COLLEGE PARK, MD.  Different place, same Taylor Mikesell.

Anyone who thought a change of scenery, a jump to the college level and the pressure that comes with playing on a national stage would negatively impact the former Jackson standout clearly hasn’t watched of of the numerous highlight reels of her play over the years.

Now a freshman guard for the Maryland Terrapins, Mikesell hasn’t missed beat. She’s averaging 13.9 points per game (14th in the Big Ten) and leading the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 43 percent while playing a team-high 34 minutes per game and dishing out 3.3 assists per contest, second on the team, while posting a sparking 2.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Definitely as a competitor coming in, you want to make the biggest impact you can, so the momentum from my senior year at Jackson and into the summer, just rolling that into college has been the focus,” Mikesell said.

Her most immediate challenge in college has been facing opponents with much more information on her and much better scouting. College scouting reports are more in-depth than high school scouting reports, not to mention the players using those scouting reports are better than those she faced in high school.

So how has she maintained her high level of play despite those challenges? For starters, Mikesell has played against some of the best competition in the world while competing on the amateur circuit and for USA Basketball, so games against the likes of South Carolina, Georgia and Rutgers are, in a way, more of the same.

Then there’s her daily shooting routine, which has become the stuff of legends wherever she’s played. Jackson head coach Anthony Butch credited the number of players on his team this year who showed up early or on days off to get more shooting work in to the example Mikesell set during her four years with the Polar Bears.

Maryland head coach Brenda Frese, who has helmed the program since 2002 and actually began her college coaching career at Kent State as an assistant coach in 1992, has led the Terrapins to seven 30-win seasons and yet, she finds herself getting beaten to the gym by Mikesell, who shows up early to get in her 1,000 shots for the day.

It’s a routine she goes through without music because she likes the sound of the ball going through the hoop. That focus translates to the court, where she’s known to spot up several feet beyond the 3-point arc and drain shots that most players wouldn’t attempt.

She’s been an integral part of a team that has resided in the top 10 in the country most of the season and won 24 of its first 27 games, starting every game for a squad with legitimate hopes of contending for a national championships. “What’s been fun, besides games, has been getting to take a lot of great trips, like our Thanksgiving trip to Puerto Rico,” Mikesell said. “Game wise, playing against South Carolina was probably the biggest so far and that was pretty cool.”

One special game on the schedule came in late December when Rutgers came to town and so did Butch, along with his wife, to see Mikesell play. She was able to have dinner with Butch and his wife after the game and having her high school coach make the trip to Maryland to see her play was memorable for Mikesell. The idea of playing in the NCAA Tournament after growing up watching March Madness unfold on television each spring is one Mikesell is looking forward to and the Terrapins are a lock for the tournament, likely headed for a top-three seed in whatever region to which they’re assigned.

She’s also enjoyed seeing a former Jackson classmate, Ohio State sophomore forward Kyle Young, getting his chance to shine for the Buckeyes this season. Young has earned a chance to start much of the season and given that he’s at a fellow Big Ten school and has games on the conference’s television network, Mikesell has gotten to see another former Polar Bear shine. “It's awesome … I’ve watched a lot of Kyle’s games since they’re on the Big Ten Network and it shows how hard working players from Jackson can succeed,” Mikesell said.

With a few games left to go before the postseason begins, Mikesell remains on track for one of the best freshman seasons in recent history for the Terrapins and if she can leave her mark on March the way she has the rest of the campaign, she’ll have a lot more memorable moments to add to those highlight reels.

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com

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