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As state tournaments kick off, Mitchell's Miller improves on greatness

Mitchell senior guard Macy Miller is shown during a game earlier this year against Pierre at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Macy Miller never got those first-time state tournament jitters.

At least it never appeared so. When Mitchell High School qualified for the state Class AA girls' basketball tournament her freshman year in 2011, she scored a team-high 20 points in a loss to eventual champion Brandon Valley.

As a sophomore, she led the team in scoring all three games at state en route to a championship. As a junior, she made her second straight all-tournament team.

As the Kernels (21-1) enter their fourth consecutive state tournament today, basketball fans have their final chance to see Miller play in a high school setting this weekend.

But those fans will see a different player now that she is a senior, one whose abilities have made a noticeable jump this season to put up remarkable statistics all year.

"I have been a leader this year," Miller said following her final practice at the Corn Palace Tuesday afternoon. "You grow older and treat every game like it could be your last game wearing the Mitchell Kernel jersey."

Miller, a South Dakota State University signee, is averaging 30.2 points per game this season as the Kernels play Sioux Falls Roosevelt (13-10) at 6 p.m. today at Frost Arena on SDSU's campus in Brookings. In addition, Miller is averaging 7.4 rebounds, 5 steals, 3.5 assists and more than a block per game.

By comparison, Miller's junior-year numbers of 19 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 2.3 assists per game can be considered pedestrian when compared to her Kernel farwell campaign.

But what, exactly, was it that made her numbers take such a noticeable jump?

The team's statistics show it's because she's shouldering a heavier load and is the focal point of the offense.

This year, Miller has scored 665 of Mitchell's 1,434 points, accounting for 46 percent of the team's offense. Last year, she accounted for 30 percent. She has taken 34 percent of her team's shots this season, after taking 26 percent last year.

Last year, Miller shared scoring with Kerri Young and Kristin Sabers, both of whom are now playing collegiately. That negated the need for her to force the offense. This year she is scoring more, but Mitchell coach Wes Morgan has said on numerous occasions that she does not force the offense and her points are scored in the flow of the game.

"I don't want it to be all about me," Miller said. "I want to share the ball. Team basketball is how you win. We are building strength as a team and we want to carry that into state."

Morgan said Miller's improvement has stemmed from her work on the defensive end, leading to added scoring.

She is averaging five steals per game, which has often led to fast break points for her and her teammates. Morgan said she has added a step-back jump shot to her game, which is not a move often seen at this level.

"She has really learned how to make her defense create offense for us," Morgan said. "With the additions she has made to her game, she is hard to guard. She puts herself and her teammates in a position to be successful on both ends of the court."

The free-throw line has become more of a weapon for Miller this season, too. She has made 178 attempts from the line through 22 games for the Kernels, while last year she made 119 in 26 games. Morgan noted that Miller has made the effort to get to the basket and is not afraid of the contact.

Heading into the season, Morgan was hoping for his star guard to average around 20 points. But Miller's season low for scoring in a game was 23 points. She also set a Class AA record with 49 points in a game on the road against Spearfish, another team that qualified for the state tournament.

"Scoring 30 a game is not what I expected," Miller said. "I thought I would come out and score 18 or 19 and just do whatever I could to help the team win."

She is also making 92 percent of her free throws and 60 percent of her field goals. Both percentages would be the best in school history if she stays on pace through the end of the season.

Miller brings up advice she receives her father, former Dakota Wesleyan University great Alan Miller, about scoring.

"Like my dad says, 'When you're working hard, you get to the free-throw line,' " Miller said.

As the season has progressed for Mitchell, the team around her has grown up fast despite little game experience, besides Miller, prior to the first game. Junior forward Taylor Volesky emerged as a scoring threat and her all-around game is rounding into form. Volesky is averaging 15 points and six rebounds per game for Mitchell. Seniors Torrie Michels, Emma Schmidt, Shelly Iburg and Cassidy Musick have all fit into their roles, allowing the Kernels to peak at the right time.

Mitchell's cohesion was never more evident this year than in its most recent game against Pierre, in the District 3AA championship at the Corn Palace last week.

The Kernels blitzed Pierre from the opening tip, forcing the flow of the game with suffocating defense and efficient play on offense, resulting in a 72-30 win.

Miller, who finished with 41 points in the win, has made it clear all season that she does not care about scoring or her final numbers. She only wants to win.

Still, with what she's done this year, she's impressing just about everyone.

"To say that I played high school basketball with Macy Miller is pretty awesome," Volesky said after Miller set the Kernel girls' all-time scoring record March 3 against Huron.