By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Kenya Earl slipped away from the chaos of the photos, hugs and handshakes that were part of the on-court celebration that followed City High’s regional final win over Ankeny Centennial last week.
The senior wiped the sweat from her forehead, unleashed a deep breath followed by a broad smile and began to answer questions from a reporter.
It was the quintessential moment for Earl who has spent her entire career quietly going about her business just away from the glare of the spotlight.
A three-year starter and all-conference player that is pushing towards the 1,000-point plateau as her career winds to an end, Earl has had a career worth of a starring role.
Instead she has spent four years thriving in the best supporting category, playing running mate to some of the best players to ever where a City High uniform.
“Not being in the spotlight is fine with me,” Earl said. “I just try to play my game.”
For the past four seasons Earl has played her game next to a trio of all-staters and Division I recruits.
The list of high-profile teammates for Earl during her high school career reads like a list of City High hoops royalty.
Haley Lorenzen, a junior at Florida. Courtney Joens a freshman at Illinois. Ashley Joens a top-20 ranked junior who has committed to Iowa State.
The list makes up nearly half of the seven players at City High to finish their careers with more than 1,000 points.
“It was so awesome playing with Haley, I adore her and she is doing great things at Florida and I’m so proud of her and Ashley is doing great things and she will be great at Iowa State,” Earl said. “It’s just been amazing playing with such talented players and seeing them progress.”
Earl could have starred in many programs.
Fewer star-studded teammates could have meant more shots, more points and more awards for Earl.
Instead of worrying about forcing herself into the spotlight Earl accepted her role and carved her own niche and built her own resume as one of the most productive players in program history.
“She is so level headed you can’t tell if we are down 20 or up 20 by watching Kenya,” McTaggart said. “I think that helps her out with the situation she has been in during her career, she is so level headed.”
Earl averaged 4.5 points per game as a freshman in 2013-2104 while playing opposite the 6-foot-3 Lorenzen in the post.
Since her freshman season Earl has become one of the most consistent players in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
Earl has averaged at least 11.4 points per game each of the past three seasons and was a first-team MVC all-division selection this season.
“She has gotten quicker and she has worked on her shot a lot so she has definitely improved a lot,” Ashley Joens said. “She gives us another threat that can score and teams can’t just guard one or two players.”
While her scoring average has dipped a point from 12.4 to 11.4 per game this season Earl has quietly put together the best season of her career.
She ranks third on the team in scoring but is shooting a career-best 44 percent from the field including 38 percent from 3-point range.
“I’ve been working on the 3-point shot since I was seven or eight, I definitely wanted to add that to my game because people think that posts can’t shoot and I love shooting the 3,” Earl said. “It’s good to be versatile in the game.”
At 5-foot-11 Earl has always been a good shooter.
She is a career 84 percent free throw shooter and leads the team this season at 83 percent from the line.
Over the past two seasons Earl has worked on improving her range with her jump shot.
That work has showed up.
After shooting 33 percent from beyond the 3-point arc during her sophomore and junior seasons, Earl has pushed that mark to nearly 40 percent this season.
She had a key triple in City High’s 48-32 regional final win over defending 5A champion Ankeny Centennial.
“She understands the game so well, she is very, very heady and not too many posts can shoot the 3 as well as she can,” McTaggart said. “She has added that 3-point shot to her game. She has a quick first step going to her left.”
Earl has been just fine staying out of the spotlight during her prep career.
That is exactly where she will end her career as fourth-ranked City High returns to the state tournament for the first time since Earl was a freshman in 2014.
City High (22-1) will face Cedar Falls (21-2) in the Class 5A quarterfinals on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“It means everything,” Earl said. “This is my last go around, if we didn’t make it to state it would be so devastating but we did and I’m just happy for our team and for all of us and for City.”