Playing the sport since she was in third grade, Mlaska couldn’t imagine anything she would enjoy as much as being a part of a basketball team.
Then, she tried volleyball.
At nearly 6 feet tall as a freshman at River Ridge, Mlaska was a great fit as a middle hitter. Over the next two years, she added a couple of inches to her frame and became a formidable force at the net.
It was about that time that she considered giving up basketball.
“I was getting so much more recognition for volleyball, but then Georgia Southern contacted me and said they would give me a full ride in November of my junior year (to play basketball),” said Mlaska, who also spent two years with the River Ridge track and field team, throwing the discus and shot put. “I decided to stick with basketball and keep going with high school and travel-league and just work with that more. Volleyball then became the second one.”
Even after her decision was made to play basketball at Georgia Southern, Mlaska didn’t consider giving up volleyball. Instead, she chose to play both and finished her high school career as a four-year letter-winner in both sports.
Not only that, but she went on to be named Class AAAA all-state in both volleyball and basketball.
For standing out on both the volleyball and basketball courts, Mlaska is the 2013-14 Cherokee Tribune Female Athlete of the Year.
“I played basketball for so long, and playing volleyball was completely different,” Mlaska said. “It was something different, and it made me happy. The way that our team was improving, and going further in state, it was fun to be a part of that team. It was sort of a relief from basketball, and that was how I looked at it.”
As a senior, Mlaska continued to set a high bar for future volleyball players at River Ridge. She was named the team’s most valuable player for the third straight year and all-Area 7AAAA for the second year, in addition to her all-state honor.
Behind Mlaska, the Lady Knights advanced to the Class AAAA state semifinals. She finished the season with 259 kills and was good on 35 percent of her attacks. She also had 89, or an average of nearly four per match.
In basketball Mlaska averaged 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game. Over the course of her final year, she had 16 double-doubles, made 48 percent of her shots from the field and was named first-team all-Region 7AAAA and, eventually, Class AAAA all-state.
Mlaska scored a season-best 23 points against the eventual Class AAA state champion, St. Pius X.
River Ridge girls basketball coach Jason Taylor said it was a privilege to work with Mlaska.
“She worked hard every day,” Taylor said. “She listens and was very coachable. She was a big part of our success over the last couple of years. It’s great having a kid like her to coach.”
Mlaska said it wasn’t hard to balance the two sports, with volleyball season ending just before basketball got into full swing. During the summer, she worked out with both teams, along with a travel basketball team. During the spring, Mlaska didn’t get much of a break, attending workouts with both teams.
Things won’t get any easier for Mlaska, even though she is down to playing one sport.
Since graduating from River Ridge, she has spent some time in Statesboro taking required courses for incoming student-athletes at Georgia Southern. And while she won’t be playing volleyball, Mlaska is considering getting involved with the Eagles’ volleyball program as a team manager.
“It will be just as intense,” she said. “We are doing a lot of stuff with weights and working out as an individual in college. It’s still an every-day thing for me. We have preseason, regular season and summer, so it’s time consuming.”
By playing two sports in high school, Mlaska believes she learned how to manage her time. Not only that, but she feels her basketball abilities improved because she was playing volleyball as well.
“Basketball definitely helped with my stamina for volleyball,” Mlaska said. “I was never as tired as I would be if I was not in basketball. Everything that we did in volleyball to help my timing and help my jumping and speed in playing the game, helped me in basketball. I was able to jump a lot higher coming out of volleyball, and I was able to think quicker and move quicker.”
Mlaska hopes there will be a time when both sports share a spot in her life again. She plans to major in early childhood education with the hope of one day coaching volleyball, basketball or both. Mlaska saw several of the teachers at River Ridge wear multiple coaching hats, and she believes that might suit her at some point.
Taylor said Mlaska has already shown some leadership abilities.
“She was a coach on the court,” he said. “She could see what was going on around the court and help make sure everyone was on the same page.”