Former Central basketball star called to the Hall

At left, Kathy (Heuer) Mackenthun was recently inducted into the University of Minnesota-Morris Hall of Fame. Submitted photo

The highest scoring female basketball player in Central High School history recently added another notable achievement to her distinguished career.

Kathy (Heuer) Mackenthun, who graduated from Central in 1990 and went on to star at the University of Minnesota — Morris, was inducted into the Cougar Hall of Fame at Morris on Sept. 21. Prior to this year, only 30 individuals had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, so Mackenthun is among select company in terms of Morris athletes.

“It was a big honor,” she said. “I was very surprised when I got the letter.”

One person who may have been less surprised by the news was long-time Central girls’ basketball coach Gary Lembcke who, two decades after her graduation, remembered Mackenthun’s high school statistics without referring to the record book.

“She really developed herself into an outstanding post player. She had moves where she could go either way. She had a great shooting touch,” said Lembcke, who also played college basketball at Morris and had a former teammate inducted into the Hall of Fame along with  Mackenthun. “The last two years she shot 59 percent and 58 percent from the field.”

At just five feet, nine inches tall, Mackenthun excelled despite being undersized at the post position. She began playing at the varsity level in high school as a freshman.

“The reason she started as a freshman was that we needed post players, and she could rebound,” said Lembcke. “She wasn’t a complete offensive player. She probably averaged five points a game. But we needed someone to give us an interior presence, and that’s who we had.”

Mackenthun honed her skills, however, and by the end of her career had amassed 1,276 points — a record that has yet to be surpassed. She was also second in rebounds with over 900.

“[By the end of high school] she was just a very complete ballplayer,” said Lembcke. “She had a great work ethic. She was the type of kid where you could say, ‘Here’s what we’d like you to work on and get better on,’ and she did it.”
Thanks in part to Mackenthun, the Raiders won their first district championships during her junior and senior season, advancing to the region finals in her last year before losing to St. Peter by just two points.

While the loss mean that most of the team members’ basketball days were over, Mackenthun was just getting started. Perhaps because of her size, she was not heavily recruited out of high school, but she nevertheless caught the attention of the Morris coach during one high school game.

“It’s kind of funny because she was not well-recruited,” said Lembcke. “I remember the coach from Morris said that her goal was to make her into a small forward in two years. They had two 6-1 girls. Actually, the way she spotted Kathy was that we were playing another team in the district and she was recruiting their 6-1 center. She came to watch her play, and then saw Kathy Heuer play and really liked her.

“The ironic thing was that she figured by Kathy’s junior year she’d be a contributing ballplayer. Well, Kathy went there and she started as a freshman right away. She beat out these two 6-1 post players and just had a phenomenal career there.”

Mackenthun left her mark on the Morris record books, finishing third in school history with 1,543 points and fifth in rebounds with 812. She also set a single season record for most free throws with 123 and a single-game record for going 8-8 from the field.

In 1991-92 she was an NAIA All-District Team member and NSIC Academic All-Conference. She improved in 1992-93, garnering NSIC All-Conference Team and NAIA All-District Team honors. In 1993 she was the NAIA District 13 Emil S. Liston Award winner, which is awarded to a female junior basketball player for their excellence in playing ability, scholarship and character.

Finally, during her senior season in 1993-94 Mackenthun was not only the team MVP but a NSIC Academic All-Conference, NSIC Midwest Regional Team member, NAIA Division I All-America Scholar-Athlete and the UMM Honor Athlete.

All those achievements culminated in Mackenthun’s induction into the Hall of Fame during the Morris homecoming week.

“She’s well deserving. Not only was she a good athlete, but she was just a great person,” said Lembcke. “She was just an outstanding student and she was always very motivated.”

For her part, Mackenthun said her success was due to more than just her own efforts.

“It’s a big thing, but I couldn’t have gotten to where I was unless I had that good coaching and my parents’ support, and all my teammates I played with over the years,” said Mackenthun, adding that she has sent her coaches thank you letters. “If I hadn’t gotten the ball from my teammates I wouldn’t have scored. A lot of it was my team and my coaches.”

After college Mackenthun played in a few women’s leagues in Minneapolis before beginning a career as a reinsurance broker with Aon Benfield and starting a family with her husband, Rod. Now a mother of three, Mackenthun is helping to coach her daughters’ middle school age traveling basketball team. The lessons she absorbed to excel in basketball, she has found, have also transferred to everyday life beyond the court.

“I enjoyed playing the sport, but I don’t know if people understand everything you get out of it,” she said. “In college it was learning how to manage my time, work hard, all the leadership and teamwork skills you learn from basketball. At the time you don’t really realize it, but now looking back on it, I use all that stuff in my career and as a mom and a wife.”