I finally got to see her play

Photo by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald Former St. Louis Park High School standout and current University of Nebraska forward Kendall Coley during a 70-67 Big Ten women’s basketball victory against the MN Golden Gophers on December 6, 2021, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Nebraska won 70-67.

The one and only time I saw University of Nebraska women’s basketball freshman forward Kendall Coley play in a basketball game in high school, she was a 5’10” seventh-grader playing limited for the varsity. That was during the 2015-16 season at Minneapolis Washburn, where her father Tylor Coley was head coach.

The next time I saw the former St. Louis Park standout play was last month in a Big Ten women’s basketball victory 70-67 over the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena.

As a sports columnist, I have had many opportunities to cover student-athletes while they were in high school and watch them blossom at the collegiate level. Yet, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to see them all. Kendall Coley was one of those student-athletes that I missed during her prep basketball career, though I did see her in action for the Orioles volleyball team, where she earned All-Metro Conference honors.

Oh, I had two chances to check her out on the basketball court during her junior year. I simply blew it. More on that later.

After Kendall completed her seventh-grade year at Washburn, Tylor Coley resigned as head coach, so she ended up averaging 9.4 points per game for St. Louis Park as an eighth-grader. The next two seasons she averaged 6.9 points as a freshman (2017-18) and 10.9 during her sophomore campaign (2018-2019).

By her junior season (2019-20) Kendall Coley had blossomed into one of the state’s top players as a 6’2” forward, so I made it a mission—yet an unfulfilled mission—to watch her play.

The first opportunity came on Friday, January 14, 2019, when St. Louis Park played conference rival and defending Class 3A state champions Robbinsdale Cooper. I was about to go but changed my mind and decided to get some needed rest. Kendall Coley scored 10 points in a 90-85 triple-time loss.

A couple of weeks later I ran into Kendall Coley and Tylor Coley at a Gophers-Rutgers women’s basketball game at Williams Arena. I let them know that I wouldn’t miss the rematch. “I will be there for sure,” I said with emphasis. 

I didn’t make it. The weather caused the rematch to move to Saturday, February 9. I was committed to covering the MIAC women’s basketball championship game between the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg University.

I missed another great game. St. Louis Park overcame a 35-24 halftime deficit to force the game into overtime, with Cooper prevailing 72-68. Kendall Coley scored 11 points. She averaged 15.5 points per game that season and was poised for an even greater one in 2020-21.

However, with the emergence of the pandemic, a two-month delay in the high school basketball season, and her outstanding academic standing, she chose to graduate in mid-January and enroll at Nebraska.

After I finally got to see her play against the Gophers last month, she had time to talk to me and sports columnist Charles Hallman about her collegiate experience and her decision to graduate early. “It wasn’t going to be the same playing in high school during the pandemic, “she said. “I had enough credits to graduate and had already signed with Nebraska [April 2020]. So I decided to graduate early.”

Kendall Coley, who’s averaging 14 minutes per game as a freshman while contributing to Nebraska’s 10-0 start, made it clear that everything is all and well in Cornhusker land. “I really like it here at Nebraska,” she said. “I made the right decision.”

I’m glad I finally got to see her play again. The future looks bright.