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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Transfer Triumphs: Katie Toole and Mackenzie Trpcic elevate UC Davis Women’s Basketball

Both transfer athletes have been vital for continued success of program

Although the UC Davis Women’s basketball team currently sits atop the Big West Conference standings once again, the team faced many questions entering the season. After three key senior players, Kourtney Eaton, Karley Eaton and all-time leading scorer Morgan Bertsch graduated last spring, it remained to be seen how this new team would perform without the three major contributors who helped UC Davis win the Big West Conference. 

After enduring a stretch of four straight losses in November, it seemed as if the Aggies would be needing time to rebuild and regroup. But along the way, Head Coach Jennifer Gross and her staff learned from the adversity and managed to get the ship right before conference play began. A pair of key veteran transfers, redshirt-senior guard Katie Toole and redshirt-junior guard Mackenzie Trpcic, were instrumental in getting things back on track.

Toole leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game to go along with three rebounds. She is also shooting a team-high 51% from the field and nearly 43% from three. The Farmington, Utah native had her highest-scoring game as an Aggie back in November against Saint Mary’s in Moraga, California, where she scored 30 points. Toole’s offensive prowess has her near the top of every offensive statistical category on the team and has provided a boost that the team has been needing. 

As for Trpcic, her ball-handling responsibilities at the guard position have translated nicely for an Aggie team that possesses a number of good shooters. Originally from Hamilton, Ontario in Canada, she leads the team in assists with 4.3 a game and had her highest total of 10 in November against Sacramento State. Both Toole and Trpcic are in the top three on the team in minutes played and have been vital for the continued success of the program.

For such impactful players, it’s amazing that neither Toole nor Trpcic began their collegiate careers at UC Davis. Toole transferred to UC Davis from Utah State after she struggled to get playing time during her sophomore season. Aside from the fact that Davis was her only offer to visit, she decided to transfer and join the Aggies.

“I got here and I got to know the coaches,” Toole  said, following a recent practice. “The coaching staff was the biggest thing for me. I didn’t have the best experience with my coaches at my last school, so that’s what I was really looking for. I talked to the players about how they feel about the coaches and they all had good things to say. When I got here, everything they said was true. They’re just a great group.”

As for Trpcic, her situation was one that is common among certain schools. After playing her first two years at the University of Albany of the America East Conference and being one of the key contributors on the squad, there was a sudden change in the coaching staff. With change usually comes a wave of transfers by players for a variety of reasons. Trpcic decided to open up her recruitment once again, and, when she found UC Davis, it seemed to be a spot that fit what she was looking for. 

“When I looked at UC Davis, I saw a school that fit all the criteria for me,” Trpcic said. “Being a great basketball school and great academically, specifically in [the area] of medicine. That, combined with meeting the coaches and the atmosphere, really drew me in.”

The journey of a collegiate transfer athlete can be rigorous, so it’s no surprise that both Toole and Trpcic express a profound passion for hoops. When asked why they love the game of basketball, both players could trace that love back to an early age. For Toole, she knew since the third grade that basketball was what she wanted to pursue. After going to a basketball camp, she experienced what it was like to play the game and had a good time getting to know other people while doing so. From then on, she told her parents that basketball was what she wanted to do, and the rest is history. 

In Trpcic’s case, sports were a major part of her family, so she began playing competitive basketball when she was six-years-old. After seeing her older brother play basketball, she began to as well, and her passion for the game grew from there. Both players’ experiences and struggles in the game translate into where they are today, but they’ve also used some particular memories to motivate them along the way. 

“I didn’t make my seventh grade basketball team, and that really hurt,” Toole said, laughing. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but it made me take it more seriously. I really worked on my game and made the team the next year. I just carried that forward for the rest of my career.”

As for Trpcic, one of the biggest moments of her career came in a comeback performance at her former school. 

“Something that really made me fall in love with the game were the conference championships at Albany,” Trpcic explained. “That whole year I did well, but [I] got injured and had to get back into it. I came back and did really well in that championship game. I think that was a turning point in my collegiate career, just showing that I can play really well at this level.” 

It’s well-known that life as a student-athlete is not always easy. On top of the already difficult task of being a college student, there are practices, film sessions, training and much more that comes with being an athlete. Self-motivation is required and, for these players, their “why” is what keeps them going. 

“It can be a grind, but honestly the teammates that I’ve had have been amazing. We’re all just a great group of friends,” Toole said. “You get to go out there and be with your friends and be competitive. All of us enjoy being competitive and that aspect of it. [Plus] you’re getting [a scholarship] to do this. What more can you ask for?”

Trpcic agreed with Toole, adding the support of her family as an additional motivational factor.

“My family is very sports and basketball orientated — I know, even though they’re in another country, they’re yelling through the TV screen,” Trpcic said. “Everything my family has put in [my] life, and [they have] supported me. I know this really makes them happy, as well as myself — just watching me live out my dream.”

For any up-and-coming basketball player, a significant motivation for playing the game typically stems from watching players who inspire them. Toole, interestingly, didn’t watch a lot of basketball growing up. She now watches it more and is a big Utah Jazz fan, as well as a Donovan Mitchell fan, who she admires for his hard-work ethic and focus on player development. 

Trpcic named Steve Nash as her favorite player growing up — she has worked to shape her game around him, and it’s noticeable everytime she steps out on the court. 

“Being Canadian as well [as] being this little dude running around the court, passing the ball all over the place, making his teammates look good, I looked up to that and it coincided with my potential in basketball,” Trpcic said of Nash. “So, yeah, a big inspiration.” 

As this is Toole’s final collegiate season, she has her sights set on playing somewhere overseas after she graduates. Although Trpcic has one more year of eligibility following this season, that hasn’t stopped her from looking toward her future. She hasn’t closed the door on continuing her playing career post-graduation, but is looking into medical school and the requirements needed to reach that goal. 

When both players reflected on the season so far and pondered the journey that lies ahead, they expressed that they did not — and still don’t know — what to expect. The loss of three key players last season left a big question mark on where the team’s production would come from. Tough stretches and improvement after every practice has led the Aggies to where they are today. Now, both players have their eyes set on another conference championship and another NCAA Tournament berth, in the hopes of continuing the strong winning tradition of this program. 

On March 1, Toole, Trpcic and the Aggies clinched the program’s fourth consecutive Big West conference regular season title. Now, UC Davis will close out the regular season on Saturday in Long Beach. After that, the team will await its opponent for the Big West Tournament semifinals on Friday, March 13.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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