Travelers find a home AT Tabor

After moving from place to place as military family members, Kaleigh Troxell and Alan Urrutia

have made a lasting impact on the women’s and men’s basketball teams.

Kaleigh TroxellBy the time she graduates from Tabor College in the spring, Kaleigh Troxell will have spent more time in Hillsboro than almost anywhere else she’s lived. The daughter of a now-retired Air Force pilot, Troxell and her family moved essentially every three years during her elementary days. She was born in Ohio, then moved with her family to Derby, then to England, then to Wichita and back to Ohio, all before she reached high school.

“It was tough in the moment, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she said of the multiple moves. “I have met so many great people, and it really helped my family be really close because sometimes my siblings were my only friends when we first moved places. I think it created a lot of character-building for me and my siblings. It made me who I am.”

The summer before Troxell’s freshman year of high school, her family moved to Edmond, Okla., where they still live today.

Basketball beginnings

Troxell started playing basketball in second grade in Wichita. At her middle school in Ohio, she played the post position. She transitioned to guard upon entering high school at Edmond Memorial.

Troxell graduated from high school in 2013. She narrowed her college choices to either Tabor, which she heard about through a Wichita connection with Erica Haude, director of student success, or Oklahoma State. Her decision hinged on whether she wanted to continue playing basketball.

Meeting the Bluejay coaching staff her senior year helped seal the deal.

“(Coach Shawn Reed) came up to Edmond and brought Coach Erin (Baro­cio) and Zach (Goodrich) and had dinner with me and my parents. We were just so impressed with them,” Troxell said. “I just really felt like this was where God had called me to be.”

Her desire to continue playing basketball became the deciding factor.

“I realized I wasn’t ready to be done with basketball,” she said. “People kept telling me, you’re always going to regret it if you don’t try it.”

Tabor career

Troxell endured a difficult freshman season at Tabor in 2013-14 and almost left the program.

“At the beginning, I was getting to play quite a bit, and then I went through a really rough patch and I wanted to go home,” she said. “I was homesick. I wasn’t playing well.

“I applied for OSU. I was ready to leave.”

When the conference season started, Troxell was told she would be playing more junior varsity minutes, causing unrest.

“At first, I was not happy about that, and then it ended up being the best experience ever,” she said. “Coach Zach gave me so much confidence and helped me break through that rough patch that every freshman goes through.

“Then, by the second half of the year, they wouldn’t let me play JV, and I wanted to really bad. It was funny. Coach Reed always jokes about how that changed so fast.”

Troxell decided to stick out the year. Tabor went on to win the KCAC tournament for the first time in school history when the Bluejays secured an 85-51 upset of eighth-ranked and top-seeded Southwestern, which had not lost to a conference opponent all season.

Troxell scored nine points off the bench, in what is her favorite game to this point. The win qualified Tabor for the national tournament for the first time since 2006-07, and that experience was the turning point for Troxell.

“We won the most exciting game I’ve ever played in at Hartman (Arena) when we beat Southwestern, and then we went to nationals and almost pulled off the biggest upset,” she said. “Things really turned around. I decided to go back (to Tabor) another year, and four years later, I’m still here.”

During her time in Hillsboro, Troxell has been part of building a program that is less a “Cinderella team” and more a team expected to make appearances on the national stage.

After a 21-11 campaign Troxell’s freshman season, in 2014-15 the Bluejays won the regular-season KCAC title for the first time since 2005-06. Tabor advanced to the quarterfinal round at nationals for the first time in school history, ending the season with a 21-13 record.

Troxell’s junior year, Tabor repeated as KCAC regular-season champions, falling one game short of running the table in the conference. At nationals, the Bluejays advanced to the quarterfinal round for the second year in a row. The season ended with a 28-8 record and a ranking of 10th in the nation.

“My freshman year, no one expected us to win that game (at nationals),” Troxell said. “Then when we got there my sophomore year, people kind of knew who we were, but still we were a (No.) 7 seed. So we were still pretty low and no one really expected us to do anything. We were like celebrities around there when we won our first and second game.

