A Star in Her Role
Kerensa Cassis honed her competitive edge on the basketball court
Published in 2020 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 16, 2020
When Kerensa Cassis was a young girl, all she wanted to do was play basketball with her older brother and her father, who was a coach.
“Growing up, I played with girls, boys—I didn’t really care,” she says. “I just wanted to play.”
Her thirst for the game led her to eventually excelling at both the high school and collegiate levels. In 1998, at West Plains High School, her squad won the Class 4 state championship; the following year, she was named Miss Show-Me Basketball, an honor awarded annually to the top female high school basketball player in the state.
At the University of Missouri, she played point guard, served as a three-time captain, and helped lead the Tigers to the Sweet 16 during her sophomore season. By the time she graduated in 2003, she was the program’s all-time leader in assists and free-throw percentage, and was second in steals. Though she had dreams of going pro, at that time, the WNBA had “a very limited draft,” Cassis says. “It was bad timing. I probably could have played overseas, but I decided to start coaching instead.”
Cassis attributes her success not to natural gifts, but to hard work and the drive instilled in her by her parents from a young age. All the hard work in the world, however, could not make up for the disparity—which she first noticed as a young girl playing on all-boys teams—between how male and female athletes are treated.
“I’ve always noticed the attention that men’s sports get as opposed to women’s sports,” Cassis says. “That was obvious growing up, and it was definitely obvious when I was a college athlete … seeing what the [men’s] locker rooms looked like compared to ours, and all the media attention versus what we got for playing the same game.”
Cassis’ mother was in high school in 1972 when Title IX passed, and Cassis has remained fascinated by the differences between men’s and women’s sports. She has written on Title IX for various academic outlets. “It really wasn’t that long ago when women and girls didn’t have the same opportunities,” she says. “Looking back on my life, I never thought I wouldn’t be entitled to play, or that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to play, because I was a girl. I’ve always had an interest in how that all came about and all the progress that’s been made in a short time.”
Since she hung up her jersey, Cassis has been named to Mizzou’s All-Decade Team, and was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. She’s also been an assistant coach at Mizzou, Murray State and Wichita State—opportunities that provided her a chance to see that progress up-close.
As a coach, Cassis always made sure to teach her players not only how to be competitive, but how to be a part of something bigger; any coach can teach players how to break a press or run an out-of-bounds play, but she wanted to guide young women into success off the court.
“People talk about leadership quality all the time, but there are a lot of different pieces that go into being a true team. And everyone on the team can’t be a leader,” she says. “You need to figure out what your role is, and how to be a star in that role. … Those are the things that can translate to developing women who contribute to society, and make an impact on the world in which they live.”
In her basketball years, Cassis trained in a field dominated by men—an experience that has certainly translated to litigation. Now, she often finds herself the only woman in the room. That, however, isn’t the only similarity between her two passions.
“It’s competitive at every turn,” she says of her legal career. “I think it’s one thing that I really enjoy about my job: the adversarial nature of it, the back-and-forth side of it. When it comes to intense litigation and trials, where it is truly a tit-for-tat—a chess match, really—those are the parts of my job that I really enjoy the most.”