A season full of basketball highlights came to a dazzling end last month in the freshman year of Kaillee Skjold.
Skjold, a 2013 Soldotna High graduate now attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was called up to be a starter in the final nine games of the Nanooks’ season, averaging 12.2 points a game in that span. Overall, Skjold’s season scoring average was 7.7 points a game.
But it was in the season’s homestretch that Skjold began to establish her position on the team.
“Those games at the end there were really fun,” Skjold said by phone from Fairbanks. “They were quality teams, and I just remember those three games just being fun.”
The freshman was the team’s leading scorer in the final four games of the year, topped by her season-high of 20 points, coming on the road against Montana State Billings in late February, the second-to-last contest of the season. That night, Skjold was 50 percent from the floor with eight baskets. Skjold had six double-figure scoring games in nine starts to end the year.
“I thought those games were great,” she said. “I think I just had to do some learning, and I love that challenge. It took me awhile to get my confidence up, and my coach helped to encourage us and me to accept those challenges.”
For the year, Skjold averaged a .429 shooting percentage from the field, and was .406 from 3-point land.
The freshman also brought down 4.6 rebounds a game, giving her team second chances by crashing the glass. It was Skjold’s post presence that saw the biggest improvement in 2013-14.
“She has the ability to get inside and shoot outside,” said Cody Bench, the UAF women’s coach. “She has great finesse with her shots, and has great strength in the post, and that helped us tremendously.
“She started opening up in our lineup. Any weakness we had, she wanted that spot, and she did it.”
Skjold collected a season-high 10 boards in a tight loss against Seattle Pacific in Fairbanks in early December. For the 5-foot-11 forward, commanding a post presence was unusual, since during her time playing for Soldotna High School, she had teammates that took care of the space under the rim.
In Fairbanks, however, Skjold stands as one of the tallest players on the team. Teammate Delisa Chapman is the lone player standing at 6-0.
“She’s a dynamic player, she really fights, competes, works hard and she’s a competitor,” Bench said. “She came in as most freshman do, nervous and all, but she’s one of the reasons we won more games this year.”
The Nanooks (9-17, 3-15 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) improved over a five-win season in 2012, a six-win year in 2011, and a single win season in 2010.
Skjold — who is majoring in emergency management and hoping to add an associates degree in firefighting — entered the starting lineup on Jan. 30 against Northwest Nazarene. That night, she hit a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left that closed the Nanooks’ deficit to two points, but UAF ultimately lost 86-81.
“For me, there was a point where I decided to accept the challenge,” Skjold said. “I wasn’t playing the way I wanted to play, and I had to do some re-evaluating and decided to get better. It wasn’t much of a change, I just think my responsibility to my teammates grew, and I wanted more responsibility.”
Perhaps Skjold’s uptick in performance might be related to her improved defensive efforts. The pace of the game that college-level teams play at were a huge step up from high school teams, Skjold said, and it wasn’t easy at first to adjust and keep up with it.
“The game is a lot faster, the speed is different,” Skjold said. “The consistency has to be there, and there were times I was hitting shots that, I wonder if that’s going in. Defense had to be spot on.”
Skjold is already looking forward to next season, when she hopes her offseason work will pay off with more starting roles and big games.
“I loved my year. I love the atmosphere at UAF,” she added. “It’s been a lot of fun, I love basketball and that’s why I decided to come here.”