Jayco Rangers centre Kayla Pedersen will play her last WNBL game tonight at Dandenong Stadium against the Melbourne Boomers in a game starting at 6.30pm. 2018/19 has been American import Pedersen’s second consecutive season and third overall playing for the Jayco Rangers in the WNBL – having previously played for the club in 2013/14. In her first two seasons in the WNBL Pedersen ranked in the top 10 of the league for rebounds per game.
Kayla was named in the WNBL team of the week for Round 9 of the 2018/19 season and was ranking in the top 10 of the league for rebounds per game however following her TOTW performance a back injury forced her to miss three of the Rangers next four games and play restricted minutes in the other. With one game remaining in the 2018/19 season 29 year-old Pedersen is averaging 6.71 rebounds per game to be ranked just outside the 10 of the league in this category -Lauren Scherf ranks 10th with 6.75 rebounds per game.
When Kayla announced her retirement on 16 January she commented to www.wnbl.com.au “It’s time for a new adventure. It was perfect timing this summer, I ended up buying a place in Arizona, met an amazing guy Nathan, he came over here and proposed, so we’re going to travel a bit, start a family and I feel like God is calling me to something else now. I have no clue how it (her final game) is going to feel. I just want to have fun with the girls because that’s what it’s all about and the relationships you’ve built.”1
Pedersen had a decorated 150 game college career with Stanford University from 2007/08 to 2010/11, setting many records and playing a pivotal role in Stanford reaching the final four in all four seasons. Pedersen’s skill, versatility and ability to adapt her game to what Stanford most needed from her was a major factor in the team making the NCAA final four in all four seasons. Whilst 193 centimetre tall Pedersen commenced her college career playing predominantly as a power forward her ball handling skills and basketball IQ allowed her to adapt and spend more time playing as a guard in later seasons as from a positional balance point of view this change improved her Stanford team. During her four years at Stanford Pederson only one missed one game, and started all 150 games that she played, performing at an outstanding level throughout her college career to be selected in an All Pac-10 team in all four seasons.
After being a top 10 draft pick by the Tulsa Shock at the 2011 WNBA Draft Kayla played 185 WNBA games comprised of 69 games for Tulsa followed by 116 games for the Connecticut Sun, she also played three seasons in the Italian League Serie A with Lucca who improved significantly during this time, culminating in the club winning the Serie A Championship in 2017.
In early March 2018 Pedersen announced that she was retiring from the WNBA but would continue to play in overseas leagues commenting to sun.wnba.com “I took a hiatus (from the WNBA) in 2016, just to feel out my options, take a little break and experience normal life. I came back to the league and absolutely loved last year in Connecticut. But I felt God had a different plan for me and it was time to move away from that and pursue other off-court opportunities as far as ministry goes.”2 During her hiatus from the WNBA in 2016 Pedersen shadowed a pastor and spent time with her family in Arizona.
Pedersen’s basketball career is covered below including her time with the Jayco Rangers in the WNBL, her career in the WNBA with the Tusla Shock and Connecticut Sun as well as at college with Stanford University.
Early life and junior career
Kayla was born in Flint, Michigan on 14 April, 1989, she is the daughter of Gary and Kelli Pedersen and has one younger brother Kyle. Kayla’s father Gary played basketball at St Mary’s College. During an ice storm when Kayla was four years old her parents decided to move the family from Flint, Michigan to Arizona where they had previously spent time on vacation. The move to Arizona worked out well and it is where Kayla will move back to now that her professional basketball career is concluding.
From a very young age it was an aim of Kayla’s to attend Stanford University, she comments “At 8 or 9, I probably would have said I was going to be a Stanford basketball player. I had a whole Stanford outfit, the jersey and shorts and everything. I didn’t really know that much about Stanford. I knew it was somewhere in California. And my parents told me it was really hard to get in. It was a great academic school, so I wanted to go there, and then I figured, of course, I’d be on their basketball team.”3
Pedersen attended Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Arizona. During her High School basketball career Pedersen excelled and she achieved the dream finish by leading Red Mountain to the 5A Division 1 title against Mesa Mountain View in her final high school game. Mesa Mountain View had defeated Red Mountain twice during the regular season however on the biggest stage Pedersen’s Red Mountain High Lions team prevailed 46-35 to win the 2007 State title. Pedersen commented to the East Valley Tribune on the victory “It didn’t really sink in until the next day. It was amazing. You open the paper and you see us holding the trophy. All the kids coming up to you at school congratulating you. It was a lot of what I had imagined. Winning a championship was essential. That’s what you play for. It was the greatest feeling. So much better than last year.” 4
In her senior High School season Pedersen averaged 23.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.4 blocked shots per game. During her senior season Pedersen broke the 5A career scoring record, amassing 2,611 points. Pedersen was durable throughout her High School career, playing 125 of a possible 129 games. Kayla was recognised for her exceptional play, being named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the State of Arizona in both 2005/06 and 2006/07. During her freshman season at Stanford, Red Mountain High retired Pedersen’s number 14 singlet. As well as scoring 2,611 points Pedersen also amassed, 1,444 rebounds, 434 assists, and 304 blocks during her High School career.
