AURORA — Mesabi East senior Ava Hill began being a leader at a young age.
The last three years were a good example of that as the Giants standout exceeded the minimum of shots taken over the summer.
In fact, head coach Chris Whiting said Hill took around 30,000 shots each summer, which tripled the amount required.
Did that surprise Whiting?
“You know it did, but it didn’t. It was like holy man she did a lot.’’
The work paid off for Hill as she helped lead her team to the state tournament in 2018 and put together strong seasons the last two years. She average more than 23 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per contest and 3.45 steals a game. She also led the Iron Range Conference in scoring this season.
For her efforts, Hill has been named the All-Iron Range Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year by the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
What makes Hill such a standout basketball player?
“She’s a special player. She’s got some God-given talent, but it’s what you do with the talent. Her best attribute is that she works the hardest on the court and she has the most determination of anybody on the court. Combined with the talent she has, it’s quite a nice combination.’’
One particular game clearly showed Hill’s determination, Whiting said.
“We were up by quite a bit getting ready to get the subs in and there was a loose ball close to where we were standing on the sidelines, said the coach, who didn’t remember who the Giants were playing. “She went after that ball going out of bounds just like we were tied or we were one behind or one up. She went after it. She got the ball, passed it back into a player. ... Coach (Tom) Gustafson and myself after the game both kind of chuckled at the same time and said ‘Geez remember that play she did going after that ball’ — we were both thinking the same thing at the same time.’ ’’
Hill has been playing basketball since kindergarten when her parents (Robert and Shannon) got her into it.
“They were both basketball players, so they introduced it to me and I just kept going with it because I enjoyed it.’’
By fifth or sixth grade, it was apparent Hill had some skills in the game.
“Probably around fifth and sixth grade is when I really started getting into it and putting more work in. I wanted to be able to play varsity soon. That was a goal of mine. I didn’t know if it happen but it ended up happening which was cool. I just wanted to be as good as I could be,’’ the 18-year-old said.
Hill got to play some varsity as a seventh-grader to help on defense due to an injury. That first time out on the varsity court was a little nerve-wracking, she said. “Yeah it was scary. It was a lot faster and way different from what I was used to in sixth grade basketball. It took a lot of adjusting and getting told what to do and sometimes yelled at, but that’s OK.’’
What is Hill’s best attribute on the court?
“I just never give up. No matter what. It doesn’t matter how much we’re down by or how good the other team is. I don’t let anybody intimidate me and I just do my thing for the team.’’
She also has a great ability to get her shot off quickly, which has paid dividends over the years.
“It definitely helps especially when some teams try to double team and do all that kind of stuff. It helps to have a quick shot because you can score when you have two or three people on you.’’
Where did that quick-shot ability come from?
“I think it came from repetition, repetition. She had the muscle memory. Once she got known as a player (probably in her freshman year) she’s going to get guarded, so she had to adapt. She was always guarded hard ... so she learned to adapt and actually did it quite nicely,’’ Whiting said.
After such an outstanding basketball career, Hill won’t be playing the sport again competitively. The three-time state champion 800 meter runner was recruited by the University of Minnesota and will be running cross country and track for the Gophers starting in the fall.
Sitting in the Mesabi East gymnasium, she fondly remembered her high school basketball career.
“It was a lot of fun. I was in it for so many years and a lot of my best memories are in this sport. I’m definitely going to miss playing in here, but we had a good few last games, which made it nice.’’
Regarding any particular games she remembered, Hill said, “this year I think our last game against Virginia was pretty fun because the gym was packed. We played a really good game against Cherry, too.’’
One of the biggest memories she will have will be of her teammates.
“We know each other really well so everybody’s super comfortable with each other which is always fun. It makes playing on the court a lot easier when you know people’s strengths. You know that if you mess up people are going to have your back.’’
Hill has been excelling outside of athletics, as well. She was recently named the Region Triple A Award winner for her involvement in academics, arts and athletics. She was recognized at the Section 7A hockey final between Hermantown and Denfeld at Amsoil Arena.
“I guess I was a little surprised. It was cool to be recognized for a few things,’’ she said. “I enjoy what I do so I always want to take time out of my day to do multiple things.’’
Throughout it all, the leadership ability is always there.
“Ava’s a very quiet person. We’d have talks about it. You think you have to be a talker,’’ Whiting said. The coach told her early on that didn’t have to be the case. “You lead by example and just being a good teammate. Expecting the best of everyone else’s abilities is a good part of being a leader.’’
Hill put together quite a resume as a varsity player.
Her Mesabi East career records include:
• 423 career assists (second all time).
• 76.9% free throw percentage (second all time).
• 3-point percentage of 32.2% (second all time).
• 419 steals (second all time).
• 89.7% free throw percentage in her junior year (first all time).
The All-Iron Range Girls’ Basketball Team is as follows:
Ava Hill, Sr., Mesabi East
Kourtney Manning, Sr., Hibbing
Jessa Schroetter, Jr., Cherry
Lexiss Trygg, Jr., Virginia
Sage Ganyo, Fr., Mountain Iron-Buhl
Erika Mattson, Sr., Ely
Elli Jankila, Jr., Eveleth-Gilbert
Hailey Hawkinson, Jr., Hibbing
Rian Aune, So., Virginia
Katie Peterson, Sr., Cherry
Hannah Hannuksela, Jr., Mesabi East
Taryn Hamling, Fr., Grand Rapids
Kaelynn Kudis, Sr., Cherry
Mia Ganyo, Sr., Mountain Iron-Buhl
Jordan Zubich, eighth-grader, Mountain Iron-Buhl
Baylie Jo Norris, Jr., Greenway
Jordan Temple, So., Chisholm
Grace Bergland, So., Deer River