By A.J. Kaufman
Accolades and expectations are mounting for Jaycie Jenkins and the Milligan University women’s basketball team, as a new season commences.
As a sophomore in 2021-22, Jenkins was the nation’s fifth leading scorer at 21.7 points per contest and also pulled down more than 9 rebounds per game. That followed an impressive 2020-21 season of 17.5 points per game, giving her a total career point average of roughly 20.
It also took the Boone High School graduate just 51 college games to post her 1,000th career point.
In her second season, she helped the Buffs to a 25-8 record and runner-up finish in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) regular season standings.
“Last year we turned it around, and came in second, so that’s really motivating,” Jenkins told the News & Neighbor. “And this year, we have big goals coming in and we want to make it to nationals and get a bid.”
As for team expectations, she said a major goal is to finish in the top three spots during the regular season and win the AAC tournament, since the squad finished second in late February 2022.
The Buffs hope to benefit from newcomers to replace key players lost to graduation. They include junior transfer Emma Harig from Maryville and freshman Semaj Clark from Oak Ridge.
Jenkins believes both can be beneficial to the team, and she’ll adjust her game if necessary.
“I’m hoping that if I get double teamed, it might open up for other players,” she said. “So I am being patient and just sticking to what I can do.”
She was also named as one of 10 to the NAIA Coaches’ All-America team in March and earned a spot on the NAIA Women’s Basketball Academic All-America Second Team. Jenkins is only the 10th academic all-American in Milligan history and the first women’s basketball player to receive the honor.
She is now a preseason NAIA and WBCA All-American.
The 5-foot-10 forward was a standout volleyball and softball player at Boone, but chose to make basketball her focus, once on a college campus.
Originally, however, she was not sure which sport to focus upon. Jenkins has played basketball since she was very little, softball since age 4, and volleyball since middle school.
When COVID-19 hit during the spring of her senior year of high school, it cancelled the softball season.
“It made me think I never got closure with softball,” Jenkins explained. “I thought my opportunity at Milligan with basketball is what God had in store for me and my future.”
And studying and playing sports at Milligan is a true family affair.
Her mother, Tonya, played softball and basketball for Milligan, while older sister, Jacyln, played softball. Her father, Jaymie, played baseball for the Buffs.
“When I was trying to decide, I knew I wanted to stay local and continue playing sports, and Milligan was the best fit, close to home, and a great opportunity with basketball,” she said.
Nursing a sore ankle, Jenkins didn’t play in the Nov. 2 opener against Alice Lloyd at home, nor over the weekend, as Milligan participated in the Jimmy Faulkner Classic in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Buffs were picked No. 2 by the league’s coaches in the AAC Preseason Poll after finishing as both conference runner-up — 22-2 record against conference — in the regular season and the AAC Tournament.
An education major, she has a few more years to play, but would like to pursue a Masters degree at Milligan. She is grateful to her family and friends for pushing her along the journey, taking her to games and lending support.