Pedersen was part of the United States of America (USA) Gold Medal winning team at the 2007 Under 19 World Championship held in the Slovak Republic and also won a gold medal playing for USA at the 2009 World University games in Belgrade, Serbia.
Career with Stanford University
Pedersen achieved her childhood aim of attending Stanford and was a high achiever both on the basketball court and academically. The distance from Arizona where Kayla grew up to Stanford University on the West Coast of the United States is approximately 1,050 kilometres. Throughout her four seasons at Stanford University Pedersen’s head coach was Tara VanDeerver. Kayla impressed Tara early on, was a starter in her first ever college game and retained her position in the starting line-up for the rest of her college career.
In an interview on www.swishappeal.com.au on 9 April 2011 ESPN and Stanford announcer Rosalyn Gold-Onwude who was a former team-mate of Kayla’s at Stanford commented on Kayla’s university career “She is by far the smartest Stanford basketball player I have ever played with, even as a freshman, I mean Kayla knows all the plays from every single position, she can run the one through the five. Defensively she knows every scheme, she is very aware help-side, she is a big presence, she can hand-guard a guard, she can certainly bang inside with the bigs, that was her original position before expanding to the three position. She is a big body that is able to shoot the ball from three point land, she can put it on the floor and pull-up over much smaller defenders, and then when it is needed for Stanford Kayla Pedersen is the one inside banging and bruising, and putting offensive rebounds back up for second chance points.”
In an interview with ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel late in her senior year Kayla recalled the influence her parents had on her developing into a versatile player, commenting “My parents told me, ‘We know you’re going to be tall no matter what.’ Because they’re tall. So they said, ‘If you really want to play basketball, what will separate you is your ability to dribble or step outside and shoot. If you want to be the best, this is what you have to do.’”5
In an interview on Stanford Athletics on 19 December 2009 Kayla spoke about who had been the biggest influence on her, commenting “Not one person influenced me, just looking at athletes in the WNBA or the NBA, just watching them I realised that I want to play basketball and I think my parents really helped me, they pushed me but also made it fun. I have had great trainers, great coaches, my high school coaches were awesome.”
During 2007/08 Stanford reached the final four where they defeated University of Connecticut (UConn) 82-73. Pedersen impressed in the semi final, scoring 17 points, shooting the ball well to make eight of her 14 field goal attempts and took seven rebounds whilst teammate, guard Candice Wiggins scored 25 points and took 13 rebounds. With the victory Stanford progressed to the National title game for the third time in their history and the first since winning the title in 1992. Stanford were defeated in the championship game by Tennessee 64-48 at St. Pete’s Times Forum, Tampa, Florida. During 2007/08 Pedersen played 39 games for Stanford, averaging 12.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks and 30.4 minutes per game. Stanford had a record of 35 wins and four losses in 2007/08, including a conference record of 16-2 to lead the Pac-10. Stanford’s 35 wins for the season set a new record for the College, surpassing the 34 wins the team had in 1996/97, the previous time that Stanford played in the Final Four.
In 2007/08 Pedersen was named as a forward in the Pac-10 third team to be one of three Stanford University players selected in a team along with two first-team selections – forward/centre Jayne Appel and guard Candice Wiggins who won the Player of the Year Award. Pedersen received the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Award, becoming the seventh Cardinal of all-time to receive this honour whilst team-mate Jeanette Pohlen was also named in the All-Freshman team. During 2007/08 Kayla ranked third in the conference for rebounding, ninth for scoring and sixth for field goal percentage. Pedersen recorded five double-doubles, scored a season-high 28 points against UCLA and set a Stanford freshman record by starting all 39 games.
During 2008/09 Stanford and UConn again met in a National semi final however in this clash at St Louis, Missouri, Connecticut recorded a comfortable victory, 83-64. During 2008/09 Pedersen played 39 games for Stanford, averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 30.0 minutes per game. Stanford had a record of 33 wins and five losses in 2008/09, including a conference record of 17-1 to lead the Pac-10. During 2008/09 Pedersen was named as a forward in the Pac-10 third team to be one of four Cardinals selected in a team along with forward/centre Jayne Appel who was selected in the first team and won the Player of the Year Award and two players on the second team in guard Jeanette Pohlen and forward Jillian Harmon. Pedersen ranked fourth in the conference for rebounds and was named the Pac-10 player of the week on 2 March. Another member of the Pac-10 third team was Oregon guard Micaela Cocks who has gone on to play in three WNBL championships with the Townsville Fire, won the 2015/16 Grand Final MVP and has been a starter for the New Zealand Tall Ferns at many international tournaments.
