Leading with a servant’s heart

Pray through every day. Live joyfully. Love unconditionally. Serve humbly. Those are Katie Powell’s words to live by, and perhaps the most telling thing about the Cougars’ starting guard.

“She’s incredible,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “She is 100 percent the girl you want representing APU basketball.”

Powell is the only four-year senior in Azusa Pacific University women’s basketball. But given her full career, she was not the typical aspiring college basketball player.

“I always tell people I don’t even know how I ended up at APU because I didn’t really plan on playing a sport in college,” Powell said.

Her journey from a small town in Oregon to APU was mostly happenstance.

She was not seeking to play college athletics. She was not being recruited for other schools. She had no offers elsewhere. Yet, she found herself in an open gym for the Cougars her senior year of high school and hasn’t looked back since.

Her career has matured simultaneously with the team’s transition into the NCAA — joining the program in its final year of NAIA competition, competing through the provisional membership seasons and now in its NCAA postseason debut.

The senior is a consistent contributor, shooting .351 from beyond the arc and .397 from the field overall with an average 7.5 points per game. Her defensive performance is also solid, with 32 steals this season.

Powell considers herself a “behind the scenes” player, but as one of just two seniors, she has found herself in a position of leadership in which she has seamlessly translated those “words to live by.”

“She’s played a big role in trying to encourage people, getting people to be on each other’s side and to be excited for each other,” said teammate and junior forward Kelly Hardeman. “That’s a huge thing, especially in women’s basketball.”

Powell describes her mission as a leader as cultivating her teammates’ strengths while also helping them work on their weaknesses.

“That entails a lot of different things for a lot of people, because everybody is so unique and beautifully individual on our team,” she said. “But it’s recognizing the potential in others and trying to bring that out.”

Her teammates have reflected her effort to invest in one another, which has ultimately lent itself to the squad’s on-court performance.

“If we don’t come out every night united and if we don’t play together, we’re not going to win,” Kelly Hardeman said. “She definitely brings us together, gets us fired up and reminds us that we’re playing for each other.”

While she may downplay her on-court contributions, Powell’s unifying impact has evidently influenced the team’s dynamic on and off the court so much so that it’s hard to imagine the team’s season without her.

But that was nearly a reality — the senior almost didn’t return for her final year.

“I was set for a while on, ‘I’m not playing basketball next year. There’s no way,'” she said.

After some contemplation, conversations with family and lots of prayer, she decided to return.

“I realized, ‘Why would I not do this next year?’ I’m so glad I did,” Powell said.

With the Cougars’ fourth-place regular season finish, she will now have the opportunity to lead the Cougars to their first-ever NCAA postseason at the PacWest tournament next weekend. But for Powell, this final run was more than just about the accomplishments on paper.

“More than anything, I wanted our team to grow – visibly — from the beginning to the end of the year. Whether that was spiritually or as players,” she said. “I think we have.”