Kelly Jekot won three state titles and wants to win trophies at Villanova | Season preview
The junior guard was a two-time Gatorade state player of the year while playing in high school.
It's the warning that every incoming freshman athlete gets: The jump from high school competition to Division I college competition is a huge one.
Villanova junior guard Kelly Jekot heard it when she decided to come to the Main Line in 2016.
Still, when you were the two-time Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year, a three-time, first-team all-state honoree who led Cumberland Valley High to three straight state championships, it would be natural to believe you are better prepared to get a grip on those changes.
Fortunately for Jekot and Villanova, she was quick to recognize the errors in thinking and, more importantly, acknowledging that and then went about working hard on everything to get herself up to speed.
"It was tough," Jekot conceded. "I admit that I thought coming in that it wouldn't be as hard. But in college, every player you play with or against was basically the best player on their high school team.
"To come in and realize all the talent that you are surrounded by, not just on your team, but other teams, you have to stand up to those challenges and not only learn to adapt, but rise above it."
More in this series: Eric Paschall's job is to help things stay the same at Villanova | La Salle's Jeryn Reese looks to regain scoring touch in senior season | Lamarr Kimble is back leaner and ready to lead St. Joe's | Eleah Parker, fresh off rookie-of-the-year season, is looking to lead Penn women's basketball | Pookie Powell, back for one more season, is looking to win at La Salle | Bailey Greenberg wants to help Drexel jump from the WNIT to the Big Dance | Shizz Alston wants to give Temple coach Fran Dunphy an NCAA bid for a retirement gift | Alyssa Monaghan has played a lot of games for St. Joe's. There's just one she's missing. | Alliya Butts, who lost last season to injury, returns to end her career at Temple the right way | A.J. Brodeur, fresh off a trip to the NCAA Tournament, wants to keep adding to Penn's legacy
It wasn't as if Jekot, who scored 2,141 career points at Cumberland Valley, was overwhelmed. She averaged 22.1 minutes, 6.1 points, and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman and was named Big 5 Rookie of the Year.
The most important thing, however, was that she listened and learned. She took the advice of veterans in learning the intricacies of the complex offense that Villanova coach Harry Perretta employs.
When the coaches recommended that she really study the offense during the summer before her sophomore season, that's exactly what Jekot did.
"They wanted me to learn it, not just to help myself but to help the team," Jekot said.
Jekot came back to Villanova as a sophomore who not only was physically and mentally a year older but also had the confidence of understanding her role and those of her teammates.
She started all 32 games for the Wildcats, averaging 32.7 minutes, 11.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. She was named the Big 5's most improved player.
As a team, the Wildcats finished 23-9, received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament and beat South Dakota State before losing to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the second round. Nova also returned to the Top 25 rankings for the first time since 2004-05.
"I've always been very competitive," said Jekot, whose younger sister, Katie, is a redshirt freshman at Saint Joseph's. "The people here at Villanova have pushed all of us.
"The offense [Perretta] has created gives us a lot of opportunities. The decision making is hard to learn, but once you do and you can play the way you know and use the offense to your benefit, that's when you become successful with it."
Now with two years of college ball under her belt and a team that has the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament, Jekot said the Wildcats are looking to put some kind of hardware in the program's trophy case.
Villanova has not won the Big East Tournament since 2003 when the Wildcats stunned Connecticut for their lone conference tournament title.
The Wildcats made it to the old AIAW Final Four in 1982, but have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite 8 only in 2003.
"I do want to win something here really badly," Jekot said. "We want to get a championship, and I think I can speak for the rest of the team in saying that.
"In our freshman and sophomore years, it was like we have nothing to lose so let's just go out and get it. Now, we know what we have to protect and we know what needs to be done in order to get there."