Becky Jacobs’ freshman season at Montana State-Billings was far from ordinary. The Yellowjackets made history by becoming the first women’s basketball team from MSUB to win the NCAA Division II West Regional Championships and advance to the Elite Eight in the 1998-99 season.
As she remembers it, now Becky Jacobs said that it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Jacobs might have been one of the youngest players on the team in that season, but she was far from the youngest person involved in the program. While Jacobs suited up, working on her game with the team, it was her young cousin Kayleen Goggins who chased after balls and occupied a spot on the team bench with eager, wide eyes.
“She was little and probably looked up to us the same way that I did when I was young,” Jacobs said. “She was at all of the games and sat on the bench once in a while. She loved it, and I think that she hoped to do what we were doing someday too.”
Whether or not Goggins realized it at the time, her early acceptance into the Yellowjacket family was anything but temporary. On the contrary, she went from herding in stray shots as MSUB’s ball girl to becoming one of the team’s leaders in her own career.
Now a senior at MSUB, Goggins recently scored her 1,000th career point and has established herself as one of the top players in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and across the NCAA Division II west region as a whole.
Goggins grew up in Shepherd, Montana, spending much of her childhood on her grandfather Pat’s Vermillion Ranch, located 11 miles east of Big Timber. Breeding cattle is the passion of her father, Joe Goggins, whose successful family business produces several thousand registered Angus cattle every year.
Part of Joe Goggins’ work is to sell the stock that his company produces every year, but aside from being an auction owner, his roots lie in involving his family with his work. “We love ranching and we love ball games,” Joe Goggins said. “All of our kids are there when we need them, and supporting our community is a big part of what our family does.”
Kayleen Goggins learned the ins and outs of ranching, developing an understanding of drive and hard work. “The ranch is definitely where I instilled a good work ethic,” Goggins said. “I always had my own steers and sheep growing up, and I would help show them and sell them at fairs.”
Sports came naturally to Goggins as she began to develop a competitive edge at a young age. Growing up with her older brother Greg and younger sister Abbie, Goggins excelled in soccer, and she developed skills in softball and basketball as well.
“Since a very young age she has always been a competitive person, and she was a three-sport athlete in high school,” Goggins’ mother Linda said. “She started on a traveling basketball team when she was in fifth grade. We really respected whatever she chose to do for basketball, and it has always been fun watching her play.”
“She didn’t spend a lot of time inside the house, and she got really good at showing steers and lambs when she was growing up,” Goggins’ father Joe said. “One of her best friends growing up was Taylor Lepley, and those two girls spent a lot of time in the gym together.”
As Goggins began to realize her potential as a basketball player through her traveling teams, the idea of seriously pursuing the sport became more and more realistic as she entered Shepherd High School. Coaching the Shepherd women's basketball team was Bill Lepley, Taylor's father. Taylor and Goggins had initally met when both played the role of ball girl at MSUB.
“I’ve known Kayleen and her family for all her life, and she and my daughter were in almost every class together from kindergarten up,” Shepherd high school coach Lepley. “She comes from a great family and she has become a great competitor. Her desire to be the best is what separates her from the average players, and it has made her awfully special.”
Lepley facilitated the fusion of Goggins’ natural talent and her insatiable drive, helping shape her into an extremely promising college prospect. Initially, Goggins considered the idea of continuing her career at the Division I level with the Montana State Bobcats.
“I told myself that I didn’t want to just follow the family line and go to MSUB,” Goggins said. “I thought I wanted to go DI, but after a while I started to realize the opportunity I could have playing at the DII level.”
Somewhere deep down, the blue and gold of MSUB that she acquired as a kid burned bright, and Goggins committed to becoming a Yellowjacket.
It’s a regular Tuesday evening, and as 11 p.m. rolls around Kevin Woodin reaches for his cell phone. It’s getting late now, and the parent of three is growing anxious as to the whereabouts of his college-age daughter. “Where are you, it’s after 11,” reads the text message, but the reply back is hardly what Woodin is expecting.
“Uh coach, I think you’ve got the wrong Kayleen here,” it reads.
“I always liked that name, Kayleen, and I named my daughter after a Kayleen from Libby, Montana that I knew growing up,” Woodin said. “To recruit a Kayleen spelled the same way was very rare, but I felt like there was some kind of mojo there and maybe that it was meant to be.”
While keeping tabs on Goggins at all times is not part of Woodin’s job, he's been influential in transforming her into one of the conference's elite. “Coach has put nothing but confidence and trust in me, and I couldn’t ever thank him enough for that,” Goggins said. “He is really big on building relationships. I feel like I could call him and not even talk about basketball. It’s great to have him as a friend.”
The way in which Goggins and all of her teammates address him is the title Woodin has garnered from his players, a one-word label that says it all. Simply: ‘Coach.’