“Last year, the feeling was a little different. It was kind of like we were supposed to be there and we were supposed to win games. People knew who we were. It was kind of cool to see that transition.”

Troxell’s time at Tabor has helped her grow in mentally processing mistakes.

“In high school, I used to get down on myself really bad,” she said. “If I missed a few shots or messed up, I was worthless for the rest of the game. My freshman year (at Tabor) I was that way a little bit first semester.

“Coach Reed let me mess up a lot and just kept giving me chances and encouraging me. All of our coaching staff and our upperclassmen that year just constantly were encouraging me. I think that was a maturity thing that I needed to get through.

“I’m definitely still hard on myself in ways, but it doesn’t affect the way I play in the negative way that it used to. I can make a mistake and forget about it.”

A new season

Troxell is majoring in math and secondary education. She will complete a student-teaching assignment in Goessel and anticipates graduating in spring.

She said her favorite part about playing basketball is the bond she’s built with teammates. One day, she hopes to coach.

This season, the Bluejays started with a 3-0 record in the KCAC and 6-2 overall.

Troxell has played both point guard and wing while at Tabor and expects to play more wing this year.

“I’m not under the impression that I’m a true point guard—I know I’m not,” she said. “I know that’s not my natural position, but it’s just kind of seemed like that’s what the team’s needed the past year and a half.

“I enjoy point guard and the leadership role that allows, but I also enjoy the wing and getting a few more openings to shoot and drive,” she said. “We have a lot of really good guards this year that are kind of interchangeable. That’s exciting. I’m excited to see what this year looks like.”

Troxell has high expectations for her senior campaign.

“I would love to win conference again (and) win the tournament, too, if we can, and then obviously just make it as far as we can at nationals,” she said. “I think this team is really special, especially when we get all the pieces together.

“We have a lot of fun together, and they’re fun to play with on the court, too. I think this year could be really special if we just give it a little time.”

Alan UrrutiaEverywhere he’s been, Alan Urrutia has had to prove himself. Urrutia’s mother is an active-duty member in the U.S. Air Force, and his family moved every two years during his early years. As a result, the Tabor College junior guard said he was constantly meeting new people and making new friends.

The challenges of moving so often became evident for Urrutia on the basketball court, not only in terms of proving himself, but also in building chemistry and overcoming a lack of consistency.

“Moving around, you could never build chemistry with the team,” he said. “I was the new kid having to try out for the team.”

Early years

Born in Fair­banks, Alaska, Urrutia lived in Anchorage his first two years. Although he doesn’t remember it, that’s where he first picked up a basketball, according to his mother.

“My dad used to take me to the gym,” Urrutia said. “He would go work out and I’d stand on the sideline watching everybody else play basketball, and I’d just dribble my little hand-sized ball. I’d sit there and watch them play. I don’t remember that, but that’s what (my mom) says.”

Urrutia’s family moved to Turkey and Maryland after that—he’s not sure which came first—then Texas, where his parents divorced, then Missouri.

Urrutia moved three times in middle school alone. He started sixth grade in Missouri, then spent the first half of his seventh-grade year in Georgia and the second half in Kentucky with a friend when his mother deployed. He came back to Georgia for eighth grade.

When Urrutia was a freshman at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., his mother deployed a second time. He and his brother were left to care for the house.

“My brother was old enough to stay at the house by himself, so we took care of the house,” Urrutia said. “He was a junior.”

Urrutia attended all four years of high school at Lowndes.

“She made it a point (that I could) go to high school four years in one place, so that was cool,” he said.

Having played every sport growing up, Urrutia decided to focus on basketball in high school. He’s always been either a point guard or a shooting guard, he said.

“I decided to just pick one sport and stick with it because if you play more than one sport in high school, there’s always off-season training, pre-season training (and) you can’t really do both,” he said.

