By Ellie Lieberman
Portland State freshman guard Jenna Kilty has seven games this season where she’s scored in double-digits. Now that’s no easy task for any Division I college basketball player, but especially one who is a freshman finding their way in this season which has been riddled by unknown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Kilty is no stranger to obstacles in her path.
Kilty attended basketball powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd High School, which has sent dozens of players to Division I schools (including our own trainers), and is nationally regarded as one of the best programs in the state. It’s never easy fitting in amongst such a stacked, all-star caliber team in high school.
Kilty credits skills she’s developed on the UPB court such as staying low, working on speed agility, and staying tight with her handles, as helping to develop her as an up-and-coming guard in the Big Sky conference. Games in the upper Northwest are as Kilty describes generally gritty, and few teams win by more than 10 points making each game a battle. But, playing at UPB over the years against some of the most talented women in basketball as a whole, not just collegiately, has propelled Kilty’s game.
“We would be playing five on five and sometimes it would be three PAC-12 players on the court, two girls who played overseas or professional and a sophomore and a freshman,” Kilty said. “I could really focus on doing my best to defend these top players.”
Just as much as she feels the nuances in her game have been refined at UPB, Kilty credits most of all the mental training that has boosted her self-confidence as a player and person.
“I was never a starter [in high school], I didn’t get insane amounts of playing time. I never had highlight mixtapes or write ups about me,” Kilty said. “Packie saw my talent and got me to really believe in myself that I can be great. I think that him constantly putting that in my head, I finally started to believe in it. The confidence I gained from working with him directly translated to on the court.
In a season in which Portland State was actually the last D-I program to resume play, confidence and trust between players off the court goes a long way. Seven of the Vikings’ first eight games were cancelled, and most players couldn’t hit the court until just days before their first game in October. Through the challenges, Kilty finds positivity in a tough season because she’s been able to become extremely close to her teammates, especially through road travel.
“It’s totally a family feel here,” Kilty said. “ I’m so happy I came here because it’s been great.”
Kilty describes the assistant coach and associate head coach at Portland State as a dynamic duo, partially in that they are married, but also in that they manage to parent while letting their two-year old son come to practice. Sounds a little like UPB!
Overall, Kilty is excited about the potential her squad has to repeat as Big Sky conference champions, but stays true to her mental toughness and tries to focus on one game at a time. As for what Kilty desires after college, she wants to continue being around the game of basketball as much as possible. She worked as a rebounder over the summer for NBA talent at UPB and describes all the little tricks she picked up just by being immersed in the game, and it seems she wants that for life. And let’s just say Kilty will have herself some options.
“I don’t think I could stop playing after college,” Kilty said. “I definitely want to go overseas. I would honestly love to come to UPB and work as a trainer.”
There’s one particular exercise Clair Steele will never forget from UPB. And that’s Packie’s famous five-minute plank that would be thrown in at the end of workouts. Clair Steele used to dread those planks.