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All-Area Girls Basketball: Miller gets back on the big stage

Goodhue's Mikayla Miller is the Republican Eagle's All-Area Player of the Year after averaging 24.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.2 steals and 3.5 assists per game, helping the Wildcats get back to state for the first time since 2011. (R-E file photo)

In the 2011 Class 1A state tournamnet, Goodhue girls basketball knew it had a budding star in Mikayla Miller.

Just a freshman at that point in time, Miller finished her first state game with 12 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the Wildcats’ loss to Hancock in the Class 1A quarterfinals. 

In that game, Miller just recalls the loss.

“I remember being on the court and the fans were really supportive,” Miller said. “We should have beaten them, but it was a good experience.”

But Goodhue head coach Josh Wieme remembers seeing the school’s next standout. Not only did Miller produce on the court, she did so as a freshman under plenty of personal adversity after finding out her grandpa passed away during the state tournament banquet.

“Even before then, but certainly in that (state) game, we didn’t just have a good player, we had a star in our hands,” Wieme said. “We knew we had someone special for three years. Not just an all-conference player, but one of the best in Class 1A.

“She was not afraid of the big moment back then, and she was more than capable of being on the big stage against what the class had to offer.”

Wrapping up her high-school career with 2,331 points, 827 rebounds, 497 steals and 321 assists in 121 career games, Miller, the 2014 Republican Eagle All-Area Player of the Year, certainly lived up to her potential as one of the Wildcats’ all-time greats.

In describing her career accomplishments, Wieme saw many similarities between Miller and arguably Goodhue’s best girls basketball player ever.

“It was 18 or 19 years ago that Sue Fiero played basketball. I saw her playing when I was at Kenyon-Wanamingo and she was someone who was so good, it was like she didn’t belong out there. There were a lot of times that Mikayla was like that,” Wieme said. “(Former Goodhue boys basketball coach) Tony Poncelet said, ‘She’d start for us.’

“If she never worked at it, she would have been an all-conference player and a 1,000-point scorer. … The most fun thing with coaching Mik was that she has worked on her game. She’s expanded her game to make her this complete player and an unselfish player, and I think her teammates have enjoyed playing with her.”

Miller had 91 straight games with double-digit points and the Wildcats went 100-23 in her four seasons on the varsity. The only thing missing from her resume was another trip to state after Bethlehem Academy ended Goodhue’s season in the Section 1A tournament in 2012 and 2013. 

With one more chance to get to state, the pressure was on. But, it was an agreement between Miller and fellow seniors Kali Ryan and Meredith Watson that state would not be brought up between the three.

“We knew what the goal was going to be,” Miller said, “but we didn’t talk about it.”

It didn’t dawn on the seniors that this winter was their last shot until a loss to White Bear Lake – then ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A – at the Rochester Rotary Tournament in December.

“It started hitting us at the Rotary Tournament how much we wanted to get back to state,” Miller said. “We always said that we had an extra year. Then it hit us that we didn’t have that anymore.”

With an added sense of urgency, Goodhue plowed through the rest of the season, beating Rushford-Peterson 75-38 in the Section 1A championship. The Wildcats entered the state tournament as the top-ranked team in Class 1A.

Miller averaged 24.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 steals and 3.5 assists per game in her senior season, and she did it out of position as the Wildcats’ point guard.

“She kind of embraced the challenge,” Wieme said of Miller’s switch to point guard. “She allowed it to improve and change her game. She looked to be a facilitator at first. I know she still scored a ton, but she pushed the floor with her eyes up, looking for somebody to pass to.”

More importantly, Goodhue was back at state for the first time since 2011, and Wieme was relieved to get Miller another crack at a state title.

“For years, I thought that if we can get Mikayla on the big floor again, she can run rampant,” Wieme said.

Against Ada-Borup in the state quarterfinals, Miller came up with 25 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists in the Wildcats’ 65-58 come-from-behind victory. But Miller didn’t come out of that game unscathed as she suffered an arm injury while going for a rebound.

“I went for the rebound and they had three girls that kind of pile-drove me. It wasn’t just my weight on my arm, but theirs, too,” Miller said. “(The elbow) puffed up and (the trainers) mentioned that it might be fractured. I was icing it a lot, but I wasn’t going to let that stop the (state) experience.”

Going into the state semifinals against defending 1A champion Minneota, Miller wore a protective sleeve around her right arm.

“I had low expectations for what she could do. It was her shooting arm and it was really painful for her to extend,” Wieme said. “Then she hit a three early, then a two-pointer and some free throws. I know she was in a lot of pain.”

In the team’s 45-43 loss to the Vikings, Miller went on to score 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and four steals. Then in the third-place game against Mankato Loyola, Miller wrapped up her prep career with 30 points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists in a 74-62 victory, earning a spot on the Class 1A All-Tournament team. Miller was also a Class 1A All-State selection by the coaches association.

“They are memories that you won’t forget,” Miller said about the team’s state trip. “It’s sad that I won’t get to play with those girls or stay at a hotel with those girls again.”

Wieme worked with Miller and the rest of this year’s seniors back when they were seventh-graders in his first year at Goodhue. Wieme was left with feelings of satisfaction and relief to see Miller, along with Ryan and Watson, reach its potential and get back to state. 

“To fulfil their early promise and take them from the beginning to the end was rewarding,” Wieme said. “It was a big thrill to see them take the floor at state. It was also a thrill to see them play at the Taylor Center in Rochester and see them thrive there.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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