“I’ve been impressed with her hustle and effort. She runs the floor, can hustle and get rebounds. She can put the ball on the floor and score under the rim.”
That was the impression that Kaskaskia College women’s basketball Coach Jay Jenkins got from one of his newest recruits, Hillsboro senior Nikya Harston, who signed to play for the Blue Angels on Feb. 26.
Jenkins isn’t alone in those thoughts, though. Over the last four years, Hillsboro fans have been able to watch Harston grow as a player, but since day one her passion and persistence has been clear to anyone in attendance.
“I really loved the sport when I was younger,” Harston said about basketball. “I just like to get better and better and work my hardest.”
Even the monkey wrench of COVID-19 failed to slow down Harston, who averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in her senior year.
“It was hard to get used to playing with a mask on, but as you go on it really doesn’t bother you and you just get used to it,” Harston said.
The true task was probably for the mask to keep up with the Topper forward, who has the ability to somehow, some way come up with rebounds that others wouldn’t even try to corral.
At 5’9” Harston is hardly the tallest post player in the game, but her mentality around the hoop has made her one of the best at her position. The term “crashing the boards” comes to mind, but doesn’t really do justice to Harston’s all-out spirit and athleticism that earned her a spot on the Hillsboro varsity since she was a sophomore.
Harston played in 35 games that year, splitting time with fellow 2021 grad Claire Tester, for a team that went all the way to state. Those memories and the talent of the team are some of the highlights of her career according to Harston.
“That was just fun all around,” she said of the state experience. “The seniors that we had that year were just phenomenal players.”
After averaging 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore, Harston exploded onto the scene as a junior, averaging a double-double for the 18-win Hiltoppers at 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest.
Seventeen times in the 31 games of the 2019-20 season Harston had double digit points and rebounds, with highs of 25 points and 17 boards.
While her numbers dipped slightly in her senior year, that can be chalked up to the uniqueness of the situation more than any fault of Harston. Extrapolated out to a full season (30-plus games instead of 16), Harston’s senior numbers would have had her challenging the 1,000 point plateau, with more than 700 rebounds to boot.
That’s rarefied air for any Hiltopper as only Sammi Matoush and Carly Cameron have reached those numbers in the last decade. Harston’s actual career totals, 738 points and 580 rebounds, are still impressive even with the shortened season, with Matoush and Cameron still the only players to hit both benchmarks in their careers.
The scary thing for opposing coaches is that Harston is only getting better. Early in her career, ball handling wasn’t her strength, but during her senior season it wasn’t out of the question for Harston to bring the ball down the floor when necessary.
“That was my mentality, to just give it up to someone else,” Harston said. “Over the summer I started working out more, going to the gym and working on my handles. I also played on a travel team, so that made me used to it more. Everyone played as a guard on that team, so that made me more comfortable shooting. I’ve taken more shots from the elbow this year, trying to expand my range a little bit.”
And Harston hopes to continue to better herself at Kaskaskia, where she plans to study nursing. Her goal is to continue to work toward averaging a double-double, while also expanding her shooting range.
“I’m trying to work on taking more shots from the perimeter,” Harston said, adding with a smile, “I don’t really go out there much. Really, I just want to go out there and improve.”
While Harston’s work ethic has made her better, she credits her parents for being there every step of the way as her encouragement.
“My parents have been my biggest supporters,” said Harston of her parents, Charles and Andrea, who were at the signing in February. “My dad comes to every single one of my games. He’s always cheering for me, trying to make me a better player. It’s just great to have him around.”
Now the Harstons will have a new place to cheer. And odds are Kaskaskia College will believe that their newest recruit is pretty great to have around as well.