how we play.”
White plans to study psychology and communication at Valpo and intends to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
“There were various factors that went into my decision including the education, location, coaching staff and team,” White said. “It came down to how I felt when I was on campus and how welcomed I felt on my visit. Everything lined up for me to come to Valpo and it felt right.”
White was teammates with Valpo sophomore Carie Weinman (Glenview, Ill. / Glenbrook South [Denver]) when both were freshmen at Denver in 2017-18. Talking with her former teammate about Valpo’s culture and program helped make her decision an easy one.
“From the first conversation I had with Grace, I’ve loved talking to her,” Evans said. “She’s a very mature individual and has a unique background. Her outlook on life, her goals and aspirations and what she wants to accomplish are amazing. Having those conversations with her through the recruiting process made me like her more and more. She’s a very driven young person who wants to find a way to give back to her community, and understands that basketball can be a great platform to do that.”
White comes from a Native American reservation and is the first person from her tribe to compete in Division-I athletics.
“It’s important for me to be a role model for native youth to earn their degrees,” White said. “It’s crucial to have Native Americans be successful in their education and in their careers. My status as a Division-I athlete has created an audience of native children, and that allows me to set an example for them. I have a lot of reasons why I play college basketball and set lofty goals for myself.”
Like White, MacKay Zacker has the benefit of having played with someone on Valpo’s current roster. She relied on insight from her high school teammate Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill. / Montini) to help make her college decision.
“When I first looked at colleges, I was seeking a strong coaching staff that had a good connection with their players,” MacKay Zacker said. “Team chemistry was also a huge factor. As soon as I arrived on Valpo’s campus and met the coaches, it was clear that this coaching staff is making positive strides with this program. I wanted to be a part of the turnaround of a program, and I think Valpo under Coach Evans is the perfect place for that.”
MacKay Zacker battled through numerous injuries that kept her sidelined for her first three years of high school.
“I have been following Zoe since she was an eighth grader,” Evans said. “I’ve always talked to her high school and AAU coaches and had her on my radar. Her years of sitting out due to injuries allowed her to develop a high level of maturity. She is very driven to work hard because she knows how quickly the game of basketball can be taken away from someone. She’s a fantastic person with a great family and I’m very excited to have her on our team.”
MacKay Zacker plans to double major in health science and sport management with hopes of entering the physician’s assistant program and earning a master’s as well. Joining Valpo’s team is the culmination of years of hard work and rehab to return to health after her battles with injuries.
“I’ve visited Valpo multiple times, and every time I go, I’m happier with my choice,” MacKay Zacker said. “The process of coming back from injuries is truly harder mentally than physically. The support that I’ve received from my parents, teammates, coaches and friends has meant everything to me. Seeing Coach Evans look at me and say, ‘I know you can play for me,’ is special. Some of my Valpo teammates have gone through injuries like I have, so we can relate to each other. I’m counting down the days until I arrive on campus.”
MacKay Zacker and White join incoming freshman Cara VanKempen (Coopersville, Mich. / Coopersville), who signed in November, to form the group of Valpo women’s basketball newcomers for 2019-2020.
“This incoming group fits everything we’ve talked about,” Evans said. “They are very versatile as they can handle the basketball, shoot, drive and play defense. Cara and Grace are special passers with their court vision. Zoe had a lot of high major interest before her injuries, so she has great upside. These versatile players are exactly what we want here at Valpo, and I’m excited to see what they can accomplish in their time with our program.”