by Shelby Eden
Cousins Clay Elrod and Jessica Cole average just around 20 minutes per game for their respective teams, but the two guards waste no time in putting the ball in the hoop, as they both average in double figures in scoring and are among their team’s leaders in three-point shots made.
College is not the first time Elrod and Cole have shared basketball memories and success together. With both of their families originally living just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, Cole and Elrod grew up playing basketball together at their grandma and grandpa Elrod’s home or at the Cole family’s outdoor court.
Cole (3) lays the ball in near teammates Taryn Tumbleson (22) and Courtney Cunard (34) (photo by Hannah Beebe).
“We would always scrimmage out on the court between the families and with each other,” said Cole. “We would play outside on late summer nights with a light shining on the court.”
Elrod added, “Growing up, we played basketball all the time together. We would always play 3-on-3 with the cousins and would be outside shooting hoops almost every day together.”
Elrod and Cole have taken what they learned as kids on the cement court in Iowa to the hardwood of Northwestern where they are making themselves known. Although neither of the cousins has been regular starters for their teams, they both bring a shooting spark off the Eagle bench. Elrod, a six-foot, six-inch guard with the ability to hit three pointers and finish baskets at the rim is currently averaging 10.9 points per game.
Cole is hitting 11 points per game with 30 total three-pointers, which ranks her second on the team in both categories. On top of that, she’s been starting the past few games for the Eagles due to Tiffany Stubbs’ injury.
There is no shortage of athletes and especially basketball players in either family. Elrod’s dad, Tim Elrod, is the current director of alumni relations at Northwestern as well as a former Eagle basketball player. Elrod’s three younger siblings are also avid hoopers. For the Cole family, both of Jess’s parents played collegiate sports: her mom ran track, and her dad played football. Additionally, two of her three younger brothers play basketball and football at Southeast Polk High School in Iowa.
The Elrod family eventually moved to Elk River, Minnesota, where the cousins have enjoyed bringing their family together over basketball this season. Last year, Elrod played and attended school at Bemidji State University, an NCAA Division II school.
“It’s cool because our families are able to come watch both of us play sometimes, and I see more family this year than I did last year for sure,” said Elrod.
Cole added, “Playing together here is great because our families can come to the games and watch both of us, and our grandparents love it. It’s really special.”
Along with the family involvement comes friendly competition. Currently, the cousins have a contest, which is encouraged by their grandparents, of who can score more points in their respective games. It all started when the Eagles played Martin Luther on Jan. 9, and both Cole and Elrod had their best games of the season.
“Clay started trash talking, and it just went from there; I just was not going to take it,” said Cole.
In a game against Martin Luther College, Elrod hit 22 points in 25 minutes of play, connecting on eight of 12 shots from the field and sinking four three pointers in six attempts while Cole had 19 points in 19 minutes and shot seven of 10 from the field.
Elrod said of the contest, “Yeah, we have that scoring competition between us, but Jess has been winning it lately, so I give her that. But we’ve always grown up competitively, so we’ve always kind of had competitions between us. It’s been kind of fun that we’ve been able to continue that in college as well.”
Elrod (23) shoots a free throw against Northland College (photo by Claire Gronseth).
Along with the competition, Cole and Elrod share a respect for one another’s playing abilities.
“I think that Jess is a great shooter. I love watching her hit the three ball, said Elrod. “I think sometimes she’s got better handles than she thinks she does. She can really cross people up sometimes, and that’s fun to watch, too.”
“As a player, Clay is confident in his abilities and is a great shooter,” said Cole. She also said with a laugh, “He’s cocky and is into his hair more than anything else.”
The cousins are not the only ones who enjoy having one another at Northwestern. Their respective coaches are also impressed with their basketball abilities and calm demeanors.
“Clay works really hard, but is a laid-back guy as well. He is easy to get along with and puts the team first,” said the head men’s coach, Tim Grosz. “As a player, he’s a very skilled offensive player and can score in a variety of ways. He can shoot and is also very good at driving the ball and finishing at the rim: he’s a sixth starter in that way.”
Aaron Kahl, the head women’s coach, said, “Jess brings a quiet energy to the team. She has a great calmness about her but is also a great competitor with deceptive quickness and a knack for being able to score.”
Elrod’s statistics per game
(through Feb. 6):
Games played- 21
Field goal percentage- .500
3 point field goal percentage- .386
Free throw percentage- .769
Cole’s statistics per game
(through Feb. 6):
Games played- 21
Games started- 3
Field goal percentage- .455
3 point field goal percentage- .427
Free throw percentage- .808