GIRLS BASKETBALL: Chemistry is the key

Maranatha trio has blended well

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Above: Left to right, Maranatha s Natasha Herring, Rhiannon Smith and Kirstie Mitchell will do their best to help their team bring home a CIF title today when they face Whittier Christian. (Greg Andersen/Staff Photographer)

By Scott Galetti, Staff Writer

PASADENA – Team chemistry and leadership – a couple necessary qualities for creating a winning atmosphere.
Maranatha High School’s girls basketball team has three senior players who have bonded together to build the Minutemen’s team chemistry. And it’s been a solid mixture of old and new.
Two of the players have played together throughout high school, and the other joined in on the fun this season to form a pyramid of success.
It’s a season that continues today when Maranatha (24-5) plays league rival Whittier Christian (23-7) in the CIF-Southern Section Division V-AA championship game at the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State University.
Natasha Herring, Kirstie Mitchell and Rhiannon Smith have become close friends off the hardwood, and bring a common denominator to the court – size.
All three players stand 6-foot.
“It’s certainly an advantage to have three six-foot girls on the team,” Maranatha coach Annie Miller said.
And each player contributes in different ways to Miller’s squad. Herring, for example, is a strong student in the classroom and a team leader.
“Natasha’s just been stable and consistent on the court and off, and she’s been a real encouraging and consistent leader,” Miller said.
Mitchell, who has battled back problems all season, is the team’s most improved player and a hard worker.
“Kirstie is our inspiring player,” Miller said. “She just brings energy and inspiration onto the court, and that has just been huge this year for us.”
Smith, a cousin of Sparks center Lisa Leslie, has a true passion for the game and the desire to win.
“Rhiannon is new to the team and hadn’t played with these girls before, so she’s had a lot of adjustments,” Miller said. “She’s kind of had to work into the chemistry of the team, and I think she’s done that well.
“She’s the kind of kid that, if she sets her mind to something, she can do anything.”
Piece those elements together, and Maranatha is one win away from its first girls basketball title in school history.
“It’s been really fun this year to play with them,” Herring said. “I think our team’s been able to bond on and off the court and really learned to play together using all of our strengths.”
Although she may not have the benefit of shooting around with her famous cousin as much as one might think, Smith, who sat out last season after transferring from Southwestern Academy, has learned a lot from the WNBA standout.
“Because my grandma had so many kids, we kind of have a big age gap, but when she got older, I used to go to her games, and it was a big thing for me to see her play basketball because, as a kid, it was kind of a cool thing to be the cousin of Lisa Leslie,” Smith said. “With her being really busy, I never really got to play basketball with her that much, but I see her most of the time because she lives in California.”
Herring, in her fourth varsity season, again leads Maranatha, averaging 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. Last season, she averaged 13.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.
She has notched 10 double-doubles this season, including a 14-point, 15-rebound performance in a 55-46 victory over Village Christian in the Division V-AA semifinals.
“I think that our team definitely has focus, and the key thing, I think, that I bring is consistency, just hustling, getting rebounds and scoring,” Herring said.
This year, she’s had plenty of help from Smith and Mitchell. Smith is third on the team in scoring (5.6 ppg) and second in rebounding (5.2 rpg).
“It was fun to get to know everyone and really have a new team to have a love for each other and have a good season this year,” Smith said. “(Playing for a championship) is huge for me because I live for basketball and have played since I was a little kid. And for me to take a big risk of transferring and sitting out last year, I’m just so thankful.”
Mitchell (2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game a year ago), in her third varsity season, is fourth on the team in scoring (5.3 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.0 rpg).
“I think that I’ve just become more dedicated and taking it more seriously,” Mitchell said. “I’ve played basketball since seventh grade because my PE coach said I was really tall, and I got more into it during my high school career because I like the sport.”
Today, the Minutemen face a tall but possible order to become champions.

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