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Cotey: Absence made Mills' will stronger with Wesley Chapel

Janelle Mills had a hard time sitting out with a broken wrist: “I was kind of mad I couldn’t be out there helping us win.”

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Janelle Mills had a hard time sitting out with a broken wrist: “I was kind of mad I couldn’t be out there helping us win.”

WESLEY CHAPEL — Janelle Mills really liked what she saw from Janelle Mills in last week's region quarterfinal.

She loved the way she rebounded, blocked shots and those 3-pointers?

Sweet!

"I know it sounds like a cliche to say I was in a zone, but it was like … I was watching myself play,'' Mills said.

When the game — a 51-43 victory over Armwood that set a school record for wins (25) in a season — was over, Mills couldn't tell you how many points or rebounds she had.

Try 27 and 17, respectively.

"I slept good that night, I can tell you that," she said.

Mills, a 6-foot-2 senior, has had more than a few sleepless nights this season after breaking her wrist and missing 19 games.

Initially, she was told her season was over, that she would need three months to recover.

She cried on the way back to practice.

She ran at practices, worked on shooting with one hand and figured her next time in a game would come at Stetson, where she has signed to play college.

Without her, the Wildcats surprised everyone, winning their first 14 games.

First-year coach Karim Nohra doesn't want to reveal exactly how they did it, but it involved a lot of little things, namely asking every player for a little something extra.

Dana Cannon became a starter and a defensive stopper. Shantel Houston moved to the post and was asked to pump in the points. Gabrielle Brown had to rebound more, Jeileen Mas-Rodriguez had to score more, Hannah Noble and Alexis Braynen had to play more active roles.

"It was a little bit of everything,'' Nohra said, adding secretively that he made a lot of "creative movements."

And a lot of winning. Heading into the district, the Wildcats were 22-2.

"I was kind of mad I couldn't be out there helping us win, but it made me happy that they were doing this on their own,'' Mills said.

On Feb. 4, Mills saw her doctor. The visit took almost four hours, and she had her cast removed and another CAT scan. She was cleared to play and celebrated by going back to school, picking up her missed assignments and hitting practice.

"I couldn't wait.''

Mills didn't get magically better in the time she was out.

She didn't learn anything new watching for 19 games. She didn't get in better shape running, or shooting with just one hand.

She merely looks better because she is on a mission.

"I feel like I have to work harder to prove that I still have it, that there's nothing to worry about,'' she said. "I'm working 10 times harder than I ever did to prove that.''

She broke a 6-6 tie against Armwood with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. She scored twice after rebounding her teammates' misses, and made a great outlet pass to get Houston a layup. In the second half, it was more of the same — two deadly 3-pointers to break open a close game, three inside baskets and two blocked shots.

"I think she was saying to herself, 'I'm back,' '' said Nohra.

Former Wildcat Sthefany Thomas once scored 20 points in a half against Lecanto, 35 against Freedom and 30 against Lake Gibson. All memorable playoff performances.

Now, after playing behind Thomas and a senior-laden roster last year, Mills has broken through with a game you can add to that list.

"My statement game,'' she said.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com.

tonight

Region semifinals

Both games at 7

Class 4A

Orlando Bishop Moore (24-2) at Nature Coast (22-6)

Winner faces: St. Augustine/Ocala West Port winner in Saturday's region finals

Class 5A

Wesley Chapel (25-2) at Tampa Bay Tech (23-4)

Winner faces: Winter Haven/Winter Park Lake Howell winner in Saturday's region finals

Cotey: Absence made Mills' will stronger with Wesley Chapel 02/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 10:49pm]

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