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Sharp-shooting star: Titans' Emilee Fox is the Mitchell Republic's 2024 girls basketball player of the year

Apr. 2—MOUNT VERNON, S.D. — Emilee Fox's math is simple. Three is greater than two.

The Mount Vernon/Plankinton senior has always considered herself a shooter and backed it up by developing into one of the most prolific distance aces and scorers in South Dakota prep basketball history.

Fox closed her prep career with a final tally of 2,261 points, a top-20 all-time mark in the state girls basketball scoring charts. With 404 made 3-pointers, more than half her tally — 1,212 points, 53.6% of the total, to be exact — came from beyond the arc.

"Sometimes I think to myself, 'Well, three points is better than two,'" Fox said with a smile and a laugh. "So, if it's transition and there's one girl in front of me, usually a coach would want you to go in for a layup and maybe draw a foul. I'll take the 3."

With a quick release and nearly limitless range, Fox effectively had the green light to shoot from wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted. It was a recipe that worked for the Titans, who won 99 games during Fox's six varsity seasons.

"If you're someone who comes and watches our team for the first time, you might be like, 'Man, she shoots the ball a lot,'" said MVP head coach Preston Kristensen. "But if you're familiar with her, you know there's a good chance those shots are going in."

For putting together a record-setting senior year to guide MVP back to the state tournament and cap a decorated prep career, Emilee Fox earned the Mitchell Republic's 2024 girls basketball player of the year award.

The award is selected by the newspaper's sports staff via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top player, four points to the second player on the ballot and so on. Fox garnered three first-place votes and 18 total points, becoming the first player in the MVP co-op's history to win the award and the first winner from Mount Vernon since Allison Johnson in 2005.

Other players receiving consideration were Mitchell's Sawyer Stoebner, Ethan's Ava Lingemann (who received the other first-place vote), Wagner's Ashlyn Koupal, Lyman teammates Skyler Volmer and Mak Scott and Hanson's Alyssa Moschell.

When Preston Kristensen took over as the MVP girls basketball coach in 2017, it wasn't long before he started to hear stories.

"There's this girl, Emilee Fox, she's really good, and she's going to help us win," Kristensen recalled in front of a packed Plankinton High School gym during a celebration of Fox's 2,000th career point on Feb. 2.

Upon meeting the team that summer, he discovered the exceptional talent he'd heard so much about was a just sixth-grader — not yet old enough to play high school basketball.

Instead, Fox was one of the varsity team's watergirls that season. When the watergirls were invited to jump in on end-of-practice shooting compeitions, Fox continued to impress, winning her fair share of the games.

"When you have a sixth-grader making all these shots, you're kind of like, 'Oh, that's going be fun to coach,'" Kristensen said. "She had a skillset that was so far beyond her age at that time, and it continued to grow to where it is now."

Fox began her seventh-grade season attending junior high practice. That lasted all of one day before she was called up to the varsity practices. She appeared in every game for the Titans that season, and, by the time postseason play rolled around, Fox was a varsity starter on a state tournament squad.

According to Kristensen, even early on, there was never a moment Fox wasn't ready to play in. He points to that season's SoDak 16 game against Hamlin when Fox calmly stepped to the free-throw line and made her foul shots late in the game to secure an MVP victory and state tournament berth.

"I don't think the moment is ever too big for her," Kristensen said. "Even this year, in regions and the SoDak 16 game to get back to state, you could just tell by the look in her eye. She was out there to carry the team."

Fox set the program single-season steals record (83) in her first season. Two years later, as a freshman, she claimed the single-season points (432) and assists (108) records. Then, as a sophomore, she re-upped the scoring record by a single point (433) behind a program-record 74 3-pointers.

"There was never really a time where I felt that I wasn't prepared for something," Fox said. "I think that goes back to when I'm in the gym by myself. I think about game situations so that I feel prepared and that makes it much easier."

Emilee Fox didn't know if she'd play basketball again.

In early October 2022, Fox felt something odd happening inside her chest. At the advice of a doctor, she took a week off from sports.

Shortly after resuming activities, she felt it again, and then for a third time on the first day of basketball practice ahead of her junior season.

During the sequence, Fox was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a type of abnormal heart rhythm. After a trip to the emergency room following the third episode, Fox was told she had to stay away from all strenuous activities indefinitely.

Following a couple of trips to Sioux Falls for appointments with a cardiologist, Fox visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for an ablation procedure, which is meant to restore a regular heart rhythm.

According to Fox, she was instructed to wait "a month or so" after the procedure before returning to the basketball court. But Fox had her own, slightly accelerated timeline.

"I think I definitely rushed it," Fox said. "I was probably supposed to wait longer."

As Kristensen recalls, Fox was eased back into the lineup shortly after the winter holiday break. Though limited to 16 games, Fox hardly missed a step in putting together a season worthy of Class A second-team all-state recognition by averaging 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

"She is so tough," Kristensen said of Fox. "She handled that whole situation so well."

Doctors have told Fox that the condition could return, but, at present, she has a clean bill of health. Through the tumultuous experience, Fox found an even greater passion for the game she holds so dearly.

"Looking back, I'm actually super grateful it happened," Fox said. "I know, in that moment, I was super frustrated. I didn't know what was happening, and I was like, 'Am I ever going to get to play basketball again?' But now, I have such a greater appreciation for the game.

"Before, going to the gym was hard. Getting up early, there are days where you're like, 'Gosh, I don't want to do this,'" she continued. "But after going through that, I feel lucky I get to be here right now because there was a time when I didn't know what my future was going to hold. I can't really express how thankful I am."

