Four years ago, a shy freshman traveled more than 1,000 miles from her hometown of Gorham, Maine, to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Expectations were high for the five-star recruit, who developed into a dominant post-threat before committing to the Hoosiers on March 14, 2018. In her freshman season in 2019, she excelled, averaging double-digit points while playing under 20 minutes per game. However, that marked just the start of Mackenzie Holmes' growth as a person, player and leader as a member of Indiana women’s basketball.
Before her arrival, the Hoosiers were coming off a 10th-place finish in the Big Ten, with an 8-10 conference record. Just one year later, the presence of Holmes contributed to a fourth place finish in the Big Ten and an AP Top 20 ranking in the final polls, the first in program history. As Holmes continued to grow as a player, so did her role in the team. She was named a starter before her sophomore season and would go on to lead the team in scoring on the way to a second place finish in the Big Ten. Indiana would again make program history, finishing 12th in the polls after reaching the Elite Eight, the Hoosier's furthest run in the NCAA Tournament to date.
It's true that Holmes wasn’t the sole reason for the miraculous turnaround of Indiana women’s basketball. The hire of head coach Teri Moren in 2014 laid the foundation for a new era in the program, as Moren’s success with nearby Indiana State provided the fuel for higher-quality recruiting classes. It was Moren who would eventually convince Holmes to play for the Hoosiers. However, Holmes has been at the core of an unprecedented revamp of the program, one that sees the Cream and Crimson continuing to make history.
Indiana’s 2022-23 campaign saw the Hoosiers finish 28-4 en route to becoming Big Ten champions for the first time since 1983. Unfortunately for Indiana, that success became bittersweet after being eliminated in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 in a 2-point loss to the University of Miami. Now, after playing four seasons at Indiana, Holmes returns for her farewell season as a Hoosier and is looking to move past last year's heartbreaking defeat.
“A lot of people have asked about the loss,” Holmes said during Indiana’s basketball media day on Sept. 20. “But I think it’s also important to reflect on all that we did accomplish last year and use that as motivation as well. We did something that hasn’t been done at this school in 40 years and I think that one loss shouldn’t define us.”
After losing senior guard Grace Berger to the WNBA, Holmes will be looked to as the captain and leader of the Hoosiers. It’s not hard to understand why, as the AP Preseason All-American averaged 22.3 points per game last season, good enough for seventh of all qualified players in Division I. Additionally, Holmes shot at an efficient rate with a 68% shooting percentage across 31 games played. The attention Holmes has received on the national stage is hard to overlook, but the Hoosier captain refuses to let the noise get to her head.
“At the end of the day, I just want to win,” Holmes said. “I want to do what it takes for my team to win so I don’t pay attention to the national talk.”
The Hoosiers are ranked No. 9 in the AP Preseason Top 25, with Big Ten foes Iowa and Ohio State as the only conference opponents ranked higher at No. 3 and No. 7, respectively. As reigning Big Ten champions, the road back to the NCAA Tournament feels like a certainty for the Hoosiers. The question is whether conference success can translate to a national championship, a question Holmes believes she has the answer to.
“We have a veteran group,” Holmes said. “We all know what it takes to get there. It might not look the same as last year, but we know what it takes to get to that point.”
Indiana begins play just around the corner with its first regular season game on Nov. 9 against Eastern Illinois University. As the year progresses, Holmes has tried to embrace her last season in the Cream and Crimson.
“I just try to take it day by day,” Holmes said. “I’m trying to soak it all in and spend as much time with my teammates as I can. They've become some of my best friends and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Follow reporters Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and Quinn Richards (@Quinn_richa), columnist Ryan Canfield (@rpcvsthewrld) and photographer Olivia Bianco (@theoliviabianco) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.