Game connects Chase Coley to late mom

Surrounded by loved ones -- including her new baby brother, her father, her sister and her father's girlfriend, Keilly Olsen -- Iowa-bound Chase Coley is ready to start a new chapter, starting with her senior season at Washburn. Courtesy Rachelle Bigler

Three or four times a week, Chase Coley and her younger sister, Kendall, gather up their mother's favorite snacks -- a Diet Coke, Bugles chips and peanut M&M's -- to leave at her gravesite.

"It's just a couple blocks away," said Chase Coley, an elite girls basketball prospect who recently signed with Iowa. "We go there and chill and tell stories about Mom."

Kelli Jo Behrens-Coley was 46 when she died of a heart attack on Nov. 3, 2010, Kendall's eighth birthday.

Behrens-Coley had been a 6-foot-3 basketball standout at the University of Minnesota, and Chase, 18, has honored her mother's memory in a variety ways.

For starters, Chase wears her mother's anklet underneath her basketball socks. Her mother's name is inked on her letter jacket.

In addition, Chase, a 6-3 senior forward for Washburn (Minneapolis, Minn.), is emulating her mother on the basketball court. She is the No. 92 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the class of 2014. While there are still hard days when she grieves for her mother, Chase said it has gotten easier as she prepares for her senior season, which starts Tuesday.

First, she's spending Thanksgiving weekend at the Indiana home of her paternal grandmother, keeping in mind all the things she has to be grateful for.

"I'm thankful for all the people who have helped me get to where I am in my life," she said. "I'm thankful for my family, my neighbors and my friends."

Family on the court

Chase Coley's coach at Washburn is her father, Tylor Coley, 47, who became a widower when Kelli Jo passed away and is also a former basketball standout. He is 6-5 and played NAIA ball at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.

"One of my favorite things about Chase is you can tell how passionate she is about basketball," said Natalie Holdahl, a 5-8 senior guard at Washburn who has known Chase since they were 6 years old.

"I think part of Chase's love for basketball is that her parents played. I think she loves that connection, especially now for her mom."

Last season Chase averaged 20 points, 17.3 rebounds and 8.8 blocks for a Washburn team that went 23-9 and reached the Class 2A state semifinals.

Washburn lost 69-60 to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, which was led by star guard Carlie Wagner's 48 points and 12 rebounds.

"A lot of people don't notice Chase because Carlie is usually going nuts," Tylor Coley said of Wagner, a 5-9 Minnesota recruit who scored 50 points in the state final.

"People look at Carlie's scoring, but Chase plays an all-around game. She can play all the way from the post to the point."

Chase was held scoreless in her first-half matchup with Wagner last season before coming on strong. Chase finished with 16 points, 19 rebounds, 8 blocks and 5 assists.

This season, Washburn has moved up to Class 3A -- Wagner's team remained in 2A -- and the Coleys are confident they can contend for a state championship.

A versatile star

Tylor and Kelli Jo met in Minneapolis after both had competed professionally overseas.

Kelli Jo, Tylor said, was a natural athlete, recalling the time she picked up water skiing immediately and had no trouble getting up on her skis.

Chase has those traits, too, playing varsity lacrosse for three years and competing in track and field in the high jump and the 300 hurdles.

This season, Chase plans to try out for the softball team.

Kendall, her little sister, is another budding star. Tylor said Kendall is far ahead of where Chase was at the same age (11), and the older sister does not dispute the point.

"She is a little monster," Chase said, meaning it as high praise. "She is the type who will come down the court on a fast break, all alone, and make a pull-up jumper. I think she has been watching too much basketball on TV.

"But she's a tough little kid."

The newest potential athlete in the family is Khaysen, the 4-month-old son of Tylor and his new girlfriend, Keilly.

Chase said she loves making her little brother laugh.

"It's going to be hard being away from my dad and my sister and my entire family once I get to college," said Chase, who has a 3.2 GPA and is interested in studying business and environmental science. "I'm really close to my family and friends."

Holdahl, though, said she feels going away for college will be a positive experience for Chase.

"I think she will excel a ton," Holdahl said. "This past AAU season, Chase had a coach that wasn't her dad, and she did great having a different viewpoint.

"She and her dad are so connected, but I think it will be good for her to get away from home."

Holdahl also said she is proud of her friend.

"Losing her mom was unbelievably hard on her -- such a heartbreaking event," she said. "But once she got back into basketball, something just clicked inside her. She's had more of a sense of determination and will to play.

"She's put her heart into everything. I know she is making her mom proud."