As senior Jarrelyn McCall drove to the lane she was fouled with 9:47 left to go in the third. When she converted first free throw, McCall became the all-time leading scorer in Knox women’s basketball history as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
McCall grew up playing basketball with her older brothers who did not take it easy on her. Their dad wanted her to get used to playing competition which would pay off in the long run.
McCall’s parents sent her to different basketball camps and instead of just attending, playing, and moving on in life, McCall’s mom made her and her brother’s practice what they learned at the camp.
“My mom took it so seriously. She would get me and my brother at 5:00 a.m. and go through the workouts and do all of it,” McCall said.
It’s from those early mornings that McCall developed her work ethic. Whenever she attended an Amateur Athletic Union camp or a tournament, if she didn’t do well she would not get frustrated or mad. She would simply put in more work. That desire to work through adversity has stuck with the senior for the 18 years she has played the sport.
The work ethic is what draws her to the game. There is always an area of the game that a player can work aimlessly at and try to master. It’s a never-ending challenge which is appealing to McCall.
Athletic Director Daniella Irle’s first interaction with McCall came at a game before she had fully become acquainted with all of the student-athletes at Knox.
“I came in for basketball reunion weekend in January to kind of start meeting alumni and fans and I got to watch both teams play. That was really my first kind of memory or impression of Jarrelyn. I just loved the way she played, you know, especially this year,” Irle said.
Irle sees practice as the setting which shows someone’s true dedication to their respective sport.
“Everybody likes to be a gamer. Everybody likes to be in front of a crowd, you really get to know someone behind the scenes, right. I think that’s when the true character or work ethic of someone shines,” Irle said.
Breaking a scoring record doesn’t come by accident or alone. In the two years since assistant coach Chris Klassen was hired at Knox, the two have grown close on and off the court; including after McCall had a rough conference showing against Cornell.
The senior from Lonoke, Arkansas went 1-12 from the field and missed all five of her three-point attempts. It was an uncharacteristically bad performance from the steady senior. True to her character, McCall didn’t wallow on the bad shooting night and coach Klaussen wasn’t going to let her wallow in it.
“I only scored four points. My shot was off. It was horrible. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, coach Klassen said ‘Hey, Hey, don’t worry. You want to go to the gym tomorrow? Let’s get some shots up. And I was like, ‘alright bet’,” McCall said.
McCall and Klassen would start putting in extra work, and it paid off in the next game. The next game was against Lake Forest where McCall scored 22 points and pulled in 10 rebounds.
McCall having her back even after a tough game kept her confidence up to keep working. Having a coach who has your back and wants to help you get better is a great feeling for a player.
“He’s honestly our mother Teresa. Like we can go to him with anything, whether it’s on the court or off the court and he’ll always make us feel like ‘I got your back. You good, you straight’,” McCall said with exuberance.
Coach Klassen only needed one word to describe McCall.
“Dedicated, Klassen said. She spent a lot of time this summer getting better. I know she didn’t have the year she wanted last year, so she was really dedicated this summer,” K
McCall is averaging career-highs in points (15.8 points per game), field goal percentage (41.2 percent) and three-point field goal percentage (33.3 percent). Every drill or tip coach Klassen gives McCall she retains the information.
“She’s like a sponge. She’ll ask questions, I’ll give her answers, I’ll show her some drills and she just soaks it up and you know, does everything she can to do it as best as she can and improve. So just being that basketball sponge I think is, is really unique and sets her apart,” Klassen said.
McCall breaking the scoring record is a testament of years of hard work and her tenacity to being the best basketball player she can be.
“That’s the other thing, you don’t get this kind of record because you had one good year. If you didn’t have a great or at least productive first-year experience, second year, you’re not even in the ballpark by the time you’re into your junior year,” Irle said.
McCall worked at Point Guard College over the summer and it was the perfect situation for her. She lived in the gym, literally.
“So he would come at like 6:00 a.m like six st cause we, we, I had the blessing to stay. We stayed in the gym like literally there were bunk beds and stuff in the gym. So we stayed in the gym. I was like, ‘this is perfect’, that he can come at 6:00 a.m and I go and take a shower and go about my day and he can come back later that day and I get another training session in,” McCall said.
The biggest benefit that McCall got from PGC was the leadership skills that they taught her in preparation for the upcoming season. McCall had to learn how to relate to everyone on the team and get 15 individuals to believe in what she had to say because she knew she needed to improve that aspect of her game in order to have the senior season that she wanted. With only four upperclassmen on the roster, she had to lead a fairly young team either vocally or by example.
McCall’s head coach for all four years, Emily Cline, credited her senior’s leadership as a major factor in the team’s success this season.
“I am even more proud of how much Jay has grown off the court and the leadership she had provided for the team this year. Jay and Kyra’s leadership has been crucial to our success this season and the fun we are having,” Cline said.
“There’s like, there are 15 different personalities you gotta deal with. There are 15 different ways you gotta talk to somebody and let them notice. There might be 15 different ways you gotta show somebody this same example, but you got to word it a different way,” McCall said.
McCall’s teammate of four years – and co-captain – Kyra Huffman has noticed the growth from the senior over the years.
“She’s a great teammate. She’s always looking to pass and as well as score and she’s become a really great leader over the years,” Huffman said.
The two work in tandem to co-captain the women’s basketball team. They work off of each other well with McCall being the more stern, and Huffman being the more fun one. The difference in leadership style gives the rest of the team two distinct people that they can go to about anything. The duo have a friendship off the court which helps them be in sync in terms of being a captain.
“I think the fact that we are friends off the court really helps with leadership because we feed off of each other,” McCall says. I might not say something, but Kyra might think something and she’ll say and I’m like, ‘Dang, that’s exactly what I was going to say. Appreciate you. Thank you for saying that.'”
Transitioning into the role of a leader was not easy for McCall. Her junior season she felt that it was her lack of leadership that played a role in the women’s team not qualifying for the Midwest Conference tournament. She worked for PGC over the summer as a basket instructor and she absorbed the leadership values that they preach.
The work McCall has done off and left her on the verge of breaking the scoring record. On Nov. 20th against Iowa Wesleyan, McCall stepped to the free-throw line and knocked down a free throw to score her 1000th point that moved her into third place on the school’s all-time scoring list. The moment was intensified as her parents drove eight hours to see their daughter score 1000 points. McCall’s family is a very big sports family. She had two older brothers who played collegiate football and when she steps on the court she’s not just playing for herself.
“I can’t even put it into words like how surreal it was. Every game I play I play it for my grandpa, my grandpa back in 2010. Knowing that I made him proud was another moment in itself. I always want to play for my dad and just seeing him there at that moment, watching his favorite girl doing what she does best, you know, it was just, it was just a great moment all around,” McCall said as she stammered through her sentence, struggling to find the right words.
McCall didn’t come to Knox to set the record but she knows the significance of it as a black female at a predominantly white institution.
“I’m really appreciative and blessed that I’m in this position to raise the bar higher, but all I’m doing is making sure somebody behind me breaks that record again. I mean It’s just about empowering, not only myself but empowering the females that come behind me. Like, ‘Hey, the goal is set.’ Now you gotta go reach it and surpass it.”