One of Pedersen’s greatest strengths is her composure and she actually had to work on showing her teammates more emotion. Pedersen’s ability to make big plays and retain her composure when the pressure was at its highest came to the fore in the game that enabled Stanford to progress to the final four for the third consecutive season in 2009/10. With Stanford trailing by two points against Xavier, Pedersen made a jump shot to tie the game with 53 seconds remaining. In the dying seconds Kayla rebounded a missed Xavier shot, quickly realised that none of her teammates were open so remained calm and called a time-out with four seconds remaining. After the time-out guard Jeanette Pohlen drove the length of the court and made a shot on the buzzer to secure a thrilling 55-53 victory for Stanford.
During 2009/10 Stanford University reached the final four for the third consecutive season and defeated Oklahoma in a semi final 73-66. For the third consecutive season Kayla played for a Stanford team against UConn in the final four. Both teams were on impressive winning streaks with Stanford having won 27 consecutive games, their last loss was to UConn in December 2009. University of Connecticut had won 77 consecutive games dating back to a 2008 final four semi final loss to Stanford. At half-time Stanford led a dour low scoring contest 20-12 despite UConn leading 5-0 after two minutes. Early in the second half Connecticut broke the shackles to go on 17-2 run and gain the ascendancy. Jayne Appel playing with an ankle injury that required pain killers during the game was held scoreless and UConn won a low-scoring contest against Stanford 53-47. In the National title game Kayla scored 15 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds against Connecticut. Pedersen was selected in the 2009/10 All-Tournament team along with fellow Cardinal Nnemkadi Ogwumike and two Connecticut players – Maya Moore and Tina Charles, along with Oklahoma’s Danielle Robinson. During 2009/10 Pedersen played 38 games for Stanford, averaging 15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and 33.5 minutes per game. Stanford had a record of 36 wins and two losses in 2009/10, including a perfect conference record of 18-0 to lead the Pac-10. Stanford won many games comfortably throughout the season, amazingly of the 36 victories the margin was 10 points or less only three times – a 65-61 victory against UCLA on 10 January, 2010, and then in their third last game of the season against Xavier, 55-53 on 29 March and their second last game of the season against Oklahoma, 73-66 on 4 April.
In 2009/10 Kayla was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week on 30 November. Pedersen was one of four Stanford University players to be named on the All Pac-10 first team along with Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Jeanette Pohlen and Jayne Appel who won her second consecutive Player of the Year Award. Pedersen received an honourable mention for the All-Defensive team, her team-mate Rosalyn Gold-Onwude was named on this team and also received an honourable mention for an All Pac-10 team.
In February 2011 Stanford University head coach Tara VanDeerver was full of praise for Kayla, commenting “People take Kayla for granted. She’s the steel in the building. Everything builds on her. She’s not a showy player. She’s a workmanlike player, very steady. We call her our rock. She’s a thinker out there. People listen to her because she knows what she’s talking about.”6
In Kayla’s fourth consecutive final four appearance in 2010/11 Stanford suffered a heart-breaking 63-62 semi final loss to Texas A & M who went on to win the National Championship, defeating Notre Dame 76-70 in the title game. During 2010/11 Pedersen played 35 games for Stanford, averaging 12.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and 33.5 minutes per game. Stanford had a record of 33 wins and three losses in 2010/11, including a perfect conference record of 18-0 to lead the Pac-10.
Stanford dominated the 2010/11 All Pac-10 first team with three of its seniors selected – Pedersen, Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Jeanette Pohlen who won the Player of the Year Award. In total Stanford had four members of the All Pac-10 conference first team with Chiney Ogwumike also being selected, Chiney also earnt selection in the All-Defensive team with Pedersen and Nnemkadi receiving honourable mentions for this team. Highlighting her consistency Kayla was the only player to be selected in an All Pac-10 team in all four seasons from 2007/08 to 2010/11.
As well as excelling with her performances as a basketball player at Stanford University Pedersen was also a high achiever academically and on 11 March, 2011 Kayla was recognised for her performances in both fields, being named the 2011 Toyo Tyres Pac-10 Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the year. Pedersen graduated from Stanford with a degree in communication and psychology, with a 3.53 grade point average.
