It is easy to see where Ellie and Anna Brecht’s shared love for basketball comes from.
Their mom, Amy Mickelson, was a standout forward at Brookings High School and a first team All-Pac 10 selection at the University of Washington. A South Dakota Sports Hall of Famer, Amy still stands as one of the top female basketball players in state history.
That fact is not lost on her daughters, who joke about seeing plenty of evidence of Amy’s achievements through home videotapes and shared stories.
“She was pretty much a stud, we do know that,” said Ellie, her oldest daughter, who is a sophomore at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Anna, a senior standout at Sioux Falls Lincoln, took it a step further.
“She used to show us videos of herself playing at Washington,” said the Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit, glancing over at her mother with a grin. “She would talk about how she was a post player and how her high school team was ranked third in the country and her and Renae (Sallquist Knopf) were the Twin Towers. So, yes, she likes to talk about that sometimes.”
Anna didn’t whiff on an opportunity to gently rib her mother, but when it came to discussing the impact Amy has had on her career – one which will see her graduate from Lincoln as the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder – her tone changed.
It’s apparent that Amy has passed her passion for the game to both of her daughters. More importantly, she instilled in them the same values that her father, former South Dakota governor George Mickelson, imparted on her.
“One thing she showed me was that whole factor of being a relentless athlete,” said Ellie, who helped Lincoln to its first state championship in 2013. “I haven’t always been the most athletic, but I think I’ve always had that drive to get the skill, and that all comes from my mom telling me, ‘You can do it and no one out there can tell you that you can’t.’”
Amy taught her daughters the value of hard work and dedication, lessons reinforced by their father, Jeff, a financial adviser and devoted Lincoln booster. Now they are enjoying the fruits of that labor.
Ellie is currently following in her mother’s footsteps, playing Division I basketball at Omaha. She was back in Sioux Falls for the Summit League tournament earlier this month, where the Mavericks reached the semifinals for a second consecutive season.
Next year, Anna will begin her journey as a D-I athlete at Green Bay, which won its 15th Horizon League tournament championship earlier this month. She played alongside her older sister for two seasons at Lincoln.
“It’s fun,” said Amy, whose son Nate also plays at Lincoln. “It’s fun partly because I know what a rewarding experience it is to be a college athlete. I’m happy for them that they get to experience it.”
George Mickelson, who served as governor from 1987-93 before being killed in a plane crash that shook the state, made sure that his daughter understood the importance of a strong work ethic.
“He always told me you’re probably never going to be the most talented kid on the court or in the room,” she recalled, “but you can always be the hardest worker.”
That blue-collar approach helped Amy become the sort of player who put South Dakota on the national map. One of the “Twin Towers” at Brookings, she and teammate Renae (Sallquist) Knopf helped the Bobcats post back-to-back undefeated seasons.
The headliners on a team littered with D- I and D-II recruits, the duo helped the team string together 48 consecutive wins. In 1985, Brookings reached No. 3 in USA Today’s national rankings and Amy was at the forefront, leading the team in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (11.2).
“As time has gone on, I’ve gotten to appreciate how unique that experience was,” said Amy, who garnered All-America honors her senior year. “That’s not the way most people get to experience it and at the time, that’s not something I really grasped.”
“We were starting to get recognition as individuals and as a team,” added Knopf, who now lives in south Sioux Falls. “I remember Amy and I were at a camp out in California, and the USA Today high school basketball beat writer said how special our team was.”
After helping Brookings to a second consecutive undefeated title run in 1985, Amy headed to Seattle and the University of Washington. She enjoyed similar success in college, helping the Huskies to two Pac-10 titles and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
The 6-foot-3 forward moved into a starting role her junior and senior seasons, earning first team All-Pac 10 honors and a top-overall seed in the NCAA Tournament her senior year.
For her efforts, Amy was voted female athlete of the year at Washington and was later named to the Pac-10 All-Decade team.
“She was my idol growing up,” Ellie said. “I thought I was going to play at Washington because my mom did and she was so good. I always wanted to follow in her footsteps and be like her.”
PASSING THE TORCH
Amy’s passion for basketball was passed directly to Ellie, whose success as a sophomore at Lincoln inspired Anna, an eighth-grader at the time.
“I liked soccer way better,” Anna said. “But continuing to watch Ellie play and get better in basketball, it made me love the sport more and want to find that passion on my own.”
Anna’s decision to commit to the game and cultivate her passion for the sport allowed for her and Ellie to play together with the Patriots for two seasons.
“That’s one of the highlights of their high school career for me,” Amy said. “At the time, I knew they probably didn’t appreciate how cool an experience it was to do this with your sister. I think now that they’re not going to play together again, they’ve really grown to appreciate that it was something they got to experience together.”
Their final season together, which culminated in a consolation championship, saw Ellie cross the 1,000-point mark for her career. A year later, Anna joined her older sister in the 1,000-point club, setting the school’s single-season scoring record in the process.
In January 2017, Anna became the program’s all-time leading scorer, breaking Steph Schueler’s 31-year-old record. Coincidentally, Schueler played against Amy in high school before heading to the University of Iowa, where the two crossed paths again at a tournament in Hawaii.
After Lincoln’s season ended, coach Matt Daly realized that in addition to matching her own single-season scoring record (23.3 ppg) and ending her career with 1,662 points, Anna had also broken the school’s career rebounds record.
But for all of the individual accolades, it’s Ellie and Anna’s commitment to perfecting their craft that Amy is most proud of.
The tireless work ethic is an attribute they picked up from their mother, and a large component to the legacy they left behind at Lincoln.
“That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of with all three of my kids,” says Amy. “They’re all three really hard workers.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .