NAMPA, Idaho – Sometimes after a hard basketball practice, McKenna Walker sneaks into the arts building and plays the piano.
From Adele to classical to Frank Sinatra, the Northwest Nazarene University junior uses the music as a way to calm herself and just have fun.
“Music gives me the same feeling basketball does – the goose bump feeling,” she said. “It is a different outlet. Sometimes as a college athlete it gets intense, but music offers me that escape in a different area.”
From all accounts, Walker is as skilled on the ivory keys as she is on the hardwood.
Wherever there is a piano on the road she gravitates to it, whether in hotels or in houses of players they visit.
“I feel like everyone just sits back and is mesmerized by it,” teammate Avery Albrecht said. “We are just all shocked. It is not your normal ‘do re mi’ song, it is really amazing actually.”
Walker started playing the piano when she was young when her mom Julee put her in lessons. She hated it at first, but stuck with it because it was something she can do at her own pace.
“I love all types of music,” she said. “Growing up I was taught classical music and as I’ve gotten older, I just pick and play whatever is on the radio. Just learning the chords and singing along to it.”
While Walker loves playing music, basketball remains her biggest passion.
The 5-foot-9 guard has gone from barely playing her freshman year to being the Nighthawks’ third-leading scorer and Great Northwest Athletic Conference honorable mention selection.
She has helped lead NNU (22-4) to one of the best seasons since the school moved up to NCAA Division II in 2001. The Nighthawks face Alaska Anchorage at 6 p.m. MST on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament in Azusa, Calif.
“She plays so hard,” said Elpidia Allen, the NNU assistant coach who recruited her from Moses Lake. “That is the compliment everyone gives her. Even if her shot isn’t falling, she is one of those players who goes and finds things she can do defensively or rebounding. She is very versatile.”
Walker’s shot rarely isn’t falling, though.
She made 42.4 percent of 3-pointers this season, good for third in the GNAC and is the team’s third-leading scorer at 11.4 points.
She also averages 4.1 rebounds per game and as her coach Steve Steele says, is kind of a whirlwind on the court. What she lacks in athleticism at times she makes up for in effort.
“She is just a physical, tough kid,” Allen said. “Just continuing to watch her and getting to know her, she is amazing. Just one of the best kids I’ve ever met.”
Walker was being recruited by Division I schools until she hurt her knee and missed an entire club season. She eventually went on two visits — one to NNU and one to Regis University in Denver, Colo.
“All the way to signing day, I was tossing and turning and was praying about it a lot,” she said. “It led me to NNU. The school had the faith aspect, the professors, the small classrooms – it had everything I was look for to grow as a person and as an athlete.”
She has grown a lot, though perhaps not in the ways she envisioned. Her freshman year involved a coaching change halfway through the season, a car accident, her grandfather passing away.
Through it all, though, it strengthened her faith and helped her grow closer to teammates, which has paid off with a run to the national tournament.
“Something I’ve learned through the process is just that we find joy as a team,” she said. “Even when things aren’t going well, I think you are able to find joy no matter what is going on – especially when you are doing it with girls you have been through so much with over the years.”