Urrutia graduated from Lowndes in 2014 and walked on to the basketball team at Valdosta State.

Urrutia’s mother deployed a third time that year. He credited her for her constant support, even from afar.

“She’s made me the man I am today because she raised me by herself,” he said. “I feel like she’s made me independent. When I play basketball, I know she’s always (watching), because she watches every game.

“Even when she was deployed, she watched every game. It was a seven-hour time difference, so she’d be up at 4 in the morning watching our game and then she’d go straight to work.”

After a year at Valdosta State, Urrutia was ready to make a move.

“The assistant coach always told me, because I’m not on a full scholarship I’m not going to play as much as I want to,” he said. “So I decided to take another chance somewhere else.”

Transition to Tabor

Urrutia began sending emails to coaches. He received a response from Anthony Monson, then assistant coach at Tabor, who requested film. Urrutia said “it all worked out,” and he transferred to Tabor for the 2015-16 season.

“When I got to Tabor, they had a lot of guys, and I knew I had to prove myself to play, because we were deep,” he said. “I was the only sophomore that really played a lot last year, so I feel like I did prove myself.”

Urrutia played in all 34 of Tabor’s games, averaging 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He scored a season-high 21 points against Bethel in the KCAC tournament quarterfinals in late February.

Tabor ran the table in the KCAC, posting a 20-0 record to win the regular-season title for the second-consecutive year. The Bluejays won the KCAC tournament for the second time in three years and advanced to the national tournament for the third straight year.

But Tabor suffered a first-round loss. Urrutia said the experience showed the Blue­jays that no team, despite seeding, can be overlooked. Tabor concluded the season with a record of 30-4, ranking ninth in the postseason poll.

Urrutia speaks well of the chemistry on last year’s team.

“We were always tight-knit,” he said. “Nobody had bad blood with somebody. You’d always see us laughing.”

That camaraderie transferred to the court.

“Nobody was selfish with the ball,” Urrutia said. “We always made the extra pass, and we all worked hard. It was fun.”

Urrutia’s highlight of his Bluejay career was Tabor’s conference-opening, overtime win over Ottawa a year ago.

Urrutia hit a pair of three-pointers in a 41-second span in overtime that turned a 75-73 Bluejay deficit into a 79-75 lead. He scored 10 of his 15 points in overtime to help lead Tabor to an 85-81 victory.

“My mom was at the game, too, so that was fun,” he said. “I’ve had games with more points, but that game was fun, because we were down, like, 12, with five, seven minutes (to play) maybe, and then we came back.

“We called a timeout and coach told us, ‘If you want to win, now you’ve got to start.’ It was an early game in the season. I feel like that showed a lot of fight in our team last year, because we definitely should’ve lost that game the way we played.”

Tabor won 10 games by four points or less, and earned three overtime victories.

“There were a lot of games we should’ve lost,” Urrutia said. “I think all the close games showed how much fight we had and how much trust we had in each other. We never thought we were going to lose. No matter how much time was on the clock, we always thought we had a chance to win.”

A new season

Tabor started this season with a 3-0 KCAC record and 4-5 mark overall.

As an upperclassman this year, Urrutia said his role is growing.

“I definitely have to be more of a leader this year,” he said. “Last year, we had three seniors graduate—D’Marco (Smith) and Malik (Brooks) were two starters—so they were leaders on the floor all the time. I’ve picked up that role slowly.”

Urrutia’s goal for the season is simply to win.

“People keep saying, are we going to go undefeated (in the KCAC),” he said. “That was tough to do. I’m not going to say we’re not as good this year, but it’s never the same team, so you can’t predict going undefeated. If it happens, it happens, but we just try to win each game.”

Urrutia is majoring in business and anticipates graduating in spring 2018. He said he is still deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree.

Urrutia said he plays basketball for the enjoyment of the game, which he approaches with laser focus.

“When I’m playing, I don’t let any distractions get to me, at the free-throw line or anything,” he said. “Nothing is in my head but playing the game that we’re playing.”

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