Athlete. Class of 1980. Kelli (Benson) Jeffries was not a stranger to the state tournaments, or state championships. She was the Class A high jump champion and an all-state volleyball player who helped her Grand Island team to a state runner-up finish her junior year. In basketball, she started every game on Grand Island’s state runner-up team as a sophomore, then led the Islanders to a 21-0 state championship year as a junior. She averaged 20.7 points per game as a senior while being named the captain of the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald all-state teams. She also earned high school All American honors and played in the first Nebraska Coaches Association All-Star Girls Basketball Game, a game she would later return to as a coach, coaching her daughter, in 2007. She played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, starting 87 of 118 games in her college career. She led her team in field-goal percentage and graduated as the second-best shooter in school history, making just over 50 percent of her field goals (.511).
GRAND ISLAND INDEPENDENT PREP SPORTS
By Terry Douglass
Published: Friday, October 2, 2009 10:04 AM CDT
Kelli (Benson) Jeffries doesn’t consider her induction into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame an individual honor.
Far from it.
“It’s a big honor for me, but the other part of that is a lot of other people went into that,” said Jeffries, a former Grand Island Senior High three-sport standout, who is now the Islanders’ girls golf and girls basketball coach. “To me, it’s a team honor. A lot of great people along the way helped in this.”
For Jeffries, this year’s induction into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame came as a bit of a surprise.
“I always just thought that’s what happens to old people,” Jeffries said, smiling. “But it’s a nice honor. The last couple of months, I’ve heard a lot of I-remember-when stories, so it’s been kind of fun talking with people and getting to reminisce about what happened.
“I guess it’s one of those things where you find out when you grow older just how special it really is.”
During her high school career, Jeffries and her Islander teams were regular fixtures in state championship events. She was the Class A high jump champion and an all-state volleyball player who helped her Grand Island team to a state runner-up finish her junior year, but basketball was her best sport.
Jeffries started every game on Grand Island’s state runner-up basketball team as a sophomore and led the Islanders to a 21-0 state championship year as a junior. She averaged 20.7 points per game as a senior, while being named the captain of the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald all-state teams.
In addition, Jeffries earned high school All-America honors and played in the first Nebraska Coaches Association all-star girls basketball game — a game she would later return to as a coach, coaching her daughter, Johnna Jeffries, in 2007.
In college, Kelli Jeffries played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, starting 87 of 118 games in her college career. She led her team in field-goal percentage and graduated as the second-best shooter in school history, making just over 50 percent of her field goals (.511).
“Obviously, I’m kind of a hometown girl — grew up here in Grand Island and came back here — and always wanted to play at Nebraska,” Jeffries said. “In fact, I went to Nebraska not even knowing who my head coach would be because they were in the middle of a coaching change, but that really didn’t matter to me.
“That’s just where I knew I wanted to be and it ended up being a great experience and a lot of fun.”
Jeffries said that of all her sports memories, winning a state basketball title tops the list. Jeffries said she and her teammates continue to share a special bond — they still get together every year — and she credits former coach Ed Bills for much of her team and individual success.
“Ed is just a great guy,” Jeffries said. “He was instrumental in a lot of things that happened for me.”
Jeffries enjoyed athletic success despite not playing in organized sporting events until her sophomore year of high school. However, she said she honed her skills while playing against boys in pick-up games.
“There just weren’t many girls playing organized ball then because it was such a new thing for girls, but it was just a passion for me,” Jeffries said. “I just loved it and couldn’t do enough of it.”
Grand Island Senior High activities director Joe Kutlas said Jeffries has carried the same traits that made her a successful player into her coaching career.
“Kelli is caring and compassionate and provides a great experience for her student-athletes,” Kutlas said. “She works hard at it and does everything first-class and is a genuine pleasure to work with. Kelli is a true Islander — she bleeds purple.”
Jeffries said many things about the game of basketball have changed since she played. However, she said the formula for success remains the same.
“We had a group of girls who really wanted to win and worked their tails off,” Jeffries said. “Really, that’s what it’s all about. The same thing goes now: If I can get a competitive group of kids who work hard, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”