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SDSU's Young soaking up final season

BROOKINGS--The first three years of Kerri Young's college basketball career have flown by quickly. Now, the Mitchell native is trying her best to slow down and cherish every moment in her final season at South Dakota State University. If everythi...

Kerri Young, a 2013 Mitchell High School graduate, looks to finish her senior year on the South Dakota State University women's basketball team on a high note in pursuit of a third-straight Summit League tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Kerri Young, a 2013 Mitchell High School graduate, looks to finish her senior year on the South Dakota State University women's basketball team on a high note in pursuit of a third-straight Summit League tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance. (Matt Gade/Republic)

BROOKINGS-The first three years of Kerri Young's college basketball career have flown by quickly.

Now, the Mitchell native is trying her best to slow down and cherish every moment in her final season at South Dakota State University.

If everything goes to plan, it will be the most memorable season of Young's career, as the Jackrabbit women seek new heights.

The preseason all-Summit League honoree Young steps to the forefront of a Jacks' team with just three seniors. She's starting her season just 75 points from 1,000 in her college basketball career, something only 33 other Jackrabbits have ever done.

"It's crazy. I was just thinking about how crazy it's been, that four years ago I was just stepping foot on campus and now I'm a senior and my time is winding down," Young said in an extended interview with The Daily Republic earlier this month. "Right now, I'm trying not to take anything for granted and going out to practice every single day, knowing that I don't have a lot of practices and games left."

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The 6-foot senior guard is cognizant of the moment, with the Jackrabbits returning all five starters with a youthful, talented nucleus of players from a team that was one basket away from advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. The Jacks are the overwhelming favorites in the Summit League for a fifth consecutive year and the seventh time in nine years.

The plaudits are nice but Young said they don't add any pressure.

"We're used to being in pressure situations in games," Young said. "I know we have each other's backs. The nice thing about our team is that we're all threats on the team. You can't just lock up on one player on our team and stop us. We're an athletic team and we're versatile."

SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said Young has matured to the point where she's ready to lead the team.

"Kerri has really grown on the court and off the court," Johnston said. "This is really her year to lead by example. She's always been a player that's been more comfortable in a secondary role and now, we really want Kerri to be someone that's a leader that can carry us offensively, carry us defensively and be a leader out on the court more than she has been. I think she's really positioned herself well this year to do that."

Johnston said the road for seniors to take the reins as a leader is tough and usually requires a level of failure before they can build themselves up.

"For someone to be a leader or to want that responsibility to carry the team, they have really grow in confidence, they really have to grow as a person," he said. "They have to be willing to fail and they have to be willing to put themselves out there and that's a hard thing for young players to want to do. When they get to that point as seniors, that's pretty cool, as a coach, to see them grow that much."

Growth on, off the court

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Young said she would be the first to admit she's changed in her three-plus years on campus. As a basketball player, she said, that starts with her ability to play defense.

"Coming from high school, I don't think I ever really learned how to play defense until I came here," she said. "You can play defense, but it's probably not Division I defense. That was a challenge but I've worked hard at it and I think that's something I've gotten better at over the years."

On offense, Young said she was never a big three-point shooter but her offensive arsenal has developed through her time in Brookings, in addition to getting much stronger and developing a physical side to her game.

From a non-basketball point, Young said she's opened up and become less shy. She joked with her former roommate and teammate Chynna Stevens about how Young said roughly "10 words as a roommate and on the basketball team" during her freshman year and about "six words to the whole team."

"I was just so shy and quiet and I've become more talkative and have grown as a person," Young said. "I've become stronger and much more confident."

She said the move to college basketball was a challenge, even if Young handled it well in her first year, earning the conference's Sixth Woman of the Year Award, which goes to the Summit League's best player who regularly comes off the bench.

"In high school, you might be the standout athlete, but you come to college and you're whole team is good as good as you are," she said. "That's where the skills have to develop further. You have to become a better shooter, a better driver, have a bigger first step. Things like that is where you really have to separate yourself as a college player."

Young's time at SDSU does have one Kernel link, of course, playing with her long-time friend and teammate Macy Miller. Teammates since the third grade, the two are so closely linked that the two joke about how people often ask Miller about Young and vice-versa.

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"My whole life has been a blessing," Young said. "She's made me so much better, I've made her better. I'm so grateful for her and we're a good duo together. It's going to be sad that this is our last year together but I'm excited to continue to see her continue to improve."

Miller said she almost didn't have the words to summarize her relationship with her fellow backcourt colleague.

"It's crazy to think about. We're going to be done playing in a bit and obviously, we know each other pretty well," Miller said, laughing.

In her view, Miller noted Young's ability to create her own shots to has improved.

"She's a much better all-around player," Miller said. "She just doesn't have any flaws in her game and she's always finding a way to make a shot."

Johnston said the fact that two players from the same town are playing at a high level in unison is special.

"I've seen them play together a lot, whether it's in Brookings or back in Mitchell," he said. "They're just really great, great players from a great basketball community. That's such a neat thing to have the support of Mitchell behind those two and it will be cool to see what they can do together one more time on the court."

For one last drive at success, Young said she always tries to approach the season in chunks, starting with the non-conference schedule, then league play and the postseason. Following some exhibition tune-ups, that schedule begins Nov. 11 at home against Creighton. Until then, the team is motivated by last season's NCAA tournament second-round loss to Stanford.

"It drives us a lot. Coming up short in that game, it was kind of a killer for us," Young said of the 66-65 loss. "But it motivates us more and more. Basketball season is such a long season and I think most of us, we just think about the end of the season and think about March and the big tournament. For us, for me, we just have to break it up, and focus on a little bit at a time, which really helps us reach our end goal."

Related Topics: COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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