BILLINGS — For almost two decades, Kevin Woodin has constructed the Montana State Billings women’s basketball program upon a foundation of in-state talent.
But every so often, hidden within that litany of homegrown players, Woodin finds an out-of-state gem on which to build.
This year, without much debate, that designation goes to Shoreline, Washington, product Taryn Shelley.
A junior, Shelley was originally a member of the program at Washington State of the Pac-12 Conference, a fact that by itself indicates her inherent talent as a 6-foot-3 post presence. But Shelley suffered from a serious case of burnout early in her time with the Cougars, which left her to wonder if she even wanted to play college basketball again.
Luckily for Woodin, Shelley found rejuvenation after transferring to join the Yellowjackets.
“I don’t think she had a great experience at Washington State, or she just wasn’t really feeling it,” Woodin said. “And when I was able to talk to her, I felt part of it was really just finding out if she wanted to play basketball.
“When she did, that was a big get for us.”
The proof is in the numbers. Through two seasons at MSUB, Shelley is averaging 12.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 48% from the floor. Through 56 games, she has already produced 18 double-doubles.
Statistically, Shelley has proven to be of great importance to the Yellowjackets. But now that she is one of the most veteran players on a team void of any seniors, leadership is taking precedence — especially during a pandemic with no games to speak of on the horizon.
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference basketball season is on pause until at least early January.
“Yeah, it’s hard. It’s definitely really hard. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it,” said Shelley, who along with junior Shannon Reny serves as a team captain. “But you just have to keep going. We can persevere through this.
“It’s hard to look forward to something that you don’t know is going to be there, but we just try to keep a positive attitude and keep practicing and lifting and conditioning and things like that. If the season happens, then we’ll be ready for it.”
For a freshman like Dyauni Boyce, who is new to MSUB on the heels of a successful high school career at Roy-Winifred, Shelley has been an important asset.
Shelley helps to keep Boyce and the other players focused and engaged.
“She keeps telling us to keep going, to keep pushing,” Boyce said. “We can’t do anything about what’s going on so we have to keep working hard.”
Woodin describes Shelley’s arrival to the Yellowjackets as little more than a fluke.
After leaving the Washington State program, Shelley visited some friends in Billings who were enrolled at MSUB and planned to join them to become an average, everyday college student.
A graduate of Class 3A Shorewood High in suburban Seattle, she also had interest from Gonzaga and playing Division II basketball in south-central Montana was the furthest thing from Shelley’s mind.
But when Jeanann Lemelin, a senior on last year’s team, one day spotted Shelley from the second-floor balcony in the MSUB library, things changed.
Lemelin asked Shelley if she was “that girl from Wazzu” and inquired about her interest in joining the Yellowjackets. After meeting with Woodin and taking a short time to think about it, Shelley signed.
She has since rekindled her love for the game.
“It’s super fun. And Montana is such a great place,” Shelley said.
Of her on-court presence, Woodin said Shelley is primed to take her game to another level.
“She can make just about every shot that you want. She can go over both shoulders, she can fade away, she has a power, inside type of game, but the more she plays you can see that she’s comfortable facing the basket,” Woodin said.
“She has a quick, soft shot. Whether its five feet, 10 feet, 15, 20, if she’s set she has a really good chance of making those shots. And you combine that with her size and her improved strength and she’s tough to guard.”
One positive aspect in what is a season of chaos is that the NCAA is allowing student-athletes to retain a year of eligibility whether they play this year or not. That means Shelley will still have two more years to play for the Yellowjackets after 2021.
Shelley hasn’t quite thought that far ahead. But as an elementary education student on track to graduate in 2022, real life is on the horizon. It’s a decision she will face in due time.
All Shelley can do right now is hope for the opportunity to play as many games MSUB is allowed this season — and cherish it while she can.
“We’re really lucky that we get to practice and be together as a team. Some other sports are still shut down,” she said. “We have to be really safe about it, but we’re lucky we get to do it.”
“I’m really proud of her,” Woodin said. “She’s a co-captain now, and that’s a new leadership role. We have a really young team, and her teammates and I and the coaches know she’s our best player coming back, but she’s just a very humble person that doesn’t look for the spotlight. She’s just doing a great job right now communicating and just doing a lot of little things.
“As team, we really talk a lot about just being as responsible as we can and enjoy a day when we get to practice. There are certain restrictions we have that are definitely not normal and difficult. But when it’s all said and done the minutes we get together are valuable.”