Mikayla Forness admits that she didn't like the idea of coming to Bismarck or Shiloh Christian last year.
Forness and her family moved to Bismarck from Fargo in the summer of 2010 after her father, Morgan, accepted the superintendent's position at Shiloh. While in Fargo, Forness attended Oak Grove High School, where she was a starter on the girls basketball team as a freshman.
"I lived in Fargo for a few years, but I lived in the area all my life. It was really hard to move away," said Forness, now a Shiloh junior. "I liked Oak Grove, and I was close to my classmates and teammates. I knew I was going to miss it all."
However, it didn't take Forness long to take a liking to Shiloh. She excelled in volleyball and basketball last year, leading the Skyhawks to the region tournament in basketball.
This winter, Forness hopes to help lead the Skyhawks basketball team on a deep postseason run. She is among three returning starters from a team that went 12-11 after going
2-19 in 2009-10.
"It's funny because when I was a freshman, Oak Grove played Shiloh in Shiloh's tournament and we beat them by something like 40 points," Forness recalled. "I wasn't sure what to expect when I came here last year, but I knew Shiloh was really young and in the process of rebuilding. We did pretty well, though. The team improved a lot, and we got to the region tournament, which was one of our main goals. We had a young team last year, and things are definitely looking up. We're excited about this season."
The 5-foot-8 Forness averaged 13.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2010-11, playing power forward. She shot a team-best
49 percent from the floor. What's more, she provided the young Skyhawks with a much-needed spark.
"We needed a sparkplug, and Mikayla was it," said Shiloh coach Jim Petrik, who is in his second year with the Skyhawks. "She brought some varsity experience ... that and lots of leadership. She has a terrific work ethic, and she's very vocal. She pushes herself and her teammates to the limit."
An excellent ballhandler, Forness will play primarily at a guard position this season after playing inside for most of the 2010-11 campaign.
"I was a guard at Oak Grove. I like that better ... I think it's a better fit for me," she said. "I was one of the tallest girls here, so they put me inside, which was OK. I was able to help the team there. I'll play anywhere if it helps the team."
Forness is both an inside and outside offensive threat, but Petrik said her main strength is defense.
"Her defensive intensity is what sets her apart from anyone I've ever coached," the Shiloh coach said. "We put her on the other team's best player, and it didn't matter how big and strong or how small and quick that player was. She guarded Shauna Long (of Standing Rock), Ashley Bentz (of Grant County) and Emily Wolf (of New Salem-Almont) last year and did well against all of them."
The other two returning starters are junior guard Paige Emmel and senior forward Kelly Schindler. Emmel led the Skyhawks in scoring with a 17.4 points-per-game average. She set a school record for
3-pointers with 59.
Schindler will begin her fourth season as a starter. She averaged 11.5 points and
5.7 rebounds last season.
"Mikayla, Paige and Kelly were our big three last year," Petrik said. "They accounted for about 90 percent of our stats. Paige is our best player, and Kelly is a veteran who is a strong inside player. We have some good young players coming up, and although they have lots of potential, it's going to take some time for it all to come together. We're going to rely heavily on our three returning starters until the younger kids get on track."
Petrik has several prospects for the other two starting positions, including juniors Christina Wetzel and Brenna Jessen, 6-foot freshman Abby Muggerud, and eighth-graders Regan Watson and Beth Muggerud.
Forness believes Shiloh can shape up to be a serious contender for the District 9 championship, but added that Grant County and New Salem-Almont will be difficult to beat. Grant County returns four starters from last season's district champion and region runner-up. New Salem-Almont, the district's top seed in 2010-11, also returns a veteran team.
"Those teams are going to be really good, but if the younger girls step up, we'll have a chance in the districts," Forness said. "We took a big step forward last year, and we want to take it further."