Raised Expectations: MG seniors leading Hornets to first playoff appearance in five years

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 8, 2008 - The Miller Grove Hornets will get their first taste of playoff basketball in five years, and a large part of the credit goes to three players who were in the eighth-grade when it last happened.

MG seniors Yan Heijligers, Kenny Robbins and Steven Mayfield have led the Hornets to a runner-up finish in District 22-A, Div. II, a 22-8 overall record and a top 20 state ranking earlier in the season.

"The seniors have all worked hard, and they do what they are asked to do," said MG head coach Gary Billingsley. "They all have their roles to fill."

When it comes to their roles, Heijligers is the team's primary ball handler and first scoring option, Robbins is depended on for defense and rebounding, and Mayfield is an energy player off the bench.

Heijligers is the most seasoned of the trio, having been a starter since his sophomore year. In previous seasons, Heijligers was mainly a facilitator at guard. This season, though, Billingsley asked him to shoulder more of the scoring load.

"Yan is our most consistent offensive threat, and he's averaging about 23 points per game," Billingsley explained. "If he's not playing real well, we struggle. That's going to be the biggest thing we've got to replace is Yan's scoring. The other two seniors do a lot of things for us, but we've got to replace his offense."

Part of the reason Heijligers has been more of a proficient scorer is because of the time he spent working in the gym and the weight room in the summer. He increased his bench press by 40 pounds and his squat by 70 pounds in the offseason.

"He works extremely hard, and it's paid off," Billingsley said. "He's stronger than any guard we play. The only one that can match up with him, strength-wise, is Derek (McClure) at Saltillo."

Heijligers, the son of Leon and Inga Heijligers, said he relishes the chance to be the team's leader.

"I think I'm the person that people look to, and I like that," he said. "I think I fit that role pretty well, because I don't shy away from pressure."

He plays other sports, like baseball, but said basketball "has always been my favorite sport. It's just fun."

Robbins, on the other hand, gave up basketball as a junior, but rejoined the team in the offseason and convinced Billingsley he was devoted to the game.

"Kenny came and talked to me in the spring, and I told him he was starting at the bottom," Billingsley said. "He has worked extremely hard and worked his way back up. He's started about every game. He's a very good defensive player and does a good job rebounding for us."

When not playing basketball, Robbins, the son of Patricia Brewer and Ronald Robbins, can usually be found playing his guitar. But, he said basketball came first this season.

"We've worked hard. We've got a lot of people who are dedicated, and we're willing to work together," Robbins said. "Coach is dedicated to basketball - he loses sleep over it."

Mayfield has played for the Hornets all four years, and has accepted a role off the bench.

"We do what we're supposed to do and what is asked of us," Mayfield said. "We're working hard and we've came together as a team. Through the years, we've been working harder and harder and we're finally at the stage where it's paid off. That's been the difference this year."

Mayfield is the son of Lisa and Darren Petty and Steve and Marilyn Mayfield.

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