Girls Basketball: A guard called Bubba
Life on the court has been swell for a guard called Bubba.
McKayla Muelken, Red Wing’s senior point guard, has been a driving force for a Wingers team that has added nine wins from a season ago and sits as the No. 4 seed in the Section 1AAA tournament beginning Wednesday.
But for as long as she can remember, McKayla hasn’t really gone by her legal name. McKayla has always been called Bubba.
“When I was really little, my dad started calling me Bubbalouski from a show that he watched. He started calling me that when I was one,” Muelken said. “That stuck, and then the nickname Bubbalouski turned into Bubba. And now my teachers, friends, everyone calls me Bubba.”
Red Wing head girls’ basketball coach Jesse Nelson couldn’t quite remember how he reacted to Muelken’s nickname. Like everyone else, he just took to calling her Bubba.
“I got to know Dave (McKayla’s dad) and her name was always Bubba,” Nelson said. “It took me a while to find out what her real name was. I had to ask somebody.”
And Bubba Muelken is far from the mental image of some burly, corn-fed meathead. Often one of the smallest players on the court, she is generously listed at 5-foot-5, but admits she added a couple inches for the roster page and actually stands at 5-2.
Weird looks for a guard called Bubba? Yeah, she’s seen them.
“If people don’t know me, they’re like, ‘Is that your name? Bubba? That’s what you go by? I expect a big dude, not a little girl,’” Muelken said.
But her grit on the floor and her tenacity while driving to the hoop or running Red Wing’s offense, that’s fit for the Bubba moniker.
“She plays extremely hard and you know what kind of effort you’re going to get out of her every night,” Nelson said. “She’s going to play as hard as she can. She plays extremely hard and you appreciate that toughness and grittiness and what she brings to our team.”
And like her nickname-turned-identity, that kind of effort on the court was dictated at a young age.
“My dad always told me to be the hardest worker on the court,” said Muelken, who is averaging 6.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this winter. “If you can do that, then you can do anything. I just go out there and play as hard as I can.”
Playing on the varsity squad since she was an eighth-grader, Muelken is also the last member on Red Wing’s team to play on the 2012-13 squad that reached the Class 3A state finals.
Coming off the bench at that time, Muelken’s biggest impact that season came in the state semifinals against top-seeded Richfield. With senior standouts Tesha Buck, Macy Kelly and McKenna Schaffer all fouled out of the game, Muelken sank a pair of free throws in the last minute to give Red Wing a two-possession lead en route to a 61-59 victory.
It was a defining moment for a guard called Bubba.
“I still remember those free throws and I don’t know how they went in,” Muelken said. “That’s in my mind all the time. It was scary.
“It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever been through and I can’t believe I got to be part of that state tournament team. Seems like only yesterday, but wow, it has flown by and I can’t believe I’m a senior and it’s going to end soon.”
Even at that young age, Nelson saw the kind of spark Muelken could provide.
“The one thing that struck me coaching her as a JV player was her level of toughness and the intensity she brings,” Nelson said. “And her attitude. What a fun kid she is.”
After the state finals appearance, the next three years were rough on the Wingers, with six, 11 and eight wins. This winter, the Wingers have had a resurgence, thanks to a guard-dominated style that utilizes the team’s outside shooting and ball-handling ability. And in that system, Muelken is the team leader in assists per game.
“Bubba’s been a big part of our success this year with our unselfish and balanced team. She does a great job of creating shots for her teammates,” Nelson said. “I think she sees that as her number one role is to create for others. If you want a balanced, unselfish team, you need to have somebody like that leading the way.”
Muelken added, “We are so unselfish and I love that. It’s been so much fun to play with these girls. … We’ve been playing with each other for so long. Our team chemistry is incredible. We all know each other’s roles and what we’re supposed to do on the court and it all just flows together.”
Though Red Wing faces one of the toughest sections in the state with ranked teams in Winona (fourth), Northfield (seventh) and Kasson-Mantorville (ninth) on the bracket, Muelken’s hope is to bookend her high-school career with another trip to state.
That’d be the perfect way to end a career for a guard called Bubba.
“I really hope our shooting this week is on and hopefully we can get on a run,” Muelken said. “I really want to get to the state tournament. That would be a fun way to end my senior year.”
Section 1AAA playoffs
8-Albert Lea at 1-Winona
5-Byron at 4-Red Wing
6-Austin at 3-Northfield
Saturday (at Mayo Civic Arena, Rochester)
Albert Lea/Winona winner vs. Byron/Red Wing winner, 1 p.m.
Austin/Northfield winner vs. Stewartville/K-M winner, 2:45 p.m.
March 9 (at Mayo Civic Arena, Rochester)
Top semifinal winner vs. bottom semifinal winner, 6 p.m.