COLUMBIA — Kelsey Eckenrode stands outside of the 3-point arc, knees slightly bent, hands out in front. She receives a pass and without hesitating, unleashes a shot that makes a perfect landing in the basket.
Eckenrode, a 5-foot-6 junior guard on the Rock Bridge girls basketball team, is a renowned 3-point shooter. Last year as a sophomore, Eckenrode scored just six points a game but shot 46 percent from behind the arc. “She’s a very good shooter,” Bruins coach Jill Nagel said. “She’s got great touch.”
It hasn’t always been that way.
“After my freshman year, coach Nagel told me to work on my shooting,” Eckenrode said. “I was more of a driver at the time. She said that with my size, it would be nice to have an outside shot as well.”
What she lacks in size, she makes up for in other areas of the game. “She is very quick. She is a good ball handler as well,” Nagel said.
Eckenrode, who has been on varsity since her freshman year, has put in the time, and it is paying dividends.
“She’s a very hard worker,” Kelsey Eckenrode’s mother, Dawn Eckenrode, said. “She makes it look easy even when she is struggling.”
Kelsey said she remembers when she was little, she would stay outside and shoot for hours. She also had a variety of outside influences through the years that have helped her become the player she is today.
Her father, Jim Eckenrode, was her first basketball coach and taught her a love for the game. Her mother is a self-proclaimed “cheerleader” who has always been there for encouragement. Tharen and Candy Jorgenson, the latter an assistant coach for the Rock Bridge team, were her coaches for five years on a competitive team, the Mid-Missouri Hustlers.
A boys team even invited Kelsey Eckenrode to go play in a tournament in Denmark. “Sports have given her a lot of opportunities,” Dawn Eckenrode said.
Kelsey Eckenrode is not one for arrogance, though. She maintains that her focus is on the team winning a state title.
“Kelsey would be a starter on almost any other team in the state, but she embraces her role off the bench and the team benefits as a result.” Nagel said.
Not only is Kelsey a hard worker on the basketball court, she also gives her best on the soccer field. Kelsey, who plays center-midfielder and forward, has been on the varsity soccer team since her freshman year.
From the time she was 5 years old up until ninth grade, Kelsey Eckenrode played for an all-boys team called the Sysmex Rugrats.
After recalling her days of bing the only girl on the team, Kelsey said, “I loved it. My best friends were on that team.”
Kelsey said that playing with the boys has made her a better player. “I am a physical player,” she said. “There is better competition with the boys.”
Although Kelsey Eckenrode likes basketball, soccer is her true passion.
“I’m better at soccer, and it’s more running, which I like,” Kelsey said. “I would like to play in college if it’s also a good academic school. It has to have the full package.”
It’s been difficult for Kelsey Eckenrode playing both basketball and soccer.
“With the classes that I take, it’s tough being a two-sport athlete and getting homework done, especially going on the road,” Kelsey said. “You learn to sleep anywhere.”
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Over the winter break, Rock Bridge (16-6) traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“It was pretty awesome going to South Carolina,” Kelsey said. “It was a good chance to bond with my teammates.”
Kelsey has high hopes for her soccer team as well. After being crowned district champions in 2007, Kelsey said she hopes not only for a repeat of the district championship, but for a state title as well.
Although Kelsey has a lot on her schedule, she still finds a way to make time for others. She is a core leader for the Rock Bridge Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, where she mentors a child at Rock Bridge Elementary School. She is involved in Student Council. She also enjoys doing magic tricks for her friends and family, especially card tricks.
“It’s a part of her quirkiness that we love,” Dawn Eckenrode said. “She’s just a great kid. She’s very easy going.”
Only time will tell if Kelsey’s hard work will pay off in a state title, either in basketball or soccer.