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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Nelson breaks out to lead Dexter

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Taylor Nelson
DEXTER -- Dexter's girls basketball team has gotten to a point of producing standout players on a yearly basis.

From Makaela Scott to Katie Dunlap to Rachel Blunt, now add Taylor Nelson to the list.

With a standout season and the ability to lead her team after years of being a role player, Nelson's performance this year earned her the Standard Democrat Girls Player of the Year.

The 5-foot-9 senior played in the shadow of Blunt the last couple years, but this year's Dexter team was hers to lead.

Her role expanded to more of an all-around player on the floor and she gladly accepted the responsibility.

"After Rachel left last year, coach kept saying somebody had to step up and be a leader," said Nelson. "I figured somebody had to do it so it might as well had been me. I think I would've been less comfortable if I hadn't been the leader."

Nelson averaged 17.5 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game with two assists on average.

She shot 53 percent from two-point range and nailed 36 percent of her 3-

pointers. Always a stellar free throw shooter, her attempts this season more than doubled that of last year as she made 95-of-124 for a 74 percent clip.

She was named first team all-SEMO Conference and first team all-region after leading Dexter to a 20-6 record and a district final appearance.

She finishes her career as the third all-time leading scorer and the third all-

time single season scorer in school history.

Her 1,115 career points trail only Blunt's 1,491 and Dunlap's 1,157. Nelson's single season total of 450 points trails two of Blunt's totals of 567 and 508.

Nelson's even going to have her name in the Missouri record books as her 31 consecutive free throws ranks third all time in state history. And her 80 percent free throw shooting (a minimum of 200 made free throws to qualify) ranks fifth all time.

Dexter coach Gavin Miller has seen some of Dexter's best players and he says Nelson ranks up at the top of the list.

"I'd have to put her up there with Rachel or maybe just below," said Miller. "I've had some good girls come through with the Rose twins, Katie Dunlap and Hannah Burleson. I would put her right up there at the top, one or two."

Miller could tell when Nelson was a sophomore that he had a talented player on his hands.

"She had to step up after we lost a big group of seniors and she just quietly started scoring points," said Miller. "Our first tournament of her sophomore year she ended up making the all-tournament team at the HealthSouth Tournament. That's when I started thinking, 'wow, I've got something special here.' She just continued to get better. The next thing you knew, her jump shot got more and more accurate."

Nelson, primarily a forward most of her life, had to develop perimeter skills once she reached the varsity level.

She continued to improve those skills all the way to the final game.

But her bread-and-butter was the development of the 3-point shot.

"I have to credit a lot of that with her dad," said Miller. "They have a basketball goal outside their house and they were always out there shooting. She did a lot of shooting on her own before and after practice, especially in the summertimes when you can have open gyms. I think she was just taught at a young age the correct ways of doing a jump shot."

Nelson said repetition and practice was the key to being a top-notch perimeter shooter.

"During the summer before my sophomore year, dad and I went to the gym probably five nights out of the week and I just ran around the key and he passed it to me," said Nelson. "I shot 3s and shot 3s and shot 3s for hours. It was something I worked at to develop."

But in addition to her outside shooting, Nelson also did some of the dirty work underneath the basket. Plus, she developed the ability to put the ball on the floor and take it to the hole, thus drawing more fouls and getting to the free throw line more.

She took her leadership role by the horns and followed the lead that Blunt set a year earlier.

"Rachel was never very vocal until her senior year," said Nelson. "That's kind of the same way with me, we're both kind of quiet. But her senior year she started yelling on the court and letting everybody know what they needed to do. I learned that I had to do that to get my point across."

After helping Dexter to the school's first ever girls district championship, the team made it all the way to the Class 4 quarterfinals a year ago.

With Blunt the only player lost to graduation, expectations were high for the Lady Bearcats. The team delivered.

Nelson led the Lady Bearcats to the district championship game where they came up inches short on a game-winning shot against Fredericktown, losing 48-46.

Nelson actually passed up on taking the potential game-winner, instead passing the ball to teammate Haylee Finch, whose 3-point shot was just short at the buzzer.

It was a heartbreaking defeat that Nelson still thinks about today.

"I've probably replayed that shot in my head every night since it happened," said Nelson. "The play was for me to take the shot. But there was a girl that was 6-1 with a hand in my face. I really would've liked to have taken the shot, but it wasn't there. It kills me to think about it still."

Although the team didn't win the district title, it's not reflective of Nelson's performance in a Dexter uniform.

"I really wanted that senior class to go out with a district championship, especially after seeing how they felt last year after going in and making that run in the state playoffs," said Miller. "But that's not going to be a lasting impression on Taylor. There's a lot of things she'll be remembered for. Not only will she be remembered on the basketball court, but she's a good girl. My daughter loves hanging out with her.

"That's the type of athlete that you want on your team and I've been blessed with those types of athletes. She's very coachable. She's always asking what she can do to get better. She ranks right up there with the best of them that I've had."