McKinley Penninga will have a decision to make some time next season, but that’s not what’s on the mind of the Lindsay Thurber Raiders star.
Penninga has been offered several options to play post-secondary basketball, but that’s next year. As of now, the 17-year-old is interested in helping the Raiders turn in their best-ever showing at the provincial 4A high school championships at Jasper Place in Edmonton.
“We have a really good program … the team has grown together and this year has been awesome,” said Penninga.
The Raiders were ranked 6th in the province, the first time a girls’ team from Red Deer has been ranked. The Raiders opened the provincials with an 82-56 win over Strathcona Thursday afternoon before clashing with third-ranked Western Canada later that night. The result was not available at press time.
As for McKinley, she’s blossomed into one of the top players to come out of the Red Deer program.
The six-foot Grade 11 student plays both inside and the wing.
“I like both but do prefer the outside and moving in on occasion,” she said.
McKinley was born in Lacombe but moved to Red Deer at an early age. She got into basketball in Grade 3 and while she also played soccer and volleyball, basketball was her first love.
“I really became serious about basketball in Grade 7,” she said. “I also played soccer until Grade 6 and volleyball up until this year.
She has not only honed her talents by playing high school ball, but travels to Calgary twice a week to play club basketball.
“I started going down there during Covid and it’s been good for me so I just kept going back,” she said. “It was about a year and a half ago when I was playing a club that I realized I could play at a higher level. I started to grow and started to develop.”
Playing, and starting, with the provincial champion club team has given McKinley additional exposure.
“I’ve been contacted by several university programs, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet,” she said. “It’s nice to have options, but you want what works for you.”
McKinley will take kinesiology in school, but that’s also a year down the road.
“I’m looking forward to next year as I’m excited about not only this year but next as well.”
She enjoys everything about the Raiders program.
“It brings everyone together. We work as a team and it brings out the best in us and it’s a super fun environment and very competitive.”
Raiders head coach Kathy Lalor has seen several of her players move on to college and university over the years and likes what she sees in McKinley.
“She’s good no doubt,” she said, “and playing with the club program in Calgary has helped her develop.”
But McKinley is just one of several top-notch calibre athletes on the Raiders.
“We have three girls who will play with the RDP Queens volleyball team next year,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest from other institutions in them and some of our other girls. We have a lot of good athletes who can play both volleyball and basketball.”
McKinley, like her coach, likes the fact the Raiders success is not all on her shoulders.
“We have a deep bench … everyone contributes,” she said.
“All the girls contribute. Everyone has their ups and downs but when someone is down someone else steps up. I enjoy that with this group. Everyone has their strengths and when you put them together it’s been amazing.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org