Hoy battles past injuries, uncertainty to lead Tarleton into Division I
STEPHENVILLE – As the Tarleton women's basketball team clung to its NCAA Tournament hopes in a mid-February tilt at Eastern New Mexico, Alexa Hoy did what she does best.
The senior-to-be took the ball to the rack.
She's a player coach Misty Wilson lauds for her ability to initiate offense. And with Tarleton trailing the Greyhounds in a critical Lone Star Conference game, Hoy rose for a layup.
What happened next, though, had consequences that extended beyond the team's disappointing finish to the 2019-20 campaign and past the coronavirus pandemic and spilled over into the start of Tarleton's first Division I season.
The shot missed after she collided with an opposing defender in midair, causing the Texans' second-leading scorer (9.7 ppg) to tumble to the floor.
The sound of Hoy's mandible smacking the hardwood jarred everyone inside the arena. Blood then puddled inside the cream-colored key.
Wilson first hoped Hoy hadn't lost any teeth as she laid face-first on the floor. Nothing stopped her fall, as her arms were trapped behind her after the contact. But the magnitude of the injury hit Wilson when the training staff sat Hoy up and her eyes rolled back in her head.
The pool of blood led Hoy to believe she broke her nose. The Rockwall, Texas native was then devastated when told it was her chin.
"I was like, 'Oh man, it's probably a concussion, probably going to be out," Hoy said. "I think just coming to the realization that my season got cut short, that was a hard pill to swallow, because I really enjoyed playing with the group we had last year."
Stiches were administered to Hoy's chin on site as Tarleton used a fourth-quarter rally to win 54-52 and move its overall record to 19-5. A more pressing question than the team's postseason candidacy then arose.
Hoy was diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion. With a seven-hour bus ride back to Stephenville looming, how was the team going to get her home in that condition?
"That was rough," she said. "I didn't sleep at all the whole way. I was just awake the whole time. Nauseous, just trying to stay awake the whole time."
Stress fractures in both shins already robbed Hoy of the final 12 games of her sophomore year at UTEP and reoccurred in her first season in Purple and White. Injuries became the narrative for Tarleton, as junior Kandyn Faurie – Hoy's replacement at guard in the starting lineup – suffered a sprained ankle five minutes into the Texans' next game.
"You talk about taking your rotation and dropping a dynamite right to the middle of it," Wilson said.
Disappointment and feelings of "what-if" plagued Hoy as she was largely confined to isolation and limited mobility for the final month of the season.
Hoy watched as Tarleton dropped two home games to teams it previously beat and fell to ENM in the first round of the Lone Star Conference (LSC) Tournament. Tarleton (21-8, 13-5 LSC) was not included in the NCAA Tournament field for the first time in three years.
Soon after, COVID-19 forced the United States to join Hoy in isolation. The NCAA cancelled the remainder of fall and spring sports, Tarleton shut down campus operations and Hoy was left alone.
"I think sometimes as coaches, we forget about the level of humanity involved in sports," Wilson said. "This is one of those things that really brings you back to earth. You're dealing with a human and she's really trying to fight through some things."
Hoy was back on the court when the team returned to campus on June 24 for voluntary workouts.
The Texans played only one Division I game but Hoy is on the radar of Western Athletic Conference head coaches. She was named to the Preseason Coaches All-WAC Second Team during the conference's virtual media day in October.
But the road to recovery remains ongoing and has been anything but easy.
Wilson believes Hoy still is dealing with the mental aspects of her injury. The severity of the concussion forced her to undergo vision therapy.
Hoy relied on her teammates and older brother Jordan, a former quarterback at Lamar University, for support while stuck at home.
"I called him a lot," she said. "And coach Wilson, definitely. I've been leaning on her a lot, the emotional stuff. I'm surrounded by people that love me and I can feel the love. I'm just glad I can end my career here, in a place full of that."
The injury struggles mirror hurdles Hoy encountered along her journey to Tarleton.
Hoy received Division I scholarships coming out of Rockwall HS but was uncomfortable going out-of-state. Subsequently, Hoy landed at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas.
She earned an offer from UTEP after averaging 16 points per game and shooting 40% from the field. El Paso didn't turn out to be the landing spot she hoped for, however.
The team stumbled to a 9-22 overall record as the stress fractures confined her to the bench. Hoy transferred out alongside six players and the entire assistant coaching staff despite leading the Miners in scoring (11.8 ppg) in the 19 games she played.
"There were a lot of issues that we're going on my sophomore year, coaching wise and between the players," she said. "I think everyone was just kind of ready for that year to be over with. A lot of people transferred or got hurt, so I thought I'd be part of that group that transferred out."
Hoy was back looking for a home for the third time in as many years. She wanted a place she could be happy at for her final two years of eligibility and to play for a coach who supported her off the court.
Wilson sold Hoy on the relationships built between players and coaches at Tarleton during her official visit in 2019. She mentioned the program's expected transition to Division I, but Hoy said it wasn't a factor in her decision.
The traditions on campus and within the program also were appealing. Hoy noted that three members of the coaching staff – Wilson, assistant coach Bailey Wipff and graduate manager Lindsey Washington – first played for the Texan women's basketball team.
"I took my visit to Tarleton, met coach Wilson," she said. "I kind of knew, when we first met, just by the vibe – laid back. She has three daughters, she gets it. There's life outside of basketball. That's really what sold me."
Part of what made the season-ending injury disheartening for Wilson was the growth in maturity and in play she observed from Hoy.
The Texans returned a four-year starter at point guard in Kylie Collins and forward Mackenzie Hailey, the program's all-time leader in points scored (1,880) in the NCAA era. Hoy was asked to play a more of a supportive role at times than what she was accustomed to at Hill and UTEP, where she was a scorer first.
The Texan Hall of Famer asked Hoy to set up quality shots and offensive sets with her drives.
"I think initially, she put a lot of pressure on herself when she first got here, felt like she had to score," Wilson said. "And then when she realized that we had other options, she started letting the game come to her and I think that's where we really started seeing her thrive."
Hoy earned LSC honorable mention accolades despite missing the team's final five games. Even with Hailey taking the offensive lead, she posted 10 double-digit scoring efforts and scored 17 points in five contests.
The concussion coincided with arguably her best stretch of basketball last season. She averaged 12.5 points per game in the four matchups preceding the ENM tilt and helped Tarleton rattle off six straight wins.
Channeling setbacks into future success has become part of her story. In some respects, Hoy said the concussion and the manner in which the 2019-20 season ended may have been a blessing in disguise.
"I was not expecting any of that," she said. "I think I definitely needed that. We're all going to be a lot stronger from COVID and how last season ended. I think everyone's mindset is to come back stronger."
While rehabbing, she spent ample time watching film of herself. Her focus in practices and individually is to find ways to score in rhythm this winter and avoid forcing shots.
Hoy acknowledged there will be jitters when Tarleton makes its long-awaited Division I debut vs. the Mean Green. Some due to the significance of that game, others because of how her most recent game ended.
During Hoy's final season, Wilson hopes fans and alumni appreciate the effort it took for her to arrive at Tarleton and return for one final go-around.
"I think people are going to see the grit," Wilson said. "I think that's the legacy she's going to leave behind, is what it takes to overcome that. The mentality and the emotions and fear that come with an injury like that to be able to play at a high level and contribute in her first year at Division I, is hopefully what people take notice of."