As a freshman during the 2011-12 season, Taylor Reiss announced her presence on the Marshall-area girls' basketball scene with authority, averaging just under 20 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while guiding the Minneota Vikings to a second-consecutive berth in the Class A state tournament.
During her sophomore campaign, Reiss maintained her dominance in the post while also powering the Vikings to their first-ever basketball state championship. The 2013 Independent Player of the Year averaged 22 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and was also named to the All-Tournament team and the Camden Conference South Division MVP. Although her rebounding average was down from a season ago, Reiss accounted for 27 percent of Minneota's 1,059 boards and a one-third of all the Vikings' points on the year.
"We've got a lot of athletic type of girls, but having a post player like that allows us to play fast and that's how we want to play," Minneota head girls' basketball coach Chad Johnston said of Reiss. "We want to play up-tempo, and one of Taylor's strong-suits is if she isn't bigger than an opposing player, she is typically faster than them."
Photo illustration by Aaron Schlemmer
As a team, the Vikings completed the season with a 30-2 overall record, with those two losses coming by a combined seven points to teams ranked in the Top 10 of their respective classes. Yet on a team full of gifted basketball players, Reiss managed to stand out.
"She is just a very athletic girl," Johnston said. "Obviously she's not very tall, but she is very athletic and she jumps very well which allows her, at 5-foot-10, to play in the paint with girls that are 6-feet and sometimes taller. Her athleticism is really what really makes her a great player.
"She is a very physical player," he added. "Again, she's matched up against a lot of taller and usually bigger players and she matches that physicality very well. When you look at her she doesn't look like that type of player. But if she's out there she's giving 100 percent."
While leading the Vikings in both points and rebounds, Reiss also compiled 88 steals, 37 assists, 19 blocks and just 24 turnovers during the season as she sought to become a more well-rounded basketball player.
"I think I needed to improve more on my dribbling and my outside game," Reiss said. "Coming into this year, Molly Hennen was going to be our only (power forward), so I needed to learn more of that position instead of just the post."
The improvements Reiss made from her breakout freshman year were on display immediately this season, as she led the Vikings to a dominant 70-43 win over the talented Wabasso Rabbits in the season opener and continued throughout the regular season.
"She's like a lot of people, she gets a little bit flustered when she's not making her shots; but she has improved on that," Johnston said. "I think one of the better things this year; last year it was a lot of using her explosiveness to try to go over people, while this year she added some moves and was using her left hand and doing some step-throughs. She just became better all around and she's only a sophomore. She's got room to grow and continue to improve."
Wabasso and Minneota met again in the Section 3A finals and Reiss rose to the occasion once more, posting 22 points and nine rebounds in the 72-46 win as Minneota punched its third-consecutive ticket to the state tournament.
Along with her 40 points over two games against Wabasso, Reiss also totaled 58 points and 35 rebounds in three wins over rival Dawson-Boyd, who finished second in the conference this season. When the Vikings needed her most, Reiss was there.
"My team does a very good job of looking to me and getting me the ball," Reiss said. "They throw really good passes to me. Some of the match-ups turn out to favor me, but I just work really hard to try and score for my team. I know that my team relies on me if we're down, and I just feel like if we're down I need to pick my team up and work hard."
Even in Minneota's two losses Reiss was a continual threat. When Minneota was defeated 61-56 by then No. 8-ranked (Class AAA) Marshall on Jan. 15, the sophomore had 18 points and six rebounds. Against then No. 2 (Class A) Goodhue on Dec. 28, Reiss recorded a 23 point, 10 rebound double-double as the Vikings fell 53-51. Those missed opportunities for big wins ultimately fueled Reiss and her teammates for their state championship run.
"That gave us a lot of motivation, knowing that we could play with teams like Marshall and Goodhue," Reiss said. "Our team doesn't like to lose, so losing those games gave us some motivation too."
Following the loss to Marshall the Vikings ripped off 17-straight wins, including a 3-0 mark in the Class A state tournament where Reiss was virtually unstoppable. Against the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 8 teams in the state, Reiss amassed 73 points and 31 rebounds.
"She has been our consistent player throughout the year and our girls have done a terrific job throughout the year of looking for her," Johnston said. "That's where I give credit to the other girls for their unselfish play.
"That last game against Ada-Borup, we knew what was our advantage," he added. "Our advantage was her on the inside. That was one of the things that our girls had to recognize and that was one of the things we talked about at halftime. It wasn't about pushing one player, it was about pushing the advantage that we had. The credit goes to the girls for getting her the ball and the credit goes to her for accepting that pressure. She actually thrived well in that situation where she knew her teammates needed her and she played extremely well."
Against Bethlehem Academy in the semifinals and Ada-Borup in the championship game, Reiss was able to seal the game at the free throw line, after shooting just 56 percent from stripe during the season. It's an area Johnston would like to see improve in Reiss's game, while the coach offered up a few other suggestions as well.
"The way she plays, she's going to get fouled and she's going to get fouled a lot," he said. "We'd like to get her around 70 percent on free throws, so her confidence on free throws could get better. I think she could continue to improve even more on her inside moves.
"I'd like to see her be able to handle the ball a little bit better," Johnston added. "She's so fast and athletic that if she can learn to bring some of those bigger girls out a little bit from the basket, she can face the basket and take most girls off the dribble. Those are things she is working on and she's worked on her outside shot."
Reiss said she would like to develop more of an outside game as well. If she is able to add more consistency to her jump shots and free throws, the sky is the limit. Already with 1,313 points for her career, Reiss could be looking at 3,500 points and 1,500 rebounds by the time her Viking days are done. But for now, the sophomore is focused on defending the state title she worked so hard with her teammates to earn.
"I'm hoping that my team can go back and try to win another state title," Reiss said. "We only lose two seniors, who were great leaders for our team; but we mostly have all of our team returning. I think we have a pretty good chance of getting down there again."