There is truly no place like home, and Northwestern alumnus Stephanie Burns agrees, which is why she committed to IU Kokomo last week in a return to home following a redshirt year at Indiana Tech.
The redshirt year followed because of an injury Burns sustained during her senior year at Northwestern High School. After spending the past year away, returning to her roots was too good to refuse, and she's ready for a fresh start.
“I saw a better opportunity, and I just wanted to be home because I think being home is a lot better, to be around the people that supported me throughout my whole life. Now, I still have that support (rather) than having to be so far away from really where I came from and where I started,” Burns said. “So I feel like IUK was a perfect place for me to go and finish my college career and start fresh somewhere else.”
Burns will be eligible for four years as a Cougar. She said the proximity to home was great, but the communal feel of the locker room confirmed she made the right decision.
IUK coaches do things differently, she said, and when talks with the players and coaches began, she felt immediately like one of the team.
“They’re awesome people to start out with, like, just awesome coaches. They really care about their student-athletes, and so when I took that tour, I could just tell how intimate they are into using me as, you know, a post-player and where I could fit in and to just see how they really involve everyone in everything. They do things so differently than other people. They make the sport fun,” she said.
Burns said the players and coaches are always smiling, laughing, playing games. They have fun on social media and do things together. It felt like one big family.
Coming from Northwestern, Burns is no stranger to playing at a high level. Northwestern Head Coach Kathie Layden kept her players ready to play, and Burns learned a lot from her teammate Kendall Bostic.
She spoke on how she’ll use those experiences when she can take the court for the Cougars.
“When I played at Northwestern, you know, there were a lot of different skilled players. For instance, when I played with my best friend Kendall, she challenged me, and I challenged her. We had to work for what we had to get. We didn’t just let each other slide off easy. We always had each other’s back, but we also pushed each other every day in practice. Having that college-athlete feel of being pushed, knowing how to use your body, etc., it’s awesome to have that friend that will help you along the way,” she said.
In short, Burns was prepared and ready to begin. Unfortunately, the IU regional campuses paused competitions until Feb. 1, so it’s likely Burns will have to wait until the fall to begin her Cougar career.
However, the team can return to practice, barring any positive COVID-19 tests, on Jan. 19, after returning to campus on Jan. 15.
Cougars Head Coach Colie Shelwick raved about acquiring Burns and was excited for her production on the court. It’s nice to have another hometown player as well, she said.
“(She’s a) huge local pickup that can contribute to us right away, and when we can start opening the games up to fans again, we hope to gain more support for our program from the Kokomo community,” Shelwick said.
Burns said she’s normally the silent assassin, coming to practice and doing her work and letting the production show on the floor. But since joining the Cougars, she feels she can let loose a little and have some fun with the rest of the team.
And whether it’s in the spring or later in the fall when she gets the call, Burns said she’ll be ready and anxious to get started.
“I’m always that quiet person that always goes to practice, does her thing, you know, goes to school,” she said. “But I feel like when I’m with them I’m more open. They bring out myself more, I guess you would say. When I went there I just fit in, right along. I was laughing, smiling. I wasn’t really shy. You know how some people are when they go on a visit. But no, when I was with them, they definitely made me feel like I was back at home where I should be. And so, having that bond already is just a key thing, and it will carry onto the court.”