During the careers of Pedersen and fellow senior starter Jeanette Pohlen from 2007/08 to 2010/11 Stanford University were undefeated at home, amassing a 63-0 record during these four seasons. After Kayla graduated from college Stanford University made their fifth consecutive final four appearance in 2012 and have since made it back to the final four in 2014 and 2017. After the 2017/18 college season Pedersen ranks ninth on Stanford’s all-time list for most points scored in a career, fifth for free-throws made, second for rebounds behind former team-mate Chiney Ogwumike, amazingly with two other former team-mates of Kayla’s ranked third and fourth respectively in Jayne Appel and Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
Kayla played 185 games in the WNBA, being the number 7 selection at the 2011 Draft by the Tulsa Shock and making her debut in the same year. On being selected in the WNBA draft Pedersen commented “It feels great. I’m really excited to contribute in any way I can and learn from the veterans on the team. I think versatility is a big factor in my game and hopefully I can use that well in the WNBA.”7 Kayla was Tulsa’s second selection at the 2011 WNBA Draft, with the club having selected Australian centre Liz Cambage with selection 2. Kayla and Liz later played as opponents during the 2017/18 WNBL season with Liz playing for cross-town rivals the Melbourne Boomers and being selected in the WNBL All-Star five for the second time in her career, having previously made the team in
Pedersen played a total of 69 games for Tulsa including 50 as a starter before being traded to the Connecticut Sun during the 2013 season for a second round draft pick in the 2014 WNBA draft. Kayla’s last 116 WNBA games from 2014 onwards were with the Connecticut Sun, however she didn’t play in the WNBA during 2016.
During her college career with Stanford University winning was the norm and losses were rare, however at the start of her WNBA career with Tulsa it was the opposite with the Shock rarely winning games and in Tulsa’s first 26 games of the 2011 season they only tasted victory once.
Pedersen played her first WNBA playoff game in 2017 after the Connecticut Sun had a record of 21 wins and 13 losses during the regular season to post the fourth best record in the league and were ranked second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the New York Liberty. On the eve of playing in her first WNBA playoff game with the Connecticut Sun in September 2017 Pedersen commented “It means so much to me and especially to do it with this team. We have a good locker room, for that to be rewarded and finally be in the playoffs it is like, ‘OK this is what is feels like to win.’ It is a great feeling. I think my first year we won three games in Tulsa. It is a learning process. It is very hard coming from Stanford to here but the little things that make you successful at Stanford, you don’t stop doing that, you keep doing it throughout. I am happy to be here no matter how many minutes or whatever happens, we made the playoffs and we are playing for a championship.”8 Kayla’s WNBA team-mates at the Sun in 2017 included guards Courtney Williams and Rachel Banham who both played in the WNBL during 2017/18 as imports with the Perth Lynx and Bendigo Spirit respectively.
Due to finishing fourth Connecticut had a bye in Round 1 of the 2017 playoffs. In Round 2 Connecticut were defeated 88-83 by the Phoenix Mercury, ending the Sun’s season. At Connecticut Kayla predominantly played off the bench, only having two starts. Over her 184 WNBA regular season games Pedersen averaged 3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks and 15.9 minutes per game.
minutes per game.
During 2011/12 Pedersen represented Good Angels Kosice in the Slovakian Extraliga League and also played for the team in EuroLeague. Kosice finished third in their EuroLeague group with a record of nine wins and five losses during Round 1 of the competition. After losing both games in the second round of EuroLeague Good Angels Kosice was eliminated and promptly fired their head coach due to a difference of opinion between him and the general manager. The following day Kayla’s contract was terminated as Kosice looked to reduce expenses.
Pedersen played three seasons in Italy’s LegA Basket Femminile for Lucca from 2014/15 to 2016/17, Lucca is a small town in Tuscany near Pisa. Lucca ranked seventh of 13 teams in the Italian Serie A1 league during 2014/15 with a record of 13 wins and 11 losses, they were defeated in a quarter-final during the playoffs. Playing as a forward Pedersen recorded 10 double-doubles, ranking second at Lucca for scoring and led the team in rebounding, ranking 10th in the league in this category.
In 2015/16 two Stanford University graduates were part of Lucca’s starting line-up with Pedersen starting at centre and 2009 graduate Jillian Harmon being the starting shooting guard. In Kayla’s second season with Lucca the club significantly improved with key factors being team chemistry and the ability to live in the moment. In a blog for sun.wnba.com.au Kayla wrote “If you’ve watched me over the years, I’m a player that doesn’t show emotion. Nothing really fazes me, good or bad. It’s the way I’m wired; you can blame my gene pool. But these past two Lucca teams have changed me. I used to appear unimpressed after a win, especially if it was expected. But this team celebrates every single victory as if we had just won a gold medal. Initially, this bothered me. I would think, “Come on guys, we were supposed to win, let’s not act surprised.” But now I see that this is the main reason for our success. We live in the moment. Each game is the only game that matters. We value every second we have with each other. This is why it’s so special.”9
During the 2015/16 regular season Lucca had 22 wins and three losses to have the equal best record in the league along with Familia Schio, Lucca’s best season since joining the league in 2011. At 6 foot four inches tall Pedersen was Lucca’s tallest player and after playing as a power forward in 2014/15 switched positions to play as a centre in 2015/16. Lucca played Familia Schio in the finals but were swept three games to nil which resulted in Schio winning their fourth consecutive A1 championship. Pedersen ranked third at Lucca for points per game, second for rebounds and led the team for blocked shots. In the 2015/16 EuroBasket All-Italian Serie A1 awards Kayla received an honourable mention.
