BROOKINGS, S.D. — It’s been quite a first year in Division I college basketball for Marshall’s Macie Michelson.
That season ended a little early Thursday night for South Dakota State University following a 76-69 loss to Creighton University (Neb) in the national tournament.
“That game was different than the regular season,” Michelson said. “It definitely got you ready to play. It was fun.”
Michelson was one of the top recruits for the Jackrabbits following an outstanding career at Marshall High School. She graduated in 2007, finishing with 2,131 points – just 12 points off the school record held by Shannon Bolden (2,143).
Michelson also racked up more than 500 assists in her prep career, which actually began as a seventh-grader in the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton school district. She joined the Marshall program — and was thrust into the starting lineup — as an eighth-grader.
She’s living with her family in Lynd, which is less than an hour away form Brookings.
“I’m happy I went there,” Michelson said Friday afternoon. “I love the team, the coaches. It’s a great atmosphere to play in.”
If people had doubts about her playing and being an impact player at the D-I level, she’s erased those doubts during the season.
Michelson was recruited as the next playmaker at SDSU, which loses senior Andrea Verdegan to graduation next season. Michelson credits Verdegan with helping her learn the Jackrabbits’ system.
The ex-Tiger has demonstrated that she belongs at the D-I level. Thursday’s game in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) was a good example.
Not showing the signs of being nervous, Michelson didn’t play like a freshman, hitting her first three shots. One was a driving layup. One was a 10-footer on the baseline. One was a three-pointer deep on the left wing as the shot clock was winding down.
Michelson finished the game shooting 3-for-5 for seven points. She didn’t commit a turnover against the Bluejays, who used 70.8 percent in the second half to overcome a 34-27 halftime deficit to win at Frost Arena.
Thursday’s game showed how much Michelson has progressed this year.
She exhibited confidence and energy, both of which have been contagious with her teammates. However, the season didn’t start out the best.
Michelson was playing defense in the second week of practice when she suffered an injury to her right thumb — her shooting hand. Initially, surgery was suggested, but Michelson’s family sought a second medical opinion, which, in essence, said she could play through the injury, which would heal on its own.
Instead of being redshirted, Michelson averaged 16 minutes of playing time a game. The freshman point guard averaged 5.3 points a game, racking up 50 assists and 27 steals as the Jacks compiled a 23-6 regular-season record and won the Summit League title at 16-2.
Michelson wasn’t the only player to be sidelined by injury in 2008. There were also Ketty Cornemann, Stacie Oistad, Jennifer Warkenthien and Laura Nielson that missed portions of games during the season.
“They had stress fractures in their legs,” Michelson said. “We don’t know (what caused it). We had a bunch of injuries to start the season. It was an obstacle we had to overcome.”
With the various players going down with injuries, it meant more of an opportunity for Michelson. And, she seized the moment — much like she did as an eighth-grader at Marshall. As the point guard, most of the offense went through Michelson. Slowly, the Jacks’ coaching staff prepared her for that task as the floor leader.
“They pretty much got me ready,” Michelson said Friday.
She made a good impression in practice, showing a good work ethic.
“In practice, you are playing against one of the point guards and you get experience,” Michelson said. “I started to get confidence.”
Playing behind a senior allowed her time to adjust to the faster-paced collegiate game and to get more comfortable at the D-I level.
“You have to earn your time to be on the floor,” Michelson said. “You have to earn it. You might make mistakes, but you are told what you did wrong and ways to fix it.”
As the point guard, the first responsibility is ball-handling. That’s one of Michelson’s strengths. Thursday, in the WNIT game with Creighton, she had no problems bringing the ball down the floor. If she was pressured by a defender, she went with a behind-the-back dribble.
“I had to learn to be smart playing — smart in what you do,” said Michelson, whose assist-to-turnover ratio was 1-to-1 this past year.
The point guard is the designated player to get a team in its halfcourt offense, to get the best shot opportunity within the confines of the 30-second clock.
Secondly, the point guard’s job is to get other teammates involved. It can be in a number of ways. For Michelson, it was by penetrating to the basket via the dribble and creating a shot for herself or others.
Usually, point guards aren’t looked upon to score, although Michelson did have a career-high 19 points with five threes against Southern Utah.
“When you have the opportunity to score, you have to do it,” she said. “My job is to get others involved rather than just scoring (myself). It’s penetrate and kick the ball out (with a pass to perimeter players).”
That meant slashing against taller defenders in the lane and penetrating. As a 5-foot-6 guard, Michelson didn’t mind that part of the job.
“It’s the same as high school,” she said. “You go in there, and everybody is taller than you. In high school, everybody was taller than me. In college, everybody is taller. You’ve got to be aggressive.”
Michelson finished with 20 threes during the regular season, shooting 35.7 percent. Thursday, she went 1-for-3 from beyond the arc. She wants to improve that shooting percentage next season. Another year of experience and being accustomed to how certain teams defend her will help in that area.
As a team, SDSU hit 226 threes this year prior to the WNIT game, when it went a sub-par 6-for-18 from beyond the arc. In the last seven regular-season games, the Jacks shot 50.8 percent.
Ball-handling. Passing. Shooting. All those facets of Michelson’s game improved as the 2008 season unfolded.
Her maturity, along with the development of freshman shooting guard Kristin Rotert (58 threes), were big keys in the Jackrabbits putting together another 20-win season under coach Aaron Johnston.
SDSU jelled after going through a rough spot from mid-December to mid-January, when it lost five of seven games.
To end the year, the Jacks reeled off 12 consecutive victories.
“We started playing as a team with a lot of chemistry,” Michelson said. “We can always look back at this year how we came back from that slump and how we ended the season with a winning streak. It went pretty well.”
SDSU exited in the first round of the postseason this year. That was coming off the heels of last year, when the Jacks won two games in the WNIT – over Southern Illinois and Indiana – before bowing out against Wyoming.
“I didn’t like (this) year ending the way it did,” Michelson said.