It was a particularly rough afternoon for one young player at the University of Puget Sound women’s basketball practice this week, one she could not shake.
In the middle of practice, while everyone else was practicing free throws, senior Taylor Jones took her downcast teammate to the side and encouraged her to fight through the tough time — much in the same way Jones has during her UPS career.
Jones’ numbers in the box score aren’t usually eye-popping, but she fills a role the Loggers need. As those on the team would attest, Jones would stuff the leadership category if such a statistic existed.
“I think I’m just trying to be what the team needs,” Jones said, “whether that is on the court and someone who goes in and dives on the floor, or someone who has a voice on defense. Those are the things that aren’t so measurable in the stat sheet, but they are things that increase the energy of the team, things I can do to keep the team encouraged.”
Jones grew up needing to be somewhat of a team player. She is a quadruplet, which the Medical College of Wisconsin says has a 1-in-700,000 chance of occurring.
Jones has a sister, Lauren, and two brothers, Davis and Ian. All of them went to McNary High School in Keizer, Ore., but now attend different universities — with Lauren at Oregon State, Davis at San Diego and Ian at Santa Clara.
“I think the main reason we wanted to go separate places was we wanted to be known as Taylor and Lauren and Davis and Ian, and not as the ‘Jones Squad’ anymore,” Jones said.
At UPS, Jones doesn’t have to face the irritating comparisons to her siblings anymore. Now, she is an individual Loggers coach Loree Payne considers to be a quality “hire.”
Leadership so lacked last season when UPS finished with its worst Northwest Conference record (7-9) in Payne’s four years that the coach devised a new process for electing team captains.
Payne set them up like job interviews.
Those nominated for captainship received applications. From there, candidates were narrowed to finalists, who then spent 10-15 minutes answering situational questions in front of coaches in a conference room.
“Overall, I felt like we didn’t do a great job of our leadership in general last year, keeping the team together like it needed to,” Payne said. “I think that was one of our biggest weaknesses so we definitely took our selection of our captains a little more seriously, adding a little more accountability to the position.”
Jones, a UPS team captain as a junior and in each of her four years at McNary, flourished in that setting.
“Taylor aced it all the way around,” Payne said. “If that were a real job situation, that would have been a great hire.”
She said Jones has matured tenfold from her junior season — a year in which Jones even considered leaving the program.
Jones came to UPS the same year Payne was hired — 2010. Because the new coach did not have many primary ball-handlers on the roster, Jones was asked to run the show. She made 19 starts at point guard.
The next season, even though Jones was shifted back to her more natural position at shooting guard, she struggled with the transition. She’s averaging 4.6 points a game for her career.
“Sometimes I got so frustrated, I wanted to give up,” Jones said. “I think I just got caught up with how I wasn’t playing the way I knew I could.”
Jones really leaned on fellow senior Kristine Miller. The two of them are the only remaining players from Payne’s first recruiting class at UPS.
“I was going through a hard time last year, too, so I talked to Taylor about it,” Miller said. “We just reassured each other why we wanted to be here.”
Added Jones: “There have been numerous times throughout the past four years where we’ve just had to look each other in the eyes and say, ‘We are the only two left; we are going to make it to senior year.’ ”
Three years later, Jones is being leaned on more for her experience and leadership — and she is OK with that.
“I just told myself that I am going to do as much as I can to make sure people enjoy their journey this year,” she said. “Every practice and every game, I just want to make sure people are reminded of how talented they are and not to get discouraged, work hard and realize you only have four more years to do something that you love.
“I know I’m blessed to have been put through the journey that I have, even if it has been frustrating at times.” FriDAY: University of Puget Sound at Linfield, 6 p.m.TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org @Cotterill44