Their paths to Senior Night have been as different as their accomplishments on the basketball court.
Along the way, Cayla McMorris, Kendall Shaw and Malayna Johnson have learned some valuable life lessons, the ability to deal with adversity being among the foremost of them.
One measure of that adversity is that only McMorris is certain to see any playing time tonight when the Badgers (9-17, 2-11 Big Ten Conference) meet Rutgers (18-9, 6-7) in the Kohl Center finale.
McMorris, a 6-foot wing from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, has had by far the most success on the court. She ranks 24th on UW’s all-time scoring list with 1,016 points and figures to climb at least a couple spots before the season ends. But those personal achievements have been muted by team struggles. The Badgers are closing out their seventh straight losing season and are just 34-81 (.296) in her four years.
That’s not exactly what McMorris anticipated when she decided to come to UW, becoming former coach Bobbie Kelsey’s highest-ranked recruit. But she has learned that not all rewards can be measured by winning percentage.
“It teaches you to push through and work hard,” said McMorris, who is averaging a career-high 13.6 points. “Everyone wants to go to a postseason tournament, but if not I just feel that helps you grow as a person, just being able to handle things that don’t go your way.”
For Shaw, it’s perhaps fitting that her status for tonight was uncertain because of an ankle injury sustained in practice on Saturday. Injuries have been a recurring theme through Shaw’s career, which is the reason it lasted six years.
Shaw, a 6-4 center from Mont Belvieu, Texas, started her career at Vanderbilt, where she missed one year with a knee injury and most of a second with an ankle injury. But that opened the door for her to become a graduate transfer to UW, where she had been recruited by both Kelsey and her predecessor, Lisa Stone.
“I guess the third time’s the charm,” said Shaw, who is averaging 4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds. “Obviously, I’ve been through a lot with injuries but I wouldn’t regret continuing to play for my fifth and sixth years. It’s definitely been worth it. It got me here.”
Injuries also have been the theme of Johnson’s career, which was cut short by two torn ACLs, the second of which ended her playing career late last season. That’s not exactly what she envisioned when she came to UW five years ago.
“My first year I had different dreams from where I am now,” said Johnson, who no longer is on the roster but still comes to practice. “But I think along the way there was a lot of transition. Life happens and you’ve got to change your goals.”
Despite being limited physically, coach Jonathan Tsipis is pleased with the maturity Shaw and Johnson have brought to the program off the court and the growth and leadership McMorris has demonstrated as she transitioned from a role player to team leader.
“The biggest part is how they grow as young women,” he said.
McMorris, who plans to pursue a professional career, most likely overseas, is on track to graduate in May with a degree in communication arts and ultimately would like to work somewhere in sports journalism.
Shaw, who earned two undergraduate degrees at Vanderbilt, is completing her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis, focusing on athletic administration and leadership. Her career goals are a little fuzzy.
“I’m all over the place,” she said. “Part of me wants to stay in college athletics, whether it’s coaching or being a director of operations, working community relations. Another route I’m thinking is working with kids in some way.”
Johnson is halfway toward earning her graduate degree in social work and plans to finish it next year either at UW or closer to her home in Bellwood, Illinois.
“I want to be a school social worker for a middle school,” she said. “I really like working with kids, especially kids that are disadvantaged, helping them achieve their goals and let them know that life can change no matter where you start.”