Akron senior guard Hanna Luburgh never gave up on playing for the Zips, and it has paid off with a trip to the NCAAs.
If it were easy, everyone could do it.
University of Akron senior women's basketball player Hanna Luburgh knows what it is like to go through hard times and rise above them.
After scoring 1,291 points and shooting at a 57.5 percent clip for Tri-Valley High School in Zanesville, Luburgh, a three-time All-Ohio honoree, averaged less than nine minutes a game while playing behind an All-Mid-American Conference player in Kara Murphy during her freshman year at Akron.
But instead of transferring, Luburgh fought through the adversity and became a double-digit scorer for an Akron team that will make its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament at Purdue this afternoon.
"I wanted to prove to Coach Kest that I should play," Luburgh said of why she did not transfer. "I felt that I should've played my freshman year, but I was playing behind Kara Murphy, so from a coach's standpoint, that's understandable. I just wanted to prove to her that I was a better player and I wanted to become better. That's what played into it a lot that summer between my freshman year and when I came back my sophomore year. I started my first game. It was great. I think it helped turn me into the player that I am today.
"There were some hard times. I think the first game of my freshman season, I didn't get in at all. That was really, really hard because I didn't understand. After that, I played a little bit more. I think I averaged eight minutes a game, which is nothing really when you think about it. I just kept working and realizing that I wanted to be here. I liked my team and I wanted to play, so I just stuck it out."
By just "sticking it out," Luburgh actually showed Akron coach Jodi Kest what she had on the inside.
"A lot of kids nowadays, when they don't play as freshmen, it's just easy for them to leave: 'I'm not playing. I'm going to leave. I'm going to go home, and I'm going to go someplace else,'" Kest said. "That's where I have the utmost respect for Hanna because she took the challenge of 'I'm not happy I didn't play, so I'm going to go home this summer. I'm going to work my tail off, and I'm going to make myself a better player. I'm going to convince you that I can be the player that I know that I am and that you know that I can be.'
"She went out, worked her tail off and just got better every year in every facet. From shooting the ball from the arc, from taking the ball to the basket, she always had one of the best pull-up jump shots that I had ever seen, but then, her defense got better the last couple years. For me, I'm so proud of her on that because it's so easy just to walk away. I think she's an inspiration, hopefully, to some of our younger players who aren't playing as much. Hanna didn't play much her freshman year, and now, look at her, first-team all-conference and just a phenomenal basketball player."
Like Kest, Luburgh hopes the example she set by staying at Akron will be one others follow in the future.
"It was just hard, and when I came back my sophomore year and was able to play more, Coach had more confidence in me, and I had confidence in myself," Luburgh said. "It was just great. To look back on it, it shows kids not to give up and that you need to work hard and be able to prove to coaches. Most people leave these days. Hopefully, some of these younger kids can model what I've done."
Luburgh worked with a basketball coach during the summer between her freshman and sophomore seasons, and now, as a senior, she is averaging a team-best 22.7 points per game. Luburgh is hitting 47.7 percent of her field-goal attempts, and averaging 2.1 made three-pointers per game for the Zips (23-9).
More importantly, though, than the individual success, Luburgh is happy she stayed at Akron and helped lead the Zips to their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"It feels great because this is what we've worked for, for four years," Luburgh said. "It just feels awesome. It was great to see our name on the TV, so it's an unbelievable experience.
"It's really special to know that we finally could bring a championship home to Akron. For 40 years, they haven't had one, so that's amazing to know that we could do that. Just to know that people will remember that 2014 team that won the championship, it's just cool to be a part of that."