Athlete of the Week: Gilliland leads the Lady Rebels

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Lady Rebels have been on a tear at the plate this season, averaging just over 10 runs per game. At the front of that charge for Chambers Academy has been senior Makenzie Gilliland. 

Gilliland had a big night on Thursday as Chambers Academy scored 25 runs in a loss to Evangel Christian. Gilliland did not come into the matchup with a ton of confidence, but just like a shooter finds a rhythm after seeing a shot go in, Gilliland found her confidence early on Thursday. Gilliland went 3-for-6 with three RBIs and three runs. 

“I haven’t really been that confident because earlier this week we played Hooper, and I had a pretty awful game at the plate,” Gilliland said. “I got down on myself, but coming back last night … that one out it was like a hard-hit line drive. That kind of boosted my confidence back up.” 

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Gilliland is not just a dominant softball player, Gilliland was also a leader on Chambers Academy’s basketball team that made a run to the semifinals, and she was one of the best hitters for the volleyball team. 

Being a senior, Gilliland had to step up and be one of the leaders in all three sports. Several of the girls play on all three teams, and Gilliland has created a bond with all of her teammates. 

“I’m close to all of them,” Gilliland said. “Whenever I see one of them having trouble or something, I try to help them. Being a senior, every person younger than me can always work on something. I always try to help them get better.” 

Gilliland is a leader on and off the field, but her being at the top of the batting order means that she quite literally has to lead everything for the Rebels on offense. 

“At the beginning of the season, I was kind of scared because leading off, you want to have that best bat or first hit,” Gilliland said. “That can get your team going in that inning. I take a lot of pride in that.” 

Gilliland seems like she has been at catcher and at Chambers her whole life, but that is not the case. Gilliland went to Wadley all the way up until her sophomore year. 

Gilliland has been steady at catcher for Chambers Academy the past three seasons, but before then she had mostly played at shortstop and third base. Gilliland transferred to Chambers Academy and had to learn a brand new position while also adjusting to a new community. 

“It was never really a plan to be a catcher, but going into Chambers, they were looking for somebody,” Gilliland said. 

“I just told coach [Jeff] Hines that I would give it a shot, and then I fell in love with it 10th grade year. At first, it was nerve-racking because I had never caught in my life. It didn’t take me a while. It took like my 10th grade whole season. Then, starting in 11th grade year, I was confident. It’s still nerve-racking because when a runner is on, you don’t want a passed ball to go by you or anything. I’m still adjusting to it.” 

During basketball and volleyball seasons, Gilliland was not able to do any drill work or focus at all on softball, but that has not stopped her from having a dominant senior season. Gilliland hopes to continue being a leader and leave a lasting impression on Chambers Academy. 

“To be closer with the team,” Gilliland said about her goal for the season. “I’m hoping to get my stats up and leave a good example.” 

Once softball wraps up later in the spring, Gilliland’s career at Chambers Academy will have come to a close. However, she will not be done with softball as Gilliland is continuing her career at Point University. 

“I used to travel ball, and then I fell out of love with softball,” Gilliland said. “I decided I wasn’t going to go play in college. Then, Point’s assistant coach reached out to me and asked me to come tour the school. Talking to them and everything, it made me want to go there and be close to home also.” 

Gilliland changed her mind about not playing softball in college, but it was her move to Chambers Academy that helped Gilliland rekindle her love for the game that she had spent her whole life playing.
“Moving to Chambers, the coaching and all the players made me fall back in love with softball,” Gilliland said. “At my old school, the coach didn’t care and the players didn’t care. Coming to Chambers, it made me fall back in love with it.” 

In the future, Gilliland plans on majoring in exercise science, but she is not just counting the days until graduation as her time at Chambers Academy will be tough to leave behind. 

Chambers Academy did not just help Gilliland fall back in love with softball, the school and community also gave her another family.
“At Wadley, nobody was ever like a family,” Gilliland said. “Coming to Chambers, they took me in. Having them as like a family and supporting me. It makes me feel like that’s really a family, and I’m glad I chose to go to Chambers from Wadley.” 

Although at first, it was tough to build a relationship with her softball coach, Gilliland and Jessica Patterson have now built a close bond. Gilliland has also been able to build a bond with coach Jeff Hines as she excelled under his tutelage on the hardwood. 

“With having coach Patterson, in volleyball at first, we didn’t really get off at a good spot,” Gilliland said. 

“We’ve had really rough volleyball seasons. Then, coming down to softball my first year, me and her still weren’t talking, and we would always kind of have that love/hate [relationship]. Now, she’s confident in me and she helps me. We might disagree on something, but either way, we’ll talk it out. She’s helped me a lot. Coach Hines, he’s shown me the athlete that I can be and always pushed me to be who I am now. I’m very thankful for that.”