Kendall Currence’s eyes lit up the moment she saw the feather.
Three years old at the time of her Wampanoag naming ceremony, Currence recognized the feather in a tribal elder’s hand from speech therapy sessions for her cleft lip and palate. As her father tells it, Mashpee medicine man Guy Cash suggested the name Waapumeeqân, which means Rising Feather.
“No one really knows that’s my real name, unless they ask,” Currence said. “I’ve just kind of had it, and it’s pretty cool. Everyone who is native has one.”
Currence, a 5-foot-8-inch senior guard on the Northeastern women’s basketball team, has undergone more than a dozen surgeries for the cleft lip and palate. She also has overcome three holes in her heart, a heart murmur, and a bicuspid aortic valve.
“I feel grateful and lucky to be here playing, especially with what I’ve gone through,” she said. “A lot of kids with cleft lip and palate can’t even talk, and a lot of people with heart problems can’t play sports, so I’d say I’m grateful.”
A member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, Currence was raised in Bourne on her tribe’s homeland. She’s known in basketball circles as one of the state’s all-time leading scorers at the high school level, and is now the leading scorer for the Huskies this season.
A former Globe Super Teamer, Currence netted 2,310 points during an illustrious career at Falmouth Academy. She graduated in 2017 as the state’s ninth all-time leading scorer.
Currence and her father, Troy, live on the homeland, which extends from Plymouth to towns on upper Cape Cod. Troy is the tribe’s medicine man and an IT technologist for the US Geological Survey. He has lived on the land since his parents returned there in 1986.
Currence and her family are actively involved in the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribal Community. She has danced at powwows across New England, volunteered at Plimouth Plantation as a guest interpreter, appeared on “60 Minutes” for a story on the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project, and more.
Northeastern coach Bridgette Mitchell said she has appreciated learning about Currence, her family, and the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribal Community.
“Just hearing how interconnected their community is and how they support each other,” Mitchell said. “She’s super passionate about women and all that they go through, just from that perspective is something that I’ve learned.”
Former Northeastern coach Kelly Cole recruited Currence and coached her first three seasons. When Cole’s contract was not renewed last spring, Currence considered transferring — a “50/50 decision,” she said.
She is flourishing now, though, in “a groove” in Mitchell’s system, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game for the Huskies (7-4, 1-0 CAA). She dropped a career-best 27 points in Northeastern’s CAA opener.
In many ways, as Currence goes, Northeastern goes. Mitchell said she often tells Currence “we’re tough because you’re tough.”
“She’s the toughest mentally from all the things she’s been through, not to discredit anything that anyone else has been through,” Mitchell said. “It gives you a sense of ‘I get to do something that I really love, so let me play my hardest and do my best.’ She has that extra motivation.”
NESCAC is loaded
While the NESCAC didn’t compete in athletics last year because of the pandemic, the strength of the women’s basketball teams did not waver, with three teams ranked in the most recent Women’s Basketball Coaches Association top 25 poll.
Coaches know that No. 2 Amherst (7-0), No. 10 Tufts (8-1), and No. 13 Bowdoin (10-2) are all exceptional teams. What they don’t know is how good they are compared with years past.
“It’s hard to gauge because we didn’t compete at all last year,” said 13-year Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki. “It’s interesting to see what teams brought back, and it’s definitely still strong, but it’s hard to gauge if it’s a stronger conference top to bottom compared to the past.”
Amherst played its first seven games without a blip, but the final four games of 2021 were canceled. They enter league play having gone from Dec. 3 through the new year without an official contest.
“We definitely thought we would have more games under our belt during the first NESCAC weekend, but we know these are unprecedented times,” Gromacki said.
Amherst plays the other two ranked NESCAC teams on the road, at Tufts Jan. 15 and at Bowdoin Feb. 4.
Boston College first-year center Maria Gakdeng repeated as the ACC’s Rookie of the Week. The 6-3 Gakdeng, of Lanham, Md., averaged 9 points and 7.5 rebounds across two contests the Eagles split. Gakdeng leads ACC freshmen in blocks (21) and blocks per game (1.62). Her total is fifth in the country among freshmen … For the first time in program history, UMass received votes in a top 25 poll. The Minutewomen (12-2) picked up attention in the WCBA poll.