In 2016/17 Lucca were the regular season co-champion for the second season in a row with Familia Schio. Lucca won the Serie A1 championship against Familia Schio when they recorded a 65-50 victory in game 4 on Lucca’s home court to win the finals 3-1. Pedersen registered her sixth double-double of the season in game 4 of the finals with 12 points and 10 rebounds. During Lucca’s 2017 season Pedersen played 30 games, averaging 11.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 29.8 minutes per game. Against Battipaglia on 5th March 2017 Pedersen scored a season-high 24 points, making eight of her 13 field goal attempts and had 10 rebounds in a 77-50 victory.
2013/14 WNBL Season with the Jayco Rangers
Kayla Pedersen joined the Jayco Dandenong Rangers for the 2013/14 WNBL season in Australia and was part of the starting five alongside guards Leilani Mitchell and Natalie Novosel, guard/forward Jenna O’Hea and forward Alice Kunek. Other members of Dandenong’s core rotation were Alison Downie, Brigitte Ardossi, Rosie Moult and Aimie Clydesdale. Although Pedersen usually played as a forward in the WNBA, she spent the majority of her time with the Rangers playing as a centre.
Dandenong had 16 wins and eight losses to finish the regular season in second place, six games behind minor premiers Bendigo and level with third placed Townsville Fire. Dandenong lost both their finals – a semi final on the road against Bendigo 62-71 and a home preliminary final to Townsville 71-74.
During 2013/14 Pedersen played all 26 games for the Dandenong Rangers, averaging 11.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 31.0 minutes per game. Kayla led the Rangers for rebounds and blocked shots, ranked third for steals and fourth for points and assists. In 2013/14 Pedersen ranked fifth in the WNBL for total rebounds and third for defensive rebounds. Kayla was named the Rangers 2013/14 Defensive Player of the Year.
2017/18 WNBL Season with the Jayco Rangers
Three players from the 2016/17 Jayco Rangers team returned to the club for the 2017/18 WNBL season, Amelia Todhunter along with the two joint winners of the club’s 2016/17 MVP Award – Sara Blicavs and Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming) who married Sara’s brother Kris a week after the Rangers 2016/17 season ended. Pedersen was one of two front-court players who had each played a season with the Jayco Rangers previously that re-joined the club in 2017/18 along with Carley Mijovic who played for the Rangers in 2012/13. Two other 2017/18 Rangers recruits with over 100 games WNBL experience were point guard Tessa Lavey who played for Australia at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and forward/centre Tayla Roberts. The second import signed by the Rangers – Spanish guard Laia Palau was the captain of Spain’s silver medal winning team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, her third Olympic Games. The Rangers signed two teenagers for the 2017/18 season in Kiera Rowe and Rebecca Pizzey who were both members of the Australian Sapphires team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Under 17 Women’s World Championship in Spain.
Pedersen started the 2017/18 WNBL season in brilliant fashion, registering double-doubles in four of her first five games of the season and in two of her first four games she shot the ball at more than 50% from the field and scored 19 points for the game. In each of her first nine games of the season Pedersen scored at least 10 points and took at least eight rebounds.
In a Round 2 road game against Sydney at Brydens Stadium Pedersen scored a game-high 19 points, took a team-high nine rebounds and had an equal team-high four assists whilst shooting the ball at 53% from the field.
During a round 3 road game against the University of Canberra Capitals at the National Convention Centre the Jayco Rangers trailed 20-10 with three and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Capitals maintained the ascendancy for most of the game and led 58-49 with two minutes and 25 seconds left in the third term. Pedersen played a pivotal role in the Rangers getting back in the game and eventually recording a thrilling one point victory 77-76 after fellow import Laia Palau scored a lay-up with two seconds remaining to put the Rangers in front. In the final quarter Pedersen scored six points, had three rebounds including a critical defensive rebound with five seconds left, and one assist. Kayla finished the game with 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists.
As well as making an impact on offense during the 2017/18 season Pedersen also flourished at the defensive end. Kayla played a pivotal role in the Rangers recording a fightback two point victory at home against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 4, having two massive defensive plays in the final minute of the game which both resulted in steals. Pedersen was impressive throughout the thrilling victory against the Sydney Uni Flames, scoring 12 points and had eight rebounds, four steals and three assists whilst restricting Sydney centre Jennifer Hamson to six points.
Four of the Rangers first seven games of the 2017/18 season were decided by six points or less with the Rangers having a record of three wins and one loss in these close games. Dandenong lost by five points to Sydney in Round 2, however the Rangers recorded three victories by two points or less after trailing by 10 points or more in the first third of the season, with these victories being against the University of Canberra Capitals by one point on the road in Round 3, at home by two points against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 4 and by one point on the road against the Adelaide Lightning in Round 5. After the road victory against Adelaide only four games during the WNBL season to that stage had been decided by two points or less with the Rangers winning three of these games and the Melbourne Boomers recording a two point overtime victory at home against the Perth Lynx in Round 3 in the other game in this category.
