Stites’ career to be recognized with call to RMAC Hall of Fame
Tonya Stites was a scared, lonely freshman when she arrived on Mesa State College’s campus in 1990 from Cedaredge.
“I was scared to death,” said Stites, who Saturday will be inducted into the RMAC Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. “I didn’t know if I could compete at that level.
“Honestly, basketball saved me. I was a lonely freshman, didn’t hang out in the commons area. I was an introvert. I was miserable those first three months.”
Four years later, she was the leading scorer and rebounder in Mesa State history.
A full house at Brownson Arena stood and cheered as she waved farewell after breaking the rebounding record her final game.
“It was never an option to quit, never considered,” said Stites, 37, who married Lawrence MacKendrick, a rancher in Delta County, on May 30. “Basketball gave me a group of people to hang out with. We didn’t do a lot outside of basketball, it was just nice to have something to do and a group to belong to.”
Stites wasn’t the tallest post player in the conference, but she was one of the strongest, and the hardest worker in the gym, said her coach, Steve Kirkham.
“It was all about her mentality, work ethic and positive attitude,” he said. “I’ve had a couple close to her mentality and work ethic, but you throw in a little talent, too, and that’s a pretty good combination.”
Stites recalled a shaky start to her career, mainly in the form of 6-foot-5 All-American center Annette Wiles, who led Fort Hays State to the 1990-91 NAIA national championship.
A shade under 6 feet, Stites drew the defensive assignment against Wiles, who had a big body to go with her height.
“I remember getting hip-checked against the wall,” she said, laughing. Stites finally moved Wiles out of the lane on one possession — and watched her hit a 15-foot baseline jumper.
“(Kirkham) was frustrated,” Stites said. “He was rotating people in and out and we were like, ‘You guard her, Coach.’ She was amazing.”
After that, there were few people Stites couldn’t guard, and few people who could guard her one-on-one. Kirkham recognized her potential the first time he saw her play in high school.
“We were in Parachute on that little parquet floor,” he said. “They were running 1-4 high and she caught it on the right elbow, spun and drove right-handed.
“The next possession, she caught it on the left elbow, spun and drove left-handed. A 6-footer who can go both ways? Yeah, she’s recruitable.”
She played much of her senior season with cracked ribs, wearing a flak jacket borrowed from the football team.
“They knew it was cracked ribs but there was nothing they could do for it, so I said, ‘Well, put me back in,’ ‘’ she said. “I came out a little more often, but I played.”
Stites has taught history at Delta High School since she graduated from Mesa, and was the girls basketball coach for four years. She decided she wasn’t meant to coach, but still keeps the scorebook at Panthers’ home games.
During her career, Stites was an honorable mention and a first-team Academic All-American, graduating with a 3.51 GPA.
She was also a two-time basketball All-American, led the RMAC in scoring and rebounding her sophomore, junior and senior years, and was the conference player of the year all three years.
Stites scored 1,920 points and grabbed 1,032 rebounds in her career. She’s second all-time in field goal percentage.
She’ll talk about her teammates, coaches, family and all those memories in her induction speech.
“There’s so many things. The great teammates ... over the years, I got to play with some pretty neat people,” Stites said. “Of course, Coach Kirkham, he’s the mainstay.
“The road trips. You cannot forget the road trips. In the RMAC they’re forever and they all have a unique story to go with them.”