FLORENCE – Jessica Wendeln has been part of basketball history at nearly every stop in her playing and coaching career.
The 2004 Scott High School graduate is ready for new milestones at her new role as head varsity coach at Boone County High School. It is not only her first head coaching job, but she is stepping into the spot filled by Nell Fookes, who won 686 games and has her name on the floor of the Boone County gym.
“I want to continue her legacy and what she built,” Wendeln said. “It’s just doing what I do and hopefully it’s similar to what she did.”
Wendeln was assistant coach at Simon Kenton. She helped head coach Jeff Stowers and the Pioneers to the Eighth Region championship last season. She was then hired in May to replace Fookes.
“I’m excited about how excited they are,” Wendeln said. “The kids have responded to me very well. Nell is one of my mentors and someone I looked up to a ton, but sometimes change is good and the kids have really reacted to it.”
While it is her first head coaching position, Wendeln had a lot of training at Simon, with Stowers giving her a lot of responsibility.
“I don’t necessarily think that it’s been a huge challenge because Jeff has given me a lot of leeway in doing the stuff that a head coach would normally do, paperwork and organizational stuff,” Wendeln said. “I’m just getting used to it being my program. I’ve got to be the one who makes the schedule; that’s been the biggest challenge, but everything has come pretty easily.”
Wendeln scored 1,250 points at Scott and was NKAC Division I Player of the Year as a senior, averaging 13 points, five rebounds and 2.6 steals a game. She put her name in the state record books during a memorable outing in a district championship win over Dixie Heights in which she made 30-of-32 free throws. The 30 makes is still second in state history.
“It was a nice little 15 seconds of fame. I kind of pride myself on that,” she said. “I was 1-for-19 from the floor in that game. You can’t ever give up. We won in OT. Free throws win games. I tell my girls that and anyone I coach. It’s the little things that make a big difference.”
Ironically, her final high school game was a loss to Simon Kenton in the regional tournament.
Wendeln started her collegiate playing career at Robert Morris College in Illinois, helping her team to the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association national championship game and earning first team All-American status.
She transferred to Missouri-St. Louis, an NCAA Division II school that at the time was conference foes with Northern Kentucky University. She averaged 2.5 points a game in one season and then went to NKU as a walk-on for the 2007-08 season. That turned out to be a bountiful blessing with the Norse winning their second national championship after an up-and-down regular season. Wendeln played 18 games that season and scored 20 total points in 47 minutes.
“We were such an underdog team,” she said. “We were never supposed to win anything and we were Division II champions. We may not have been the most talented but we had the most heart, the most desire, the most faith in what we’re doing.”
Wendeln retired from playing due to injury after that run and has focused on teaching and coaching. She has been mentored by some of the most passionate and fiery coaches in the area – NKU’s Nancy Winstel, Stowers, Scott’s Rhonda Klette and Fookes.
“Nell’s just as hard on them as Nancy was on us,” she said. “As frustrating it is to get yelled at, it makes you better. I think I’m similar in how hard I am on my athletes.”
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