“I have never met a man who cares so much about his players," Goggins said. "He is kind of the team dad -- or mom almost. People don’t realize what he does behind the scenes. He washes jerseys for us on trips, he just does it all.”
When Goggins was first learning what it meant to be a Yellowjacket as a young child, Woodin was similarly acclimating himself to the program as an assistant coach. Often times the two would sit next to one another on the bench, a young Goggins all smiles as Woodin’s gaze fixated on his clipboard of notes. Now an 11-year veteran with the program and the reigning GNAC Coach of the Year, both Woodin and Goggins have come a long way.
“I have known Kayleen since she was very little, and it was because of the Jacobs and Goggins families that I was able to meet her when her cousin Becky played here and I was an assistant coach,” Woodin said.
“Obviously I followed her career at Shepherd very closely, and I made an offer to her the summer after her junior season.”
“I think as a freshman she was a bit starry-eyed but by the end of the season she was fortunate to have played quite a bit,” Joe Goggins remembers. “Her ability to lead has gotten much better, and that is a tribute to both the coaching staff and how hard she has worked for it over the last few summers.”
Now as one of four senior captains on the team, Goggins has emerged as a leader both in the way she plays the game as well as the influence she has in terms of team chemistry. Woodin credited Goggins with being one of the hardest workers he has coached, and has been impressed with how self-driven she has been in terms of working on her own during the off season.
“I have challenged Kayleen to become a better leader, and she has done a great job of improving in terms of becoming a more vocal leader,” Woodin said. “I am also very pleased with the consistency of her play, especially through the final stretch of last season and into this one.”
So far this season, Goggins is leading the team in scoring with 19.0 points per game and averaging 6.9 rebounds. The numbers are all-conference caliber, and there is no question that her time spent in the program has turned Goggins into the best player that she can be.
Aside from the impressive numbers and the various accolades Goggins has accumulated during her time at MSUB, the experiences she has had growing close to those around her have had the most significant impact of all.
“I never thought being in this program would have this kind of impact, but it is definitely a big part of who I am,” Goggins said. “A lot of people say the phrase, ‘Jackets for Life,’ but with the friendships I have built, I really will be one.”
“Quinn is the nicest person that I have ever met and I think that people can learn a lot from her,” Goggins said. “She has changed my life, and makes me want to work harder.”
The two met at the high school state tournament after both had committed to the MSUB program. Goggins’ Shepherd team and Peoples’ Butte High School team were each having a pregame meal at an Applebees in Bozeman, when Peoples finally worked up the courage to introduce herself.
“Our team walked into the restaurant and I remember Kayleen was sitting on the other side with her sister and the Lepley girls,” Peoples said. “I remember telling some of my teammates, ‘Hey I think that is Kayleen Goggins,’ but I was hesitant at first to go talk to her. Eventually I went over and said 'Hi,' and we joke about it now because she was too nervous to come say hi to me too.”
Fast-forward four years and the two have grown inseparable, their friendship hinging on everything they have been through as Yellowjacket teammates. In 2013-14, MSUB replicated the historic performance of the 1998-99 team by making it to the Division II west region championship game. The season was a roaring success, and through it Goggins explained that Peoples became more of a sister than a friend to her.
“She is just a strong woman and I think that makes me want to be better,” Goggins said about Peoples. “I don’t think she will ever know how much she has impacted my life, and even after just three years we get along great. People joke that we always accidentally wear the same thing and that we are always goofing around, but we always have each other’s back.”
As Goggins completes her final season as a Yellowjacket in 2014-15, she will do so with the overwhelming support she has grown accustomed to at MSUB. When the Yellowjackets take on an opponent, anywhere from 30 to 40 of the Goggins family faithful will occupy the seating behind MSUB’s bench to watch the daughter of Joe and Linda put her unique set of skills on display.
“He has always let basketball come first,” Goggins said regarding her dad Joe. “He is always flying from a bull sale to my game and back to another bull sale.”
Goggins will graduate from MSUB in the spring of 2015 after having studied elementary education and special education. Her plan is to be a student teacher in the fall before pursuing her master’s degree in guidance counseling.
One thing her family, teammates and coaches alike all come to a consensus on is the fact that no matter what Goggins pursues or where she ends up, she will experience nothing but success. “She will grow to become a good teacher and to mentor kids,” Linda Goggins said. “She is so kind-hearted and loves teaching and the game of basketball. Her work ethic, and her experience at college and with basketball will carry over into her future. She is a very responsible person.”
That being said, Goggins’ time on the court is far from over, and as conference play begins she is poised to lead her squad of Yellowjackets towards the defense of last season’s regular-season title and Round of 16 appearance.
Perhaps the best way to describe it is just how Jacobs responded when asked what her time at MSUB meant to her. From the time her toes failed to reach the floor while sitting on the MSUB bench as a young ball girl, to the inspiring talent she has grown into today, for Goggins it truly has been the opportunity of a lifetime.