Through a lot of hard work, Blue Dragon freshman has become one of the best shooters in the nation from 3-point range. (Photo courtesy RapidShotz Photography, Lubbock, Texas)
Through a lot of hard work, Blue Dragon freshman has become one of the best shooters in the nation from 3-point range. (Photo courtesy RapidShotz Photography, Lubbock, Texas)

By Steve Carpenter
Hutchinson CC Sports Information Director

Makayla Vannett is a shooter.

She knows it. She admits it. Now Blue Dragon opponents are finding out how prolific Vannett can be from long range.

But Vannett wants to shed that "shooter" moniker and be known more as an all-around basketball player.

"It says you can do a little of everything where as if you are known as a shooter, that's all you can do," Vannett said on Tuesday during No. 8 Hutchinson's off day at the NJCAA Women's National Tournament in Lubbock Texas.

The Blue Dragons take on No. 4 overall seed Angelina College at 2 p.m. on Wednesday at the Rip Griffin Center in the second round.

While Vannett strives for that all-around reputation, being a shooter has served her well throughout her basketball career.

Vannett hit a collegiate career-high six 3-pointers in 11 attempts in Hutchinson's tournament opener on Monday, an 81-60 victory over Western Nebraska. The native of St. Paul, Minnesota, scored a career-high 20 points in leading Hutchinson to the tourney victory and 31st win this season.

Vannett is Hutchinson's second-leading scorer this season at 11.4 points per game. She earned second-team All-Jayhawk West honors. Vannett is shooting 41.5 percent overall and 38.1 percent from 3-point range.

Vannett is 85 of 223 from behind the 3-point arc this season. Entering Wednesday's game against Angelina, Vannett has the third-most 3-pointers in a season by a Hutchinson freshman and has the seventh-most by any Blue Dragon player in a single season. Vannett also averages 2.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. She has started all 34 games played this season.

"Makayla has really done a great job throughout the season taking big shots for us," Blue Dragon head coach John Ontjes said. "She's a kid who struggled early, but has settled in as a scorer for us. She has a great feel for the game and late in the season has started the shoot the basketball like we knew she could."

Vannett's reputation as a shooter is well deserved.

At Como Park High School in St. Paul, Vannett tied a Minnesota single-game state record with 13 3-pointers.

At Hutchinson, Vannett has had at least one 3-point goal in 33 of 34 games this season. But for the first two-thirds of the 2018-19 campaign, Vannett's shot percentage from distance languished in the low-30-percent range.

"Coming from a high school (3-point) line, it's a foot closer and you have your muscle memory from shooting behind a high school line for so long," Vannett explained. "Having to move a foot further back was a struggle. I just got in the gym and put up a lot of shots.

"I struggled in the beginning, but I kept shooting. I knew I had to get more arc on my shot and follow through stronger. I had help from Coach (Phil) Anderson. He kept me going and I talked to my dad and uncle about shooting. I just had to keep working at it."

One of the things that the Blue Dragon coaching staff noticed about Vannett during the recruiting process was her quick release. Standing 5 feet, 6 inches, it was a skill that became very useful as opponents would close out hard on the guard trying to disrupt her shooting rhythm.

But how did she develop that quick release?

"Both my dad (Michael) and uncle Brian helped me with my shot," Vannett said. "My dad taught me the form of shooting, but my uncle helped make my release quicker. He would throw balls to me as fast as he could, which forced me to get shots up as fast as I could and I just did that repetitively. My dad taught me my form and taught me a shooter's mentality."

Over her first 26 games as a Blue Dragon, Vannett had 57 3-pointers and a shooting percentage of 33.5 percent.

All that extra work has started to pay off for the Blue Dragon freshman.

Starting with a 3 for 6 night against Dodge City on February 13, Vannett is shooting 52.6 percent from 3-point range going 28 for her last 53 attempts from distance. She has averaged 13.8 points per game and is shooting better than 53 percent over that stretch.

Another aspect to her improved shooting isn't one of improved form, but a change in her philosophy about shooting.

"I try to take only open shots," Vannett explained. "I don't take a lot of contested shots. I take shots that are open where we are executing a play. I don't rush anymore. I (rushed) early in the season. It wasn't working out, so I told myself to take open shots, take smart shots and be better with my passing and be better at creating. That will help me get my shots and be a better player."