After last season’s final game, when Indiana women’s basketball had its season ended by the University of Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, then-junior forward Mackenzie Holmes was asked if she would be returning to the team next year. Holmes quashed any remaining questions about her future with her reply.
“I'm going to wear Indiana on my chest until they don't let me wear Indiana on my chest anymore,” Holmes said.
Now in her fourth season with the Hoosiers, Holmes is undoubtedly one of the best players in the Big Ten and her production will help determine how far Indiana is able to go this season and if they can reach a third consecutive Sweet Sixteen.
Upon arriving in Bloomington her freshman year, Holmes instantly started making an impact, playing in every game that season and being named to the All-Big Ten Freshmen Team. She followed it up with a sophomore campaign in which she moved into the starting lineup full-time and took over as the team’s leading scorer while helping lead the Hoosiers to their first-ever Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearances.
After being named to the All-Big Ten First Team following her sophomore year, Holmes began last year on watch lists for national awards. Over the first 14 games, Holmes justified her inclusion on those lists, pacing the team in points, rebounds and blocks while leading them to a 12-2 record.
However, an injury to Holmes’ knee kept her sidelined for over a month and forced her to miss eight games in the middle of the season.
“It was really hard, just kind of put things in perspective for me,” Holmes said at the Big Ten media days. “I had never been sidelined before in my life — not during a season. I had never missed a game before that point.”
When she returned in mid-February, she gave the team a boost as it prepared for the final stretch of the year, but she was never fully 100% healthy at the end of the regular season and through tournament play.
Head coach Teri Moren said at Indiana basketball’s media day that if Holmes had been fully healthy during the Big Ten Tournament, the outcome might have been different.
“The one thing that you can never control is injuries,” head coach Teri Moren said. “Once Mack got hurt, she wasn't quite 100 percent. I think in retrospect, when we look back at what could have been different, if Mack would have been 100 percent healthy, could we have won a Big Ten championship? I think we could have.”
Now, back at full health entering the 2022-23 season, Holmes’ expectations and responsibilities — both on and off the court — are as high as they’ve ever been.
With forward Aleksa Gulbe, guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and guard Ali Patberg all graduating after starting every game during the back-to-back tournament appearances, Holmes is one of the few veteran Hoosiers remaining from those runs. In particular, then-seventh-year senior Patberg was the vocal leader of the team and with her taking a job as team and recruitment coordinator for Indiana, the responsibility of being a leader in the locker room will likely have to be shouldered by Holmes and graduate student guard Grace Berger.
At the Indiana media day, junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil said Holmes and Berger have already established themselves with their experience and guidance provided to their teammates. Moren said that ability to put the team first has been a key to the program’s recent success.
“Even though we have great players like the Mackenzie Holmes and the Grace Bergers and the Ali Patbergs that have been in our program, they've always been able to set aside their egos to be just about the team,” Moren said.
The culture of the team and players like Holmes also led junior guard Sydney Parrish — the 2020 Indiana Miss Basketball winner — to transfer to Indiana from the University of Oregon.
“Not just coach Moren but the staff and players like Ali and Grace and Mackenzie, they've really put a face to this program, and I think that's really what's putting us on the national level,” Parrish said.
For Indiana and Holmes, the challenge is no longer reaching that national level, it’s staying there. In the preseason AP Poll, the team was ranked No. 11 and individually, Holmes has been named to the preseason All-Big Ten team and the watch list for the Lisa Leslie Award — given annually to the country’s best center.
Although Holmes is one of the best players in the Big Ten and the nation, she and Berger are still focused on the team and winning championships, Moren said at Hoosier Hysteria.
"They will be the first to tell you, we haven't done anything yet."
Support the Indiana Daily Student to beat Purdue’s student newspaper, the Exponent, through making a donation to the IDS Legacy Fund! Whichever publication raises more money before the Purdue v. IU football game Nov. 26 “wins” the challenge, but all donations go to support student journalism at the respective publications. To help IU beat Purdue and support the IDS, follow this link to donate.