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Article Published May 2, 2019
Helms Makes History in Two Great Seasons at East Haven
PJ Foti, Sports Writer

Makenzie Helms only played basketball for two seasons at East Haven High School, but she recorded a lifetime’s worth of achievements in that span. After helping the Yellowjackets win the Class M state title as a junior, Makenzie collected a bevy of awards during a record-breaking senior season this winter. Among her accolades, Makenzie was named the Southern Connecticut Conference Player of the Year, the Gatorade State Player of the Year, the Coaches Association Player of the Year, and the New Haven Register Player of the Year.

In just two seasons, Makenzie netted 1,073 points for the Easties, putting her in fourth place on the school’s all-time scoring list. Makenzie, who attended the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor for her freshman and sophomore years, finished her high school career with a total of 1,715 points scored.

“It is a great accomplishment. If I was here all four years, I’d have probably hit 2,000,” Makenzie says. “It was pretty awesome to accomplish, especially being home, because now I have a ball that will always tell me I scored 1,000 at East Haven. It comes with good memories.”

While she’s a prolific scorer, Makenzie has always prioritized getting her teammates involved. As a point guard, Makenzie has the ability to create her own offense, but she enjoys setting up her teammates for scoring opportunities, as well.

“That’s my No. 1 thing. People tell me I should be a shoot-first point guard, but I honestly think I’m just more pass-first. It was really important to get everyone involved, especially this year, because there were only four seniors,” says Makenzie, who was a captain for the Yellowjackets this year. “I was the point guard for my AAU team, so I did a lot more distributing. Playing with them brought up my confidence to shoot or drive when I’m open, so it benefited me in both ways.”

Head Coach Anthony Russell appreciates how Makenzie was always ready and willing to share the rock. Russell says that Makenzie is a once-in-a-lifetime player who can do anything and everything on the court.

“I’ve been around basketball for a really long time. In my 20 years of coaching both boys and girls, she has the most comprehensive skill set of any kid I’ve coached,” says Russell. “She can do it all. She can handle the ball, she can shoot, she can pass—she just sees the floor really well. There are plenty of players that are good, but not a lot of them make everybody better. She does that.”

Makenzie will continue her career at the Division I level by playing for women’s basketball team at Nebraska. Makenzie put herself on the college radar with her success at Loomis Chaffee, then decided to come back home, so she could spend more time with her family. At first, Makenzie felt nervous about returning to East Haven, but the warm reception from her teammates put her at ease.

“It couldn’t have gone smoother. Everyone was welcoming,” Makenzie says. “Everyone had a lot of hype of me coming in, which made me extra nervous, but to play with [senior captain Kylie Schlottman] and the rest of those seniors that year prepared me well for my leadership role this year.”

Makenzie helped the Yellowjackets win their first state title in program history in her junior year. She poured in 17 points against Career in the Class M state final, scoring 12 of those points during the fourth quarter of East Haven’s 49-47 victory.

“There is no better feeling than literally making history, and that’s what we did,” says Makenzie. “The feeling is still crazy to think about.”

Along with eclipsing the 1,000-point plateau, Makenzie broke East Haven’s single-season scoring record with 607 points this year. She also set the school record for 3-pointers made in a campaign by draining 75 treys. Makenzie averaged 26.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 3.3 steals per game for her senior season. She recorded two triple-doubles and had eight double-doubles on the year.

Makenzie received several awards for her performance this season. In addition to being named the Player of the Year by the SCC, Gatorade, the Coaches Association, and the Register, Makenzie made the All-SCC First Team, the Register’s All-State and All-Area teams, and the New Haven Tap-Off Club All-Area Team for the second straight year. She also solidified a spot on the All-State Class L Team after making All-State in Class M last winter. On top of that, Makenzie received New Haven Tap-Off Club Scholar Athlete Recognition and was named the Yellowjackets’ Most Valuable Player.

“All the player of the year awards are really humbling,” Makenzie says. “I basically got almost all of them, and that’s not anything I expected.”

Makenzie had to overcome some adversity in order to record these accomplishments. Throughout most of her career, she has dealt with pain in her legs. Last summer, Makenzie was diagnosed with chronic exertional compartment syndrome in both of her legs. Since then, she’s undergone a pair of surgeries.

“I had it for five years and never knew what it was. It should go away, and the surgeon said if this scars over, I have superhuman healing powers,” says Makenzie. “When [Nebraska Head Coach Amy Williams] found out I had it, she said she had it, too. Since she knew what I was feeling, she said if I can play like this while feeling like that, she can’t wait to see what I can be with the surgery.”

Makenzie had plenty of choices on the table when it came time to decide where she’s playing in college, including offers from Division I schools like Wisconsin, Wake Forest, and Florida Gulf Coast. In the end, Makenzie knew that Nebraska was the right place for her, and she feels excited to be heading to Lincoln to compete for the Cornhuskers.

“It’s different when you go to a school and girls look at you and are standoffish, thinking you’re coming to take their spot. At Nebraska, I had families of the players coming up to me, and it was a totally different energy. I felt like everybody wanted me,” Makenzie says. “I’m leaving [her family], and it’s going to be hard, but I think I earned everything. This has been my dream, and they’re just as excited as me.”