Kaydence Mellott rises up for one of her 75 3-point baskets from the 2021-22 season.
Kaydence Mellott rises up for one of her 75 3-point baskets from the 2021-22 season.
AKRON – The Tippecanoe Valley girls’ basketball program’s monopoly of the Times-Union Player of the Year award continues into the 2021-22 season, as Lady Vikings junior Kaydence Mellott becomes the fourth Tippy Valley player to win the honor.

Mellott joins the elite company of four-time winner Anne Secrest and two-time winners Sophie Bussard and Sidney Wagner, all three of which took home the award in the last decade. Playing for a program that has produced so much success and being able to work with the talented players that have come before her have helped the 5’8” guard get to where she is now.

“I looked up to Anne and Sophie a lot when I was younger, and Sophie worked with me this summer. It was awesome for one of my biggest influences to take the time and come in and work with me,” Mellott said.

Work is what has fueled Mellott’s meteoric rise to the best player in Kosciusko County this past season. The sharpshooter began playing basketball in first grade for Upward Sports in Plymouth and made her first AAU team in sixth grade, realizing there was some work to do.

“I was really behind, and I just wanted to be better. I was in the gym all the time,” Mellott said. “I would have my dad take me to Mentone and I would just shoot. I don’t even know how much, but it would be for hours, and that’s when I started to get a little confident.”

The hard work is evident every time Mellott rises up for a shot. The junior led the Lady Vikings in shooting percentage this season with a 39% clip, while taking 120 more shots than anyone else on the team on her way to scoring 17.4 points a night. She shot 34% from beyond the arc on her way to making 75 three pointers, the fourth most in the state last season. That total also broke the school record of 66, held by… Mellott herself.

“It’s muscle memory. I’ve put up so many shots at this point that I know when I let it go if it’s going in just based on how it feels. I just connect somehow and it works,” Mellott said.

Valley’s all-time leader in made threes isn’t just a shooter though, she finished second in rebounding last season with five a game, and was third on the Lady Vikings steals list.

“We really saw this season that she’s not just a spot up shooter anymore. Teams have had an easier time guarding her in past years because she’d stand in the corner and [Sidney] Wagner would kick it to her and she wouldn’t have to do much,” Tippecanoe Valley head coach Chris Kindig said. “95% of her baskets in her freshman and sophomore years were threes, and this year without a true point guard she had to find different ways to score, and she had more twos than threes in some games.”

That’s because Mellott’s game seemed to undergo a dramatic overhaul midseason. The looks from deep that were there at the beginning of the season started to become slim pickings as teams would relentlessly double her. Mellott began getting more aggressive going to the rim, finding the added pressure up top allowed easier looks at the rim if she was able to get around. If she was fouled, her shooting stroke would do its thing from the charity stripe, to the tune of 79%.

“I knew if I kept on trying to shoot the way I wanted to, the end result was not going to be very good. I had to push myself to get out of my comfort zone but once I got into a rhythm I was comfortable again,” Mellott said.

“She had a foot injury last summer so for her to make the progress she did this year is remarkable,” Kindig said. “She’s a very intelligent player and has put a lot of time in to get here, and when you put in the time you earn what you get.”

Off the court, Mellott enjoys the typical hobbies of a high schooler, such as hanging out with friends and family. She’s also a member of the Tippecanoe Valley golf team. When asked about those hobbies, the 2022 Player of the Year made sure to include practice as well.

“She’s not a ‘rah-rah’ type of leader. She leads more by example, how she goes about her business in practice every day. You show leadership by going out there every day and trying to improve every minute. Some of these players play so much they can get into a routine, but it never felt like practices or games were routine to her. She’s always trying to better herself and her teammates,” Kindig said.

Led by Mellott, Tippecanoe Valley enjoyed many successes in the 2021-22 season, which is what fans have come to expect in the Chris Kindig era. Despite starting off the season with an 0-4 record, the Lady Vikings bounced back to finish the regular season at 15-7 with a Three Rivers Conference championship to boot. The team won its first two sectional tournament games against NorthWood and Wawasee, the latter requiring a 20-point comeback. But the team’s season ended a tad prematurely when the Lady Vikings were upset by a then 6-17 West Noble side.

“People didn’t think we were going to be good this past season, and we can’t get into the mindset of ‘well we did good last year!’ We can’t get comfortable and have to keep pushing ourselves,” Mellott said. “My grade only has one more season left and we need to make sure not to take it for granted and play our best.”

Reversing fortunes and winning a sectional title is at the top of Mellott’s team oriented goals going into her final season for the Lady Vikings. As far as individual accolades go, she only had one in mind.

“It would be nice to hit a thousand [points]. I know I’m getting pretty close,” she said.

The standout won’t have to wait very long to achieve that goal once the 2022-23 season tips off, as she is less than 30 points away from the milestone. Looking at the Tippecanoe Valley all-time scoring list, Mellott will have a chance to do some serious climbing in her senior campaign. If she scores a little over 425 points as she did this previous year, she’ll have a chance to jump all the way up into the top three with Secrest and Rebekah Parker. A 450-point senior year will put Mellott at second all time, but the sharpshooter will need nearly 600 points to take over the school’s top spot.

Kaydence Mellott battled some tough competition for the 2021-22 Times-Union Player of the Year award, and will certainly be in the mix to contend for the award next season. Just don’t expect her senior year to be the last time you hear about this year’s winner making waves on the basketball court.

“She’s going to be very attractive to colleges because she can do so many things well,” Kindig said. “She’s not the fastest or doesn’t jump the highest, but she’s so intelligent and always knows where she needs to be. Not having to rely on physical attributes and being able to still develop them, she’s one of a kind.”