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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mills finds home away from home in Poplar Bluff

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Few are the number of athletes that actually get the opportunity to fight for a state championship during their high school career.

Fewer still are the number of athletes that actually get two chances to fight for a state title.

Even fewer still are the number of athletes that get that opportunity in back-to-back years, while playing for two different high schools.

Whitney Mills is one of those few.

After helping the Couch Lady Indians finish fourth in Class 2 a year ago, Mills transferred to Thayer High School this past summer and then helped lead the Lady Bobcats to a runner-up finish in this season's Class 2 Show-Me Showdown at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.

The road to both of those trips to the final four that Mills enjoyed with Couch and Thayer started with sectional-round victories at the Bess Activity Center on the campus of Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) in Poplar Bluff.

And now, Mills can call the hardwood inside the Bess Activity Center her new home.

She signed a letter of intent April 13 at the Thayer High School library to continue her basketball career as a member of the TRCC Lady Raiders next fall.

Turns out, a familiarity with the surroundings in Poplar Bluff were major reasons for the All-Conference, All-District and All-State performer to pick TRCC as her college of choice.

"I liked that it was close to here (Thayer) and I've got a bunch of friends there," she said. "And I know some of the girls on the team already."

During her senior campaign at Thayer, the 5-8 forward averaged 14.6 points per game, while grabbing over four boards per contest.

While she has been a dominant force ever since taking the court as a freshman at Couch High School, Mills understands that the rigors of competition in Region 16 of the National Junior College Athletic Association will present a new set of challenges.

"It's going to be tough -- there are girls at the college level that are like 6-3 and I'm 5-8, so that will be different," she said. "But, I'm excited and ready for it."

TRCC Head Coach Jeff Walk agrees with Mills' assessment of the game at the junior college level.

"It'll be a big transition, just like it is with all freshmen who go from high school to junior college," he said. "The physicality of the game is just different. But she'll get stronger -- we lift weights three days a week, so that'll help her game."

Walk did note that Mills is already strong in a couple of key areas.

"She can shoot the ball and she's also a really good passer," he said. "And on the defensive end, she did some things in some games on the front end of the press where she just grabbed the ball out of the air. And that's very, very hard to do. Her athleticism and quickness are impressive. She'll either play the 2- or 3-spot for us."

Her coach at Thayer High School, Cliff Hawkins, was also quick to point out what made Mills so successful in helping the Lady Cats capture a district title and play their way to Columbia this past season.

"She's just an outstanding shooter. She shot the ball really well from the outside for us," Hawkins said. "And she's probably one of the best on-the-ball defenders I've seen on a press. She's what made our press go. She'd make them (Thayer's opponents) throw the ball up and one of our quick guards would go get it. She just gave the other team fits. She's just so quick with her hands."

Regardless of the level of play, if you can shoot the ball, you'll have a spot on the floor waiting for you. That seems to be a given in the sport and should be no different where Mills is concerned.

"I'll think she'll do outstanding (in college). They recruited her as a shooter and that's more of less what she was for us," said Hawkins. "But I think she can play at that level. She likes to get up and down the court and that's the style that Three Rivers will play -- up and down the floor, just like she played for us."

And as far as getting the rare shot at two state titles with two different schools?

"It's awesome. Not many people get to go to the final four even once, so going twice ... it's something I'll always remember," Mills said. "And it was really exciting to come in second this year. That was one of my goals -- make it to the championship game."

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