Jun 22, 2022

Celebrating 50 Years of Title IX - Koehn, Wecker, Ohlde

Posted Jun 22, 2022 6:17 PM
Kansas has benefited many times over from the inclusion of women and girls in high school activities thanks to Title IX. These stories from KSHSAA highlight the legends and trail blazers that we are so fortunate to have in Kansas.
Kansas has benefited many times over from the inclusion of women and girls in high school activities thanks to Title IX. These stories from KSHSAA highlight the legends and trail blazers that we are so fortunate to have in Kansas.

by Joanna Chadwick, Special to KSHSAA 

It's an awfully big job to put into perspective the impact Moundridge's Laurie Koehn, Clay Center's Nicole Ohlde and Marysville's Kendra Wecker had on girls basketball in Kansas.

Where do you start?

* Koehn played in four state title games with Moundridge, winning three. Koehn and Wecker were three-time All-State players. Koehn scored 1,700 career points at Kansas State and set an NCAA record for threes made in a career that stood until 2015. She played for the Washington Mystics and the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA and played in Poland, Turkey and Australia.

* Wecker was unbeaten at Marysville, winning a 4A title her senior season in 2001. She went on to be named first team All-Big 12 three times and the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. She was a three-time Naismith Player of the Year finalist, two-time Wade Trophy and Wooden finalist. She was drafted fifth in the WNBA in 2005.

* Ohlde was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, the Big 12 Player of the Year as a junior and senior, a two-time first team All-American and finalist for Wade Trophy and Naismith Player of the Year. She was the Big 12 female athlete of the year her senior season and was drafted sixth in the 2004 WNBA draft, winning a title in 2009 with Phoenix.

* The trio led Kansas State to a 26-8 record in 2002 and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen, as well as a 29-5 record in 2003, the winningest season in history and the program's first Big 12 championship in 2004.

And that's the abbreviated version of their accomplishments. So, several coaches stepped in to explain just how vital these three were to Kansas girls basketball.

Former Little River girls basketball coach Shane Cordell -- who won 604 games, including 91 straight in the 1990s and four straight Class 1A titles -- faced Koehn's Moundridge team in league play and saw the effect all three had.

"I think it was the turning point where girls basketball really set the tone for the quality and competitiveness of girls basketball at a state level," Cordell said. "... It raised Kansas girls basketball to a whole new level statewide, and people started to take notice. Fans really started to appreciate Kansas girls basketball."

Jason Tatkenhorst, who coached Ohlde at Clay Center, added: "To have three girls, kind of right there in central Kansas, come through at the same time -- you had a shooter in Koehn that could never miss and how do you guard her? And Kendra Wecker, no one wanted to play against her because she was so strong. And Nicole was a gazelle, who could run up and down the court and do so many things.

"That doesn't come around very often. It led to a lot of young girls watching them and seeing what a fun style of basketball it is. It had to motivate a whole lot of Kansas girls."

It doesn't matter how the names come off your tongue, they're linked together.

They first played together with the Kansas Thunderbolts, coached by Doug Finch.

"They put their schools on the map, but they put K-State on the map, too. They were huge for Kansas State women's basketball and the state," Finch said.

Koehn added: "We had no clue the magnitude of what we were experiencing at Kansas State. Being in front of sellout crowds with the state of Kansas behind us."

Koehn and Ohlde graduated from high school in 2000, while Wecker was a year behind. After Koehn and Ohlde chose Kansas State, they urged Wecker -- with whom they had played AAU ball on the Kansas Thunderbolts -- to join them. Koehn finished up at K-State with Wecker after sitting out her freshman year with an injury.

"We were all best friends," said Ohlde, whose maid of honor was Koehn. "We all hung out together. We were driven to be successful. We stayed in the dorms in the same hallway. We had dance parties in the hallway, stupid college stuff. We had a bunch of fun.

"We worked really, really hard, too."

The story all three enjoy retelling is of the sellout crowds at Kansas State.

"There were no season tickets then, so the doors would open and they'd run down. They'd be laying down and saving seats," Ohlde said. "We'd stop warming up and just watch."

And now all three are still connected to basketball in some way -- Ohlde is a co-coach with her husband at Newman University, Koehn is an assistant at Washington State, and Wecker does some individual training.

"I'm proud of Laurie and Nicole for where they're at," Wecker said. "They're doing what they have passion for. And what I knew they were going to do. They love the game of basketball, they're great with people, they're great communicators, they're doing what they need to do in life."

And they credit Title IX.

Koehn's mom didn't play high school sports because it wasn't offered, but she played in college at Tabor. Wecker didn't notice anything different between the boys and girls programs at Marysville, while Ohlde sees the opportunities.

"All the opportunities are there," she said. "The opportunities to develop all females, the confidence, everything including their self-esteem. It all plays together, and it's huge.

"I tell our basketball players they're two generations removed from not being able to play. Remember that. Embrace the opportunity we do have. Don't take any day for granted."

