Shooting For The Stars

Junior Taya Jeffrey is making a name for herself in the Albert Lea Girls Basketball program.

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Jeffrey holds a sign made by one of her teammates after the game at Faribault High School. Many of her teammates and fans had created signs to commemorate her 1,000 point milestone. “She’s the beast of the team,” said Kendall Kenis, one of Jeffrey’s teammates.

High school is a time in a young person’s life when they have to start figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Many different kinds of opportunities present themselves, especially in extracurricular activities like musical ensembles, academic clubs and sports teams. Students have to decide which, if any, of these pastimes they’d like to partake in. They’ll likely end up devoting much of their precious time to whatever they choose, so they must select something they enjoy. Junior Taya Jeffrey became a basketball player, and she’s confident she made the right choice. 

“Being a basketball player, life is always super fast-paced,” she said. “I just feel like I’m always on the go, but I also choose to be on the go putting time into basketball.” 

Basketball has been a focal point in Jeffrey’s life for over ten years. She first began playing at the local YMCA around the age of five and later joined a traveling team in fourth grade. In seventh grade, Jeffrey joined an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team, and she currently plays for the Southern Minnesota Fury team. She jumps at every opportunity to become a better player and person, and she believes that surrounding herself with other skilled athletes is one of the best ways to do so. 

“Playing with people who have a really good basketball IQ and know how to work together and love the game is something that just automatically will make you a better person,” Jeffrey said. 

With a solid foundation to build upon, Jeffrey quickly became an integral part of the high school team. She sat on the varsity bench for one half in her eighth-grade year before becoming a full-time varsity player as a freshman. She was named a captain during that season, which pushed her to step up her leadership game. 

“That was a huge step for me,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to what being a leader is and, in some ways, I wasn’t ready.” 

As one of the team’s younger players, Jeffrey let the older girls handle most of the verbal communication and leadership. During that time, she began to understand how she could be a leader in her own way: she would lead by example. She had discovered a leadership method that would stick with her for years to come. 

“If I work hard, if I show them what intensity, energy, passion for the game looks like, they want to, my teammates want to be better as well,” she said. 

One of her teammates, junior Lindsey Bizjak, can attest to Jeffrey’s positive influence on the team. 

“She just pushes me to be the best I can be,” said Bizjak. “She definitely inspires me by how hard she works and how dedicated she is to the sport.” 

Sophomore Kendall Kenis is also inspired by Jeffrey’s personality and leadership both on and off the court. 

“She’s just a very selfless player and wants to play with everybody,” Kenis said. “You can tell she loves the girls and wants to play with them, connect with them.”

In addition to being a powerful leadership tool, Jeffrey’s hardworking attitude has made her a force to be reckoned with on the court. On Monday, March 1, Jeffrey reached an incredible milestone: 1,000 career points. In Albert Lea Girls Basketball’s history, only ten players have earned this achievement; Jeffrey can now count herself as one of the few. She had been chasing the daunting number for quite some time, and she was ready to take hold of it. 

“At that point, I expect[ed] myself to get, reach a thousand points,” Jeffrey said. “It was looming around in the back of my head. Definitely thought I would get it this year.”

The odds hadn’t been in her favor. Due to COVID-19, the basketball season had suffered a delayed start and shortened season. Still, Jeffrey persevered. Standing at the free-throw line in Faribault, she had thought she was about to hit 1,000. 

“It was funny because I had an and-one situation, and my free throw, my one free throw, could have been the thousand pointer,” she said. “But I missed it, and we were all like, ‘Oh, that’s funny’.” 

Not long after, Jeffrey called out a play that would end in her shooting a three-pointer; she nailed it. It was a moment of relief for her, as she had been feeling the milestone’s pressure hanging over her head for quite some time. But she’s the first to admit who the expectations come from. 

“The person who puts the most pressure on me is myself,” Jeffrey said. “I’ve been kind of pushing myself and trying to get myself to reach the milestone, but the best thing for me was to just let it come.” 

With the stress of the achievement gone, Jeffrey could fully embrace the fans and her teammates’ energetic environment. The crowd had gone wild. Many of her teammates had made posters and toted them along to Faribault in hopes of celebrating later that night. She even got to keep the game ball. It was a night overflowing with memories to last a lifetime.

“I’ll always think of the first thing that happened after, which was Kendall running up to me and giving me a big hug, so that was fun,” Jeffrey said. “I won’t ever forget that.” 

She’s reached 1,000 points, but Jeffrey still has one year left as an Albert Lea Tiger. Next, she wants to set the all-time scoring record in Albert Lea. More importantly, however, she wants to create a legacy. She wants to be someone who is remembered for their contributions, both on and off of the court, to the players and the program.

“I’m chasing after the all-time leading scoring position in Albert Lea,” she said. “It’s not a little goal. But, I’d say, more importantly, I want to be someone that is remembered for their leadership here in Albert Lea in the program, so my goal is to just keep building this program, keep climbing the mountain with the teammates and bringing them up to a winning culture.”