By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – In previous years, Shiloh McCool would have done everything possible to avoid this interview.
She’s always been someone who prefers to lead by example, allowing her teammates to do the talking.
“They definitely took on that role the last couple years, and I was thankful for that,” she said with a laugh. “I tend to be pretty quiet, but I can be loud when I need to.”
The sixth-year senior is proving that this season.
A Pleasant Hill, Iowa, native, McCool is the last remaining member of a 2018 recruiting class that helped turn around the University of Nebraska at Kearney women’s basketball program.
Led by former head coach Carrie Eighmey, that group won 116 games over the past five years and reached the NCAA Division II Tournament three times. They also earned the program’s first MIAA regular-season and tournament titles.
Elisa Backes, Brooke Carlson, Maegan Holt and Klaire Kirsch finished their playing careers last March, but McCool had another year of eligibility after taking a medical redshirt in 2019-20.
“I don’t think I ever really questioned whether I was coming back,” McCool said. “I came back because I love to play the game and for my teammates. I really enjoy being around them.”
Still, she knew this season would be different.
Eighmey was hired by the University of Idaho in April and UNK brought in head coach Drew Johnson as her replacement.
To continue building on the team’s recent success, Johnson knew he’d need buy-in from the players. Or, as he calls it, “blind faith.”
“You gotta have blind faith when new coaches are walking in that it’s going to go well,” Johnson said. “Shiloh was one of the first people that we really felt had that.”
He immediately challenged the 5-foot-11 post player to take on a larger leadership role.
“We feel like one of the biggest reasons for the early success in our season has been the overall player leadership, and she has a really big part in that,” Johnson said. “Because some big personalities graduated and left, we’ve asked for more voice from Shiloh and asked her to be a little bit more of a vocal leader, even if that’s not exactly her personality.
“She’s always going to be the person who really leads by example, but we’ve challenged her to lead with her voice, as well, and she’s done a really good job of saying what needs to be said in the huddle and saying what needs to be said in the locker room. Her teammates really trust her and really follow what she has to say.”
Off to an 8-2 start this season, McCool and the Lopers are quickly developing the same team chemistry they displayed in years past.
“I think that’s part of our culture now,” McCool said. “We love what we do and we have fun with it. Everyone gets along really well and enjoys playing basketball and being around each other.”
“If you’re not going to have fun and enjoy what you do, there’s not much point in doing it,” she added. “I definitely would not have come back for a sixth year if I didn’t have fun.”
Johnson appreciates McCool’s positive attitude and the way she interacts with her teammates. He’s also a big fan of her competitiveness and dedication to the game.
“She’s one of the toughest basketball players that I’ve ever had a chance to coach,” he said. “She plays really, really hard. She goes for every loose ball and every offensive rebound and just has this unbelievable motor that allows her to be super successful.”
A second team all-conference selection in 2022-23 and finalist for UNK Women’s Student-Athlete of the Year, McCool is averaging a team-leading 13.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game this season. Showing her versatility, she’s second on the team with 26 assists.
“She’s just been kind of a do-it-all-type player,” Johnson said. “She’s extremely unselfish and that allows her to be really revered by her teammates.”
McCool ranks fourth in program history with 22 career double-doubles, fifth in rebounds with 791 and 20th in points with 1,203. She’s earned MIAA Academic Honor Roll, Scholar-Athlete and Academic Excellence honors and graduates Friday with a master’s degree in exercise science.
“I’ve really loved my time here,” McCool said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I feel like I’ve made a second family.”