The exact moment Koehn fell in love with basketball was at 9 years old while watching the movie "The Pistol" about Pete Maravich.

"In that moment, I knew I wanted to be a great basketball player," Koehn said. "... I was 5-8, scrawny, unathletic."

But her work ethic was unparalleled. She'd ride her bike to Hesston College to shoot. She'd shoot in her driveway.Koehn

"I dribbled and dribbled and dribbled and shot and shot and shot," Koehn said. "I made up my own workouts -- make a 100 free throws today, 100 shots from this spot. I kept a journal in sixth grade of how many shots I made. My goal was 500."

She played whatever sport she could in high school.

"I played volleyball and track because they were the two other sports offered. Volleyball was about more jumping, and track, well, you hated it, so it built character," she said.

After volleyball practice, she'd go home to eat and then, maybe with her parents as rebounders but more likely by herself, she returned to the gym to make 800 shots.

After running distance events in track, she went to the gym exhausted and focused on making 800 shots.

High school basketball was where she truly shined, playing with a core group of girls she grew up with.

"That McPherson (midseason) tournament, where McPherson was the 5A champion, Little River was the 1A champion and we were the 2A champion -- that was probably the funnest tournament of the year," Koehn said. "It was better than state half the time and it was where you got the most competitive games and the bragging rights."

Koehn has found her niche coaching.

"I would never have imagined it's as much fun as playing," Koehn said. "OK, it's not as much, but it's a different kind of fun.

"I love the opportunity to watch these young girls come in as freshmen and have no clue what it takes to be really, really good at the highest level, and watch them grow and develop."

Wecker was a strong, all-around athlete. From age 4 she played flag football, soccer, volleyball, track and basketball.

At 10 years old, she was a finalist in the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick competition.

"I didn't think anything of it, but the media made a big deal out of it," Wecker said. "I was just mad I didn't win. The next year it split into boys and girls, so maybe I did have an effect."

Wecker held the national high school record for the javelin and was a three-time state javelin champion.

She scored 2,300 points and had 1,000 rebounds in high school - and had close to those same numbers at Kansas State.Kendra Wecker

"The girls program in the four years I was (at Marysville), we were good. We were really competitive," Wecker said. "The amount of people who would come and watch our games was so cool. The gym was packed. And then we'd play Clay Center - whether it was in Marysville or Clay Center - and they'd stand in the hallways because there weren't any more seats left in the gym."

Wecker made the transition well to college basketball. She had the skill, athleticism and work ethic.

"I'd get up at 5:30 a.m. to go run, play pickup games in gyms that were 85 to 90 degrees," Wecker said. "We knew what we were working for.

"It was something where every single day you would go to the gym or the weight room or you wake up early - and you do this thing together. There hasn't been a time in my life since college basketball where I've had that same feeling with a group of people. It's something so special and unique."

The WNBA was a tougher move. She went from playing a power forward to a two-guard.

"I certainly didn't come off of ball screens or bring the ball up the floor (before the WNBA)," Wecker said. "I set really good ball screens. But I wasn't out guarding the perimeter and guarding a two. Having to learn that and have success against the best in the world was really, really hard for me.

"And then I got hurt. I just didn't have the success I wanted and envisioned for myself. And that's OK."

Wecker went on to graduate school at Oklahoma, and while she has coached and does some training, she has moved on to a career in oil and gas.

"I really enjoy it," she said. "It's not something I ever thought I'd get into, but there's a lot of different parts to it and a lot of sectors you can be a part of."

Ohlde grew up wanting to be like her brothers, who were athletes. When she wasn't outside with them playing, she was watching the Chicago Bulls.

"There's not much to do in Clay Center, so a lot of time I was outside pretending to be Michael Jordan. I had all the moves down. I pretended I played the game. I didn't have my first official basketball game until I was in seventh grade," said Ohlde, now a co-coach with her husband at Newman University.

Ohlde, who won a state high jump title as a senior, qualified for the 4A basketball tournament as a junior.

At 6-foot-4, she played point guard for Clay Center.

"I do believe it was the best decision for me long-term," Ohlde said. "I give a lot of credit to Jason Tatkenhorst. I just give him a ton of credit because he didn't put me in a bubble like, 'You're 6-4, so you need to be an inside player."

Maybe Ohlde could have averaged 20 to 30 points a game if she had been inside, but those ballhandling skills helped her transition to college and the WNBA.

Still, she went through a tough learning process at Kansas State.

"I had no post moves," Ohlde said. "They taught me all of that. I needed footwork, patience, anything you can think of that you need to learn in the post. They needed to have a ton of patience with me, too. Somehow, they molded me to be this person who has all that."

Ohlde set records at KSU for career scoring, rebounds, double doubles, blocked shots, free throws made and minutes played. She finished her college career with 2,241 points and 995 rebounds, and averaged nine points and seven rebounds a game in the WNBA.