MELROSE — Joey Arneson knew the question was coming and had spent hours pondering how he would answer it.
Over the course of her career, what was the quintessential Mesa Byom game?
“I’m going to give you, really, a bad answer for it,” the Melrose-Mindoro High School girls basketball coach said, “but I can’t really tell you one game. I guess the expectation level from my end is so high on Mesa, nothing surprises me more with her. I was spoiled as a coach. I just expected it game in, game out.”
Arneson went on to point out a 32-point, 12-rebound effort from the 6-foot-3 senior forward in a 99-52 win over Blair-Taylor this season, but his response speaks to the level of consistency Byom demonstrated as a four-year starter for the Mustangs, who went 103-5 and advanced to three straight WIAA Division 4 title games with Byom on the team.
Of course, Byom didn’t carry Melrose-Mindoro to that record on her own — Katie Christopherson, Erika Simmons, Emily Herzberg and Calette Lockington are among those who have also left their marks. But Byom, who will play at Division I South Dakota State next season, has certainly helped change the trajectory of a program that finished 6-17 seven years ago when Byom was a water girl for the team.
“She’s a coach’s dream,” Arneson said of Byom. “Every coach would want to have a Mesa on their team. (She is) certainly a girl I am very much going to miss for many reasons in the future.”
Perhaps the most obvious of those reasons is Byom’s production on the court. The 6-foot-3 forward was a member of the 1,000-point club and a near double-double machine.
Byom averaged 13.3 points per game as a freshman and 11.2 as a sophomore before becoming Melrose-Mindoro’s leading scorer as a junior with 13.2 points per game. She built on that mark as a senior and poured in a team-high 17.2 points per game.
Time and time again, Byom made quick work of defenders in the paint, whether with her clean footwork — she’s partial to her baby hook — or out-muscling them for offensive rebounds. Still, she was more than just a post threat, especially as her time with the Mustangs wore on.
“I was always tall, so my dad always worked on me — and he was a post player — so he always taught me some things,” Byom said. “That definitely made me stronger in the post, and knowing that I was tall, that was always my position. But playing with a lot of guards in AAU and other things, that made me stronger in the wing spots.”
Byom frequently flashed that with her mid-range ability and her shooting stroke from the outside. As a senior, she was 19-for-43 from beyond the arc, and her 44.2 3-point shooting chip was best on the team outside of Ella Tracey, who was 1-for-1 from 3 on the season.
But as Byom showcased throughout her career, her game extends far beyond scoring.
Byom quickly established herself as an elite rebounder on both ends of the court and led Melrose-Mindoro in that category every year except as a sophomore when Simmons grabbed 0.2 more boards per game. Defensively, she was the Mustangs’ rim-protector and, outside of her freshman year, averaged at least two blocked shots per game each season while altering many, many more.
“That number (Byom’s blocked shots) could have been a lot more but Mesa knew, she had the basketball IQ to know, that a lot of those blocked shots will be called fouls,” Arneson said. “And she could not get into foul trouble because we did not have a lot of depth (this season). Her basketball IQ has improved tremendously over four years.”
As did her leadership. Byom admits she was a bit timid her freshman season, but that quickly evaporated as she transformed into a player that teammates could turn to. By her senior season, she was working to ensure the Mustangs’ winning culture won’t depart with her class.
“She really did a nice job of using the knowledge that she gained through the last eight, 10 years of basketball and she really focused her attention on helping the younger players — the freshman and the sophomore class,” Arneson said. “It was often in practice where she would show a post player how to do the up-and-under, how she uses the hook shot to her advantage, how she gets in position for rebounding. That was a daily occurrence.”
“I’ve already seen a lot of kids putting in extra work, joining AAU, doing extra things just to become better and continue the good path that we’ve made,” Byom added. “That’s super cool to see.”
The next stop on Byom’s path is South Dakota State, where the coaches like her ability to play both inside and out. She’ll likely play the 4 for the Jackrabbits, and her length, athleticism and versatility should help her transition smoothly. Still, Byom is looking for ways to improve ahead of her collegiate career.
“I want to get more comfortable with my footwork. I have some moves, but I just want to add a few under my belt,” Byom said. “Just adapting to the speed is obviously going to be challenging.”
Arneson said “the sky’s the limit” for Byom, especially if she takes full advantage of South Dakota State’s weight lifting program.
“I am so excited for this girl,” Arneson said, “because she’s got so much untapped talent still in her.”
In this Series
Super seniors: 8 La Crosse area high school athletes who received Division I basketball scholarships
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