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Non-stop Nelson a Dover-Eyota record setter

Dover-Eyota senior Malia Nelson broke the girls basketball school record, previously held by her sister, for points scored in a game to start this season, then broke her own record one day later.

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Dover-Eyota's Malia Nelson (23) controls the ball during a girls basketball game against Chatfield Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chatfield. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

It was Madison Nelson’s request that younger sister Malia Nelson bounce her name from the Dover-Eyota girls basketball record book.

Madison held the Eagles' single-game scoring mark, the 2016 D-E graduate getting 40 points in a game during her senior year.

Malia has always had a deep respect for Madison, who also had a standout college basketball career at Division I University of Denver, then played a season of professional basketball in Germany before suffering an ACL tear.

So, when Madison speaks, Malia listens. She was particularly tuned in late this fall when Madison suggested that she break her single-game scoring record.

As improbable as that seemed to Malia at the time, she didn’t wait around to comply. In the Eagles’ season-opener against Zumbrota-Mazeppa, the 5-foot-8 senior poured in 41 points.

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Dover-Eyota's Malia Nelson (23) passes the ball while defended by Chatfield's Anna Kivimagi (43) l during a girls basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chatfield. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

Then, as if to tell big sister that she meant it, Malia did it again one day later, dropping 42 points on Minneapolis North.

Two games, two broken records — first Madison’s mark, then her own.

It’s been a dazzling start for the Dover-Eyota senior, who averaged 36 points in her first four games before coming down to a more human 15 in Tuesday’s win over Chatfield.

The truth is, she wasn’t expecting any of these big point totals to happen — at least not this quickly — despite her desire to make her sister happy.

“Madison’s record was so high, I’d never expected to come close to it,” Malia said. “But before the season started, she said to me, ‘You have to break that record.’ ”

So Malia showed up wanting to give it a shot. After all of the time the two had spent in the Dover-Eyota gym this past summer, working on things, Malia knew she’d taken a major step after averaging 16 points per game last year.

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Her biggest addition was a brand-new pull-up jump shot. Always a lethal driver with excellent quickness and strength, Malia had been coaxed by Harris to come up with a more reliable perimeter scoring game. A couple of quick stab dribbles to get defenders on their heels and believing she was taking the ball to the hoop, could be just the thing. After tricking them, she’d then suddenly launch herself straight into the air and take a jump shot, 12-15 feet away from the hoop.

Malia worked on the rhythm of it all summer and began incorporating it into her full schedule of AAU games in June and July.

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Dover-Eyota's Malia Nelson (23) is introduced during a girls basketball game against Chatfield Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chatfield. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

When late November and the beginning of the high school season arrived, she was ready to go with it, as well as a more consistent 3-point shot.

“I had looked up to (Plainview-Elgin-Millville 2021 graduate) Macy Holtz’s game,” Nelson said of last season’s Post Bulletin Player of the Year. “I think we play quite a bit alike. But when I was playing against her, I noticed she made a lot of pull-up jump shots. That made her a lot harder to guard. I knew if I really wanted to be a player, I had to have that, too, because teams had really scouted me to be a driver.”

With that now in her tool kit, and a refined 3-point shot, it was quite an arsenal that Nelson showed up with on Nov. 26 in that opener against Zumbrota-Mazeppa. And the best part of Nelson’s game continued to be what’s always been her No. 1, an ability to turn defense into offense.

Defensive menace

Nelson built a reputation the last two years as one of the biggest basketball thieves in southeastern Minnesota, continually leaping into passing lanes, picking off balls and then sprinting in for layups. Always a strength, she’s turned it into an art form this season, averaging an almost-unheard of seven steals per game, so many of them transferred into layups on the other end.

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She’s doing that this year as she’s always done it, with the same kind of non-stop motor that Madison played with at Dover-Eyota and then Denver. It’s a Nelson “thing.” Father Chad Nelson was a star wrestler at Stewartville and then the University of Nebraska, and a guy who was relentless. And mother Julie Nelson (formerly Julie Mazzitelli) was a standout distance runner and basketball player at Dover-Eyota and then a long-distance runner at Nebraska.

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Chatfield's Kara Goetzinger (11) makes a pass while defended by Dover-Eyota's Malia Nelson (23) during a girls basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chatfield. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

They preach going hard or not going at all.

“Malia is similar to Madison in that she has that motor,” Harris said. “They go non-stop up and down the court. They run the floor better than most players you’ll see and they are both so intense.”

The latter is a Nelson family rule.

“My parents are straight up with me, never giving me the easy road with anything,” Malia said. “If I’m not going as hard as I can, they consider that a slap in the face. My dad is especially hard on me. But I like it, because I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am without that (go-hard) mindset.”

Still, even with all of Malia’s weaponry in mind, combined with her refusal to take any play off, what she accomplished in those first two games this season floored her.

She knew she’d gotten better, but...

“I sure didn’t expect (the scoring record) to happen so soon,” Nelson said. “In that first game, I was just going with the flow of the game. The next thing I knew, coach (Harris) pulled me aside and told me I was four points away from (the record). After that, my teammates got me two easy buckets, and then they took me out again.”

And then she did it again, burying MInneapolis North with 42 points one day later, getting all of those despite being taken out of the one-sided contest with 9 minutes left to play.

“She could have easily gone over 50 in that one,” Harris said.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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