Senior Taya Jeffrey shatters girls’ basketball all-time scoring record


Marissa Hanson

Jeffrey searches the crowd for her parents. Moments after making the free throw that secured her place as the highest scorer in Albert Lea girls’ basketball history, she was surrounded by her teammates and members of the student section. ““I remember immediate hugs from people and Coach Hanson and then finding my parents in the stands and just sending them a heart signal with my hands,” she said.

Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for seven. Breathe out for eight. Repeat. 

On Tuesday night, senior Taya Jeffrey laid on the floor of her room and practiced her “sponging” breathing exercises, which are beneficial for soothing anxiety and nerves. Though she was counting her breaths, another number had taken up residence in the front of her mind. 


Score 16 more points, and she would break the all-time scoring record in Albert Lea girls’ basketball history. Some combination of layups, free throws and three-pointers would bring her career points past 1340, the number put up by 2014 graduate Bryn Woodside. 

Jeffrey’s team, which is 6-6 on the season so far, had played Worthington on Saturday, Jan. 15, and she realized that she was only 16 points away. The team was slated to play Winona at home on Tuesday, which was also senior night. The following game would be in Red Wing, meaning if she didn’t break the record playing Winona, she would likely be celebrating her success nearly 100 miles away from her hometown. Wanting to be surrounded by her friends and family in her big moment, Jeffrey felt the stress start to pile on. 

“I wanted to be able to hit the milestone at a home game because that was always something that was kind of in the back of my mind,” she said. 

With four years of varsity play and captainship under her belt, Jeffrey is no stranger to crunch-time pressure. But even with all of her experience, she couldn’t calm the butterflies in her stomach in the days and hours leading up to game time. Knowing that other people were looking forward to seeing her make history only added to her nerves. 

“I just felt a lot of pressure and stress to not let people down,” she said. “A lot of people were telling me ‘Good luck!’ or that they were coming or they’d be tuning in somehow. And that was nerve-wracking.”

Jeffrey noted that her parents and teammates told her to “just play the game” like normal and that the milestone would come when it was meant to but that doing so was easier said than done. Not to mention, Winona made things even more difficult for her by playing a box and one defense on her, meaning that they had “one person stuck like glue” to her, trying not to let her touch the ball, get to the hoop or shoot any outside shots. 

“It’s hard, mentally, when teams do that,” she said. “And especially since I was coming up on this milestone, it was just another mental challenge to overcome.” 

The Tigers quickly gained a generous lead early on in the game despite Winona’s attempt to incapacitate Jeffrey. Her teammates were able to get open and put up points, and she just let the baskets come her way when they did. Many of her points from the night came off of free throws, points she described as being “very mental.” 

“I was rather uptight, probably a little more tense [than normal],” she said. “I couldn’t get the number out of my head. I just felt tight.” 

The first half, Jeffrey said, wasn’t “necessarily enjoyable” thanks to the pressure. But, come second half, and she was feeling ready to go.

“I knew I was four points away, and I had full confidence that I could find those somewhere in that 18 minutes,” she said. 

However, time ticked away and she was still shy of the record. Her stress levels began to creep back up again. 

“I’m not going to lie, I did start to get a little nervous and frazzled,” Jeffrey said. “I could tell that the crowd was wanting it to happen, and I was wanting it to happen, but the time was draining down.” 

Then, she stepped up to the free throw line for one fateful shot. 

“I was like, ‘Okay Taya, this is it. You’ve got to make this,’” she said. “So I kind of just ended with that and just let it fly and hit the bottom of the net.” 

Seconds after making the free throw that etched her name into the Albert Lea girls’ basketball history book, Jeffrey was swarmed with her teammates and friends from the student section. 

“The support from the student section was something that was also super memorable about that night,” she said. “They came with overwhelming support, and I couldn’t have asked it to be any other way.”

Though Jeffrey herself has put in countless hours of hard work throughout her career as a basketball player, she said that she “could not have reached that milestone by myself” and is grateful for everyone who has helped her succeed.

“I never could have reached it without my teammates, my coaches, my parents and all of my support system,” she said. “It was a surreal experience and something I’m super humbled by. I’m just grateful to be a part of the team that I am.”