Back at full strength from Day 1, Fox made sure her final prep season was her best.

As a senior, Fox set the MVP program record for rebounds (194) in a campaign and smashed her own mark for points (547, up from 433) in a single season. Her per-game averages stood at 21.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Along the way, Fox rifled in 131 3-pointers — a clip of more than five 3s per outing — to break the all-class state girls basketball single-season record.

For her career, Fox finished as the Titans' all-time leader in points (2,261), rebounds (752), assists (543), steals (389) and 3-point field goals made (404). Fox is a five-time all-state honoree, with three first-team and two second-team selections.

"I don't think I fully realize it right now, but maybe I'll look back one day and be like, 'Oh, wow, I did that,'" Fox said of having her name all over the record books. "But it's pretty cool."

Such efforts also helped MVP return to the Class A state tournament for the first time since Fox's first year on the varsity squad. Fox was honored as the Class A Spirit of Su award winner and the Titans won their final game to take seventh place, providing Fox with a fulfilling end to a decorated prep career.

"Going there my seventh-grade year, I was young and didn't know how special it is to get to the state tournament," Fox said. "Six years later, I've been through losing in the SoDak 16 and those kinds of things, so knowing how special it is to be able to end the year with a win, I'm super grateful for how it all went down and everything that's happened this year."

"Each player is different, so there's never going to be another Emilee Fox," Kristensen added. "The way she carried herself probably is what set her apart from everyone else the most. She was never too big for a teammate and was always willing to help out where she could. If you could create a player, that's Emilee Fox, right there."

In early June, Fox will move to Brookings to begin her college career with South Dakota State women's basketball, a program she's been committed to since she was a sophomore. She plans to major in exercise science with the goal of attending physical therapy school.

"We have two communities that just became huge Jackrabbits fans," Kristensen said. "Everyone — Plankinton, Mount Vernon, all her former teammates and teachers and friends — we'll all be excited to watch her."

Joined in this year's recruiting class by four other South Dakotans, including three she won an AAU under-17 national championship with at the Elite Youth Basketball Nike Nationals last summer, Fox has been anxiously awaiting the next chapter of her basketball journey for over a year now.

And soon, Fox's dream of playing college basketball, one she's had since she was a fourth-grader playing on a sixth-grade team, will be a reality.

"It's actually been really helpful to know where I want to go to school because it takes a lot off your mind," Fox said. "But the anticipation is there and has been there, for sure."

Here's a look at the other players who received consideration, with their vote-point totals in parentheses:

Sawyer Stoebner, Mitchell (15 points): A 5-foot-9 senior forward, Stoebner averaged 15.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.6 steals per game during the regular season and upped those figures to 18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists during her final state tournament. Stoebner, a 1,000-point scorer in black and gold and Black Hills State women's basketball signee, cemented her Kernels legacy with the Class AA girls Spirit of Su award and a second consecutive first-team all-state selection, guiding Mitchell to a 20-4 record.

Ava Lingemann, Ethan (13 points, 1 first-place vote): The Class B girls Spirit of Su award winner and Class B girls girls basketball player of the year honoree averaged 20.2 points, 7.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game this season, as Ethan went 22-3 and finished third at the Class B tournament. A 5-foot-6 guard amd Dordt women's basketball commit, Lingemann set the Class B girls record for 3s in a season at 108 and tied a South Dakota girls basketball record with 12 3-pointers in a single game.

Ashlyn Koupal, Wagner (7): Last year's Mitchell Republic player of the year honoree, Koupal posted a double-double average at 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 4.0 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. The 6-foot-3 foward/guard recorded 11 double-doubles and three triple-doubles this season, earning a second straight Class A first-team all-state nod for the 18-4 Red Raiders.

Skyler Volmer, Lyman (3): A University of North Dakota signee, Volmer averaged 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 4.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. The 5-foot-9 guard capped her career with a Class B first-team all-state selection, as Lyman notched a fourth place at the state tournament and finished with a 21-4 record.

Mak Scott, Lyman (3): The 6-foot sophomore forward led Lyman in scoring at 17.3 points per game this season, highlighted by a 40-point showing in the SoDak 16. Scott added 4.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 4.0 steals and 2.3 blocks per game to her line, earning a place on the Class B all-state second-team for her efforts.

Alyssa Moschell, Hanson (1): A 5-foot-9 senior forward/guard, Moschell paced the Beavers in points (14.3) and rebounds (7.8) per game this season and was a third-team Class A all-state pick. With Moschell's help, Hanson made its Class A state tournament debut and finished the season with a 17-8 record.

Past award winners: 1994: Erin Olson, Mitchell; 1995: NaTascha Dawson, Howard; 1996: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1997: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1998: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1999: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2000: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2001: Vanessa Yanes, Wagner (2002 Season Switch); 2003: Jenna Hoffman, Mitchell; 2004: Jeana Hoffman, Mitchell; 2005: Allison Johnson, Mount Vernon; 2006: Jill Young, Mitchell Christian; 2007: Megan Doyle, Hanson; 2008: Terri VerSteeg, Platte-Geddes; 2009: Rhianna Gullickson, Hanson; 2010: Hillary Paulson, Freeman; 2011: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2012: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2013: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2014: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2015: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2016: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2017: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2018: Morgan Koepsell, McCook Central/Montrose; 2019: Karly Gustafson, Ethan; 2020: Avery Broughton, Corsica-Stickney; 2021: Bella Swedlund, Winner; 2022: Avery Broughton, Corsica-Stickney; 2023: Ashlyn Koupal, Wagner; 2024: Emilee Fox, Mount Vernon/Plankinton.