In a Round 5 Melbourne Cup Eve game against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre the Rangers looked to be in control, leading 48-37 at three quarter-time but were over-run in the last quarter, being defeated 57-60. In their next game four days later on Friday 10 November, 2017 Sara Blicavs suffered a serious knee injury just before half-time against Adelaide at Dandenong Stadium. Adelaide defeated the Rangers 69-63 and days later it was confirmed that Sara required a knee reconstruction and would miss the remainder of the season. In this Round 6 game against the Adelaide Lightning at Dandenong Stadium Pedersen scored 13 points, had an equal game-high 12 rebounds, a game-high five assists and two steals to be named in the Round 6 WNBL Team of the Week.
In a Round 10 road game against the Perth Lynx at Bendat Basketball Centre Pedersen scored a team-high 19 points, had a game-high 10 rebounds and an equal game-high six assists. Kayla made eight of her 12 field goals for an accuracy of 67%.
Pedersen’s scoring and rebounding output dropped away in the last four games of the season, averaging five points and six rebounds per game during this period, however in two of these games she had at least three assists including five assists against the University of Canberra Capitals in the Rangers penultimate game of the season.
After the opening weekend in November the Rangers lost all six games they were involved in that were decided by six points or less which resulted in them dropping out of finals contention. One of the common themes in the Rangers close losses during 2017/18 was having a lower field goal accuracy than their opponents. The Rangers finished the season with a record of seven wins and 14 losses to finish the season in seventh place, three games ahead of the Bendigo Spirit, with the same win-loss record as the sixth placed Canberra Capitals and five games behind the fourth placed Melbourne Boomers.
At the Jayco Rangers 2017/18 end of season awards Pedersen was the only player to win two awards, receiving both the Defensive Player of the Year Award and the Janine Fielder Award. Other players to win awards were:
Steph Blicavs – Most Valuable Player
Kiera Rowe – Caitlin Ryan Rookie of the Year Award
Tessa Lavey – Coaches Award
A major factor in Pedersen winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award of both the Rangers and the WNBL was the 193 centimetre tall centre’s ability to defend her direct opponent despite giving away size. Two of Pedersen’s opponents throughout 2017/18 were Liz Cambage (203 cm tall) and Jennifer Hampson (200 cm).
The Janine Fielder Award is awarded to the player whose teammates felt best represented them on and off the court, and who they enjoyed playing with the most. When asked by MC Nathan Strempl how does the Janine Fielder Award compare to other Pedersen said it was the best award you could get as it is voted on by your team-mates.
During the 2017/18 WNBL season Kayla Pedersen played all 21 games for the Jayco Rangers, averaging 11.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Pedersen led the Rangers for total rebounds, ranked equal second for steals with Steph Bilcavs, behind Amelia Todhunter and third for total points behind Steph Blicavs and Carly Mijovic. Pedersen made 48% of her field goals – ranked equal first at the Rangers along with fellow front-court player Tayla Roberts. Pedersen ranked seventh in the league for rebounds per game, having also ranked in the league’s top 10 in this category during her previous WNBL season in 2013/14.
Kayla recorded seven double-doubles in 2017/18 including in four of her first five games of the season. Pedersen had at least eight rebounds 14 times and scored 10 points or more 16 times, including a season-high 19 points three times, only scoring less than 10 points once in her first 17 games of the season.
Pedersen’s statistics in 2017/18 were very similar to her first season with the Jayco Rangers in 2013/14 in most categories, however one significant area of improvement has been her assists per game increasing by 85% from 1.4 per game in 2013/14 to 2.6 per game in 2017/18. Frequently when the Rangers brought the ball over half-court in 2017/18 the first pass in their offensive set was to Pedersen outside the three-point line, having confidence in her decision making, ball handling and passing ability. As well as playing at a high standard, and setting a great example with her leadership and composure Pedersen was also a great influence on her Rangers team-mates off the court and a much deserved winner of the Rangers Janine Fielder Players Player award as well as the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
2018/19 WNBL season with the Jayco Rangers
After securing Pedersen’s signature for the 2018/19 WNBL season Jayco Rangers Elite Teams Administration Manager Trish Fallon commented “It is with great pleasure and excitement that we welcome back Kayla to the Dandenong Jayco Rangers. Kayla brings a solid work ethic, strong leadership and is an exceptional post player. Her inside presence at both ends of the floor will be instrumental in the success of the Rangers in 2018/19.”10
After signing with the Jayco Rangers for the 2018/19 WNBL season Kayla commented “I’m very excited to return to Dandenong! I thought we were dealt a lot of tough blows last season and I loved seeing the group persevere anyway. We have a ton of potential and a major upside so I wanted to be part of that for another year. Apart from the basketball side of it, I love living in the greater Melbourne area and I can’t wait to return to my teammates, the amazing support staff, my church, and new friends!”11
Most members of the Dandenong Rangers 2017/18 roster returned to the club for the 2018/19 season with eight players returning, being Sara Blicavs, Tessa Lavey, Carley Mijovic, Amelia Todhunter, Kayla Pedersen, Tayla Roberts, Kiera Rowe and Rebecca Pizzey. New additions to the Rangers line-up for 2018/19 were Cole, two-time Opals Olympian guard/forward Rachel Jarry and Betnijah Laney who the Jayco Rangers signed as their second import just weeks before the season commenced.
