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Post: Blog2_Post
  • Val T.

Keller instinct: On night they retire former star’s number, Lady Zs beat Southwood

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

The start of the night was dedicated to one of its greatest players. The end was dedicated to its future.


Sheila McMillen Keller, a 1995 Rochester grad, shows her retired jersey with former Lady Z teammates during a ceremony prior to the team’s game with Southwood on Dec. 2. From left – Brenda Gaerte, Teresa Harsh, Amy (Milliser) Miller, Sheila McMillen Keller, Stacey Wilson, Molly Terrell Clark.


The girls basketball game between visiting Southwood and Rochester at the RHS gym on Dec. 2 was sandwiched in the middle, and that was about the present.

Rylee Clevenger was most in the moment, hitting a pair of 3-pointers during a 15-0 run covering the second and third quarters as the Lady Zs went on to win 39-25.

Clevenger scored a game-high 13 points, and Ella McCarter added 11 as Rochester improved to 5-5 overall and 3-0 in the Three Rivers Conference.

Gracie Lambert scored eight points, and Hali Pershing had six for Southwood, who dropped to 1-3, 0-1.

Rochester retired uniform No. 20 in honor of Sheila McMillen Keller in a pregame ceremony featuring her family and former girls basketball coach Rob Malchow. Elementary school basketball players were recognized at halftime, and an autograph table was set up for players to sign for the elementary school players after the game.

Rochester has not lost at home to Southwood since January 2008, and that streak stayed intact despite the Lady Zs trailing 14-12 with under two-and-a-half minutes left in the first half.

Aubrey Wilson, who had to leave briefly with a bloody nose after a collision with the court with 1:04 left in the first quarter, got a friendly bounce on a right baseline jumper to tie the game. She was fouled but missed the ensuing free throw, but Mia Howdeshell rebounded, and she was fouled, and she split a pair of free throws with 2:05 left in the half to give Rochester the lead for good.

Southwood had a chance to perhaps grind the clock down for the final shot of the half and take the lead, but officials cited Southwood’s Isabelle Ashba for traveling with 18.7 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, McCarter set a cross screen on top of Southwood’s zone, and Wilson threw a skip pass to Clevenger, who drained a 3-pointer.

Instead of maybe being behind, Rochester led 18-14.

On the first four possessions of the second half, McCarter fed Jadyn Field in the post for a basket, McCarter fed Audrey Bolinger on the right block for a basket, Clevenger hit a 3, and McCarter hit a midrange jumper.

The lead was 27-14, and it stayed in double figures for the rest of the night.

“I just said in the locker room and told them, ‘Hey, this game wasn’t lost in the last three minutes. It was lost in the first three minutes coming out of the half,’” Southwood coach Kenneth Norman said. “Yeah, they were pretty much the game. … That was disheartening. That’s one we’re going to look back and probably say we were probably just a few plays away from being right in the game.”

Burrus said he went to a “two-guard front” to start the second half against Southwood’s zone defense – in other words, Clevenger and Wilson on top and McCarter in the high post. He said he did not “trust” that alignment earlier in the season because they were too turnover-prone without McCarter helping out the other ballhandlers as part of a three-guard front. With McCarter in the high post, she could shake loose for shots in the lane, or she could set up Field or Bolinger in the post.

“That was probably our best first three minutes of the second half of the season,” Burrus said.

Meanwhile, Rochester held Southwood to two points in the fourth quarter. The 25 points allowed are tied for the fewest Rochester has allowed in a conference game in the Burrus era; they also allowed 25 in a win at Manchester last year.

“We’re getting places with these kids,” Burrus said. “It’s just sometimes you’re going to win ugly. Tonight we won ugly. We’ve just got a lot of things we’ve got to continue to work on.”

Sheila McMillen Keller

Already a member of the Rochester High School Athletics Hall of Fame and a 2023 inductee to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, 1995 grad Sheila McMillen Keller is living Rochester basketball history.

She made more of it when her uniform No. 20 was retired in a pregame ceremony where former teammates like Brenda Gaerte, Stacey Wilson and Amy (Milliser) Miller were brought in to reminisce and celebrate.

“This is thrilling,” McMillen Keller said. “It’s a real honor. I’m humbled by this recognition. I don’t know what to say. It’s great.”McMillen Keller said Burrus told her of the honor about two weeks before the ceremony. She is believed to be the first Rochester athlete to have their uniform number retired in any sport.

“I was really surprised and shocked but ecstatic,” McMillen Keller said.

McMillen Keller scored 1,696 career points, the most of any Rochester basketball player, male or female. She averaged 28.2 points as a senior in 1994-95, which ranked second in the state. That included a 41-point game in a 56-43 win over Caston in the sectional final at Winamac.

She earned Indiana All-Star honors and was also a Parade All-American, a Nike All-American, and a North/South All-Star as a senior.

But for as much attention as she received for her excellence, she spoke of the shared experiences with her teammates.

“It’s been great because my teammates share in this with me because there’s no way I’d accomplish anything I did on the court without my teammates, so really, they are as big a part of this as I am,” McMillen Keller said.

Eventually, she drew the notice of top colleges. She later played four years under coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame and was team captain and MVP there before graduating in 1999. McMillen Keller called McGraw “demanding” and a “mother figure.”

“She got the most out of her players,” McMillen Keller said.

But before she played for McGraw, she played for Rob Malchow at Rochester. Malchow is currently in his 15th season as Rochester’s boys coach, but in the 1990s, he was the girls coach who helped break a 14-year sectional drought.

“Rob was phenomenal, and I owe so much to Coach,” McMillen Keller said. “I learned the game from Coach Malchow. He was tough on me. He didn’t let me get away with anything, but he taught me the game and how it’s supposed to be played, and that’s why I was able to play as a freshman at Notre Dame, because of the things Coach Malchow taught me.”

McMillen Keller called Rochester “a fantastic place to grow up.”

“It’s a small community where everybody looks out for you,” McMillen Keller said. “I was so proud to be a Zebra. I still am proud to be a Zebra.”

McMillen Keller’s parents Bill and Patricia passed away in 2017 and 2021, respectively, and she said she does not get to visit as often.

She lives in Carmel with husband Too and children Luke, Lauren and Karli. Luke and Lauren are twin seventh-graders, and Karli is a sixth-grader.

She previously was an assistant coach at Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis Chatard and Carmel high schools.

Her days as a high school assistant are over. Now she said she is content to coach her daughters’ teams.

Rochester 39, Southwood 25

SOUTHWOOD (25) (1-3, 0-1)

Carrie Collins 0 2-2 2, Gracie Lambert 3 0-2 8, Lola Winer 1 1-2 3, Hali Pershing 3 0-0 6, Emmerson Chellis 0 2-4 2, Aubree Huffman 0 1-2 1, Rylee Thomas 0 0-0 0, Isabelle Ashba 1 0-2 3, Brooke Farr 0 0-0 0

TEAM: 8 6-14 25

ROCHESTER (39) (5-5, 3-0)

Aubrey Wilson 1 0-1 2, Rylee Clevenger 5 0-0 13, Ella McCarter 4 3-4 11, Jadyn Field 3 0-0 6, Audrey Bolinger 1 4-4 6, Brailyn Hunter 0 0-0 0, Mia Howdeshell 0 1-2 1

TEAM: 14 8-11 39

Three-point field goals:

Southwood 3 (Lambert 2, Ashba),

Rochester 3 (Clevenger 3)

Total fouls: Southwood 16, Rochester 14

Turnovers: Southwood 20, Rochester 18

Score by quarters

Southwood 5 9 9 2 25

Rochester 10 8 17 4 39


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