As coaches at Northwestern, Kristin Rotert, Macy Miller unite proud traditions of women's basketball
Rotert, of Salem, and Miller, of Mitchell, bring playing and coaching experience from South Dakota State to GPAC's Northwestern College.
Northwestern College’s women’s basketball program has not endured a losing season since 1993-94, and based on her first half-year in charge, that streak doesn't look to be threatened with first-time head coach Kristin Rotert at the helm.
Rotert, a Salem native, brought Mitchell’s Macy Miller onto her coaching staff, and the pair — two of the most iconic figures in recent South Dakota basketball history — have guided the Red Raiders to a fast start despite never having previously served in their current roles.
As the clock expired on No. 13 Northwestern’s 63-60 victory over 17th-ranked Dakota State on Dec. 16 in Madison, it marked the Red Raiders’ fifth win over a ranked opponent in 14 games to start Rotert’s head coaching career.
“It’s been all the things you could possibly imagine that come with becoming a head coach for the first time and taking over a program with a ton of success and tradition,” Rotert said. “... It has been wild, for sure, and that’s a major understatement, but it’s been fantastic.
For Rotert and Miller, the contest against Dakota State was also a homecoming, of sorts, and a successful one at that.
It was Rotert and Miller’s first return trip to South Dakota to coach a game, and the win came roughly halfway between the hometowns where their playing careers took off and the place where they both played collegiately and previously coached.
Both Rotert and Miller, rolled exceptional prep careers into standout collegiate careers at South Dakota State University. After playing for South Dakota State from 2007 to 2011, Rotert finished her Jackrabbits playing career with 1,484 points, including 250 3-point field goals (tied for the school record at the time). Prior to becoming the head coach at NWC, Rotert was on Aaron Johnston’s coaching staff in Brookings as director of basketball operations for three seasons. Rotert’s first season on the SDSU staff (2019) was during Miller’s senior season in which the Jackrabbits made a historic run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Miller concluded her career with 2,355 points, the most in SDSU and Summit League history. After a year playing professional basketball overseas, Miller returned to Brookings and served as a graduate assistant coach for the 2020-21 season.
Mike Jewett, who spent nine years on the SDSU coaching staff before becoming the activities director at Brookings High School prior to the 2021-22 school year, said Rotert and Miller's people skills will separate them in many ways, but also calls them “basketball junkies” and says the latter is what’s going to serve them best in their new roles.
“Anyone who’s watched them play knows they’re going to approach coaching the same way they played,” Jewett said. “With a certain intensity, tenacity and effort that not a lot of coaches will match.”
Whether due to Jewett’s assessment or a combination of other factors, Rotert and Miller have guided the Red Raiders to a 12-2 overall record — 5-2 against ranked opposition — and have the proud program, which received 12 total points in the preseason NAIA poll, ranked 13th in the Dec. 15 poll.
But Rotert and Miller point out landing in Orange City was far from premeditated. Miller hadn’t planned to leave Brookings yet, and while Rotert was exploring her options, NWC was not on her radar initially. However, once Rotert was linked with the Red Raider program, the process set in motion happened rather quickly.
“It became pretty clear pretty early that it was a very good fit for me as a person and as a professional,” Rotert explained. “That transition happened a lot quicker than I probably ever would have expected or thought that it would, but I’m really happy that it happened the way that it did.”
Next came the matter of staff, and Rotert knew who she wanted as an assistant since Miller had helped with some of Rotert’s projects and responsibilities during their year on staff together at SDSU.
“I told her I was taking the job and she thought I was just calling to let her know and say goodbye, but then I asked if she wanted to come with me,” Rotert said of her conversation with Miller.
There was initially a small amount of hesitation, but after thinking it through, Miller decided to make a career leap of her own.
“Within two days, I called her back and said, ‘Kristin, I want to do this and I’m really excited about it,’ Miller recalled. “It was a phenomenal opportunity and I couldn’t turn it down.”
Growing their program
Rotert and Miller both say connection, familiarity and fondness for South Dakota State and Brookings made it difficult to leave, but entering a winning situation has helped ease the transition.
The Red Raiders won five NAIA national championships between 2001 and 2012, and former NWC coach Chris Yaw went 224-94 in 10 seasons before retiring after last season. Rotert and Miller were part of another tradition of excellence at SDSU, and they’re hopeful to bring some of those ideas and experiences to their new institution.
“Everything that I know about basketball and coaching I’ve learned from somebody else, and the majority of it has been AJ (SDSU coach Aaron Johnston),” Rotert said. “There are a lot of things that fit me and that I enjoyed as a player and coach that I want to carry with me, and then there are things that I like and have put my own twists on.”
Added Miller: “We borrowed a lot, thanks AJ. … It’s what we’re used to, plus it was successful at SDSU, so we wanted to have it here.”
No matter where the roots are, success hasn't been hard to find early on. A win against then-No. 11 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) in the second game of the season was followed by a victory over then-No. 4 Marian (Ind.) four nights later. The Red Raiders have piled up five ranked wins before the new year, and the season isn’t even half over.
According to Rotert, “there are just not enough hours in the day.” But there are worse challenges to undertake, as a continued investment in the program's growth and development is emblematic of the ambitions Rotert and Miller have for their coaching futures.
“There’s just so much to do, so much we want to do, so many needs and ideas that we want to get in, and recruiting is a whole separate conversation,” Rotert said. “We’re trying to plan ahead but stay present. We talk a lot with our kids about being where your feet are, so we need to take that to heart as well.”