Members of the Rangers 2017/18 core rotation that didn’t return to the club for the 2018/19 season were shooting guard Steph Blicavs who joined the Adelaide Lightning alongside another former Ranger guard in Aimie Clydesdale who changed clubs 12 months earlier than Steph.
In 2018/19 the Jayco Rangers benefitted from having the vast majority of the 2017/18 core rotation as well as head coach Larissa Anderson returning and being able to build on their team chemistry whilst also adding two Australians Rachel Jarry and Rebecca Cole with the duo both having over 130 WNBL games, and demonstrated resilience to overcome serious injuries and have each represented Australia at senior level in at least one of the two forms of basketball that will be played at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – the traditional five on five and the emerging three on three.
In both of the Jayco Rangers first two games of the season they trailed by at least 10 points, but with superb defensive performances they were able to fightback to record thrilling victories. To open the season the Rangers faced one of the toughest tasks in the WNBL, a road trip to Townsville to play the defending champions. Townsville led by 10 points 33-23 with six minutes 28 seconds left in the second quarter. The Rangers reduced the margin to seven points 42-35 at half-time, and dominated the third quarter 23-13 to lead by three points at three quarter time. Townsville led 63-61 with seven minutes 48 seconds remaining, the Rangers showed great composure from that point on to go on a 12-5 run to win 73-68.
On Saturday 20th October 2018 Pedersen played her 50th WNBL game for the Jayco Rangers on the road against the Bendigo Spirit. In her milestone game Rangers centre Pedersen registered a double-double comprised of 13 points and a team-high 15 rebounds.
After winning their first two games of the season the Rangers had four consecutive losses with the third of these losses being by 26 points against Bec’s former club the Melbourne Boomers at Dandenong Stadium. The Rangers returned to the winners list with a 81-65 victory against the Bendigo Spirit in a Friday night game on the road in Round 6 after leading 44-29 at half-time. In the road victory against Bendigo Pedersen had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, also having teo assists, two steals and a game-high two blocks.
In an 80-86 loss to Adelaide at Dandenong Stadium in Round 8 Pedersen scored 12 points, shooting at 71% from the field and also took seven rebounds ranked second for the Rangers.
In their only game for Round 9 and the final WNBL game of the weekend the Rangers hosted ladder leaders the Perth Lynx and caused one of the upsets of the season with the Rangers entering the game at Dandenong Stadium in seventh position on the ladder. Dandenong started the Sunday afternoon game in blistering fashion to lead Perth 32-19 with a minute and 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter. After leading by eight points at half-time the Jayco Rangers dominated the third quarter 29-8 to set up a 96-76 victory against Perth with the club playing their best game of the season, excelling on the defensive end which flowed through to their offense. Pedersen scored in equal game-high 21 points and took a game-high 11 rebounds – four more than the second ranked player for the game, and had three assists. In just under 29 minutes game-time Kayla made nine of her 13 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 69% and was outstanding on the offensive glass to take five offensive rebounds. The Rangers shot the ball at 51% from the field and had 25 assists in a brilliant team performance in which five Rangers scored at least 13 points with Kayla being joined in this category by Rebecca Cole (21 points), Betnijah Laney (17), Carley Mijovic (16) and Rachel Jarry (13). These five players combining to make 31 of their 50 field goal attempts for a collective accuracy of 62%.
Due to a back injury Pedersen missed both of the Rangers Round 10 games, the Rangers second game of Round 11 and only played restricted minutes off the bench for the Rangers in their first Round 11 game – playing just under 20 minutes court-time in the road loss to the University of Canberra Capitals.
Kayla returned to the Jayco Rangers starting line-up for the Round 12 game against the Perth Lynx at Bendat Basketball centre and in 26 minutes and 41 seconds court-time scored 14 points, shooting at 50% from the field and took six rebounds including a game-high five offensive. The Rangers trailed Perth by four points at three quarter-time before being outscored 14-26 to be defeated 80-95.
After Round 10 the Rangers were in fourth position on the WNBL ladder just ahead of the Adelaide Lightning however four consecutive losses in Rounds 11 and 12 resulted in the Rangers dropping out of the top four.
At the start of Round 15 which is the last round of the season the Jayco Rangers have a record of nine wins and 11 losses to be fifth on the ladder, three games behind the fourth placed Adelaide Lightning and two games ahead of the sixth placed Townsville Fire. The Rangers will finish the 2018/19 season in fifth place as even if Dandenong lose to Melbourne and Townsville defeat Sydney the Rangers win the series split against Townsville, having won two of the three games between the clubs this season.
Days before the Jayco Rangers final game of the 2018/19 season Kayla announced that she was retiring at the end of the season. Kayla commented “Rachel (Jarry) was like “this week’s for Kayla” and I hate attention but it’s going to make it special. There’s going to be a lot of tears, a lot of thankfulness but it’s time, I’m ready.” Kayla wne on to talk about her three seasons playing for the Rangers in the WNBL, saying “Being at Dandenong has been so special. The organisation has taken care of me, they care about the person too, to have that support has been amazing. And being in Melbourne and Australia, I love the culture, the breakfast and coffee is the best thing ever, having church friends and all that it was just kind of perfect that I had a life here as well, so that makes it even harder to say goodbye, but even more special.”12
The Rangers play their final game against the Melbourne Boomers at Dandenong Stadium tonight and one of the players she will be opposed to is American forward/centre Sarah Boothe who is one of Kayla’s closest friends. Pedersen commented to Roy Ward of Fairfax Media on her final game “Right now the feeling is that I want to have fun. We are playing against Sarah Boothe, who will be a bridesmaid for me, so it couldn’t be better finish on home court with all the girls I love playing in this game.”13
Round 15 of the 2018/19 WNBL season is Lifeline Australia Round. Lifeline provides Australians that are dealing with emotional distress access to a 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention service. The introduction of the Lifeline Round by the WNBL has been driven by Melbourne Boomers and Australian Opals captain Jenna O’Hea following one of her uncles taking his own life in mid-December last year. During Lifeline Round each WNBL club donating $100 for every three-pointer made by their team. Kayla spoke about the WNBL introducing Lifeline Round, commenting “I think it’s phenomenal and an issue very dear to my heart. To have so much support and awareness for this issue is important, especially in the sports world where athletes hide the struggles they are going through because you can’t be perceived to be weak. So I think it is a great thing the league and Jenna are doing – we were joking around earlier that all of us should start shooting threes to try and make as much money as we can for it.”14
Pedersen was selected in the WNBL team of the week for Round 9, her first selection in the TOTW for the season. Kayla is one of four Rangers to earn at least one TOTW selection in 2018/19 along with Rebecca Cole (Rounds 1, 6, 10 and 13) and Carley Mijovic (Round 8) and Betnijah Laney (Round 10).
Pedersen has played 17 of the Jayco Rangers 20 games so far this season including 16 as a starter and is averaging 9.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals and 27 minutes and 17 seconds court-time per game. Kayla ranks second at Dandenong for rebounds per game behind Laney, third in scoring behind Cole (19.1 points per game) and Laney (13.5) and fourth for minutes per game behind the same duo and Mijovic. Pedersen has made 50% of her field goal attempts to be ranked second behind Cole with 51%.
With Kayla’s professional basketball career drawing to a close at 29 years of age she has got a wealth of experience to draw on both on and off the basketball court to assist her with the rest of her journey. Having experienced the highs of winning a state title with Red Mountain High School, making four consecutive NCAA final fours with Stanford University and winning the Italian Serie A1 Championship through to the low of Tulsa rarely recording victories in her first two seasons in the WNBA. From an individual perspective Pedersen has also had a wide variety of experiences, playing several seasons off the bench in the WNBA, having her contract terminated in Slovakia due to results of the team and changes in personnel, to winning a multitude of awards such as All-Pac 10 teams playing for Stanford University, the 2017/18 Defensive Player of the Year Award from the Jayco Rangers and the WNBL as well as the Rangers Players’ player award in the same season.
Kayla Pedersen’s strengths throughout her basketball career have been, her leadership, defense, basketball IQ, ability to make a contribution in many facets of play such as scoring, rebounding, passing, blocking shots but just as importantly her versatility and team-first attitude which have made the teams she has played on better and enabled her to get the most from her wide-ranging skill-set. Throughout all the Milestones as well as the misses during her career Kayla has retained a similar approach, remaining calm and focusing on her input, even though the outcome from a personal but more so a team perspective could vary greatly, and whatever the outcome was you could learn from it and continue to grow as both a player and a person. Regardless of whether you are having individual and/or team success you can remain calm, driven and a positive influence on those around you, a trait that Kayla has demonstrated throughout her career. Whilst remaining driven, Kayla has learnt in the past few years to live in the moment more which has enabled her to enjoy the roller-coaster journey of basketball and life more, something that many of us could learn from and has Kayla better placed to make the transition from basketball to the next chapter of her life.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777