BY AARON SNYDER
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL She’s the firewallresistant pop-up window.
She’s the clingy friend who just can’t get the hint.
She’s your car’s irritating sound that you just can’t solve.
With a style of play predicated on peskiness, Russell’s Ty Mitchell is the player that haunts opponents’ nightmares while simultaneously motivating them to chase their dreams.
“I know how it was when I was a player,” said Lewis County basketball coach Jay Fite. “I would think about those people that were going to be D-ing up on me, and I’d work in the offseason thinking about those people.”
Mitchell adores defense, and always has. The four-year starter who began playing varsity basketball as an eighth-grader said her infatuation with point prevention fully blossomed in middle school.
“Ever since then I’ve loved defense because defense creates offense,” Mitchell said.
The relentless Russell senior has 237 steals to her name.
“The first thing I think of is her speed and her toughness,” said Ashland coach Bill Bradley. “She’s not as big as a minute, but she’s super tough. Obviously she won’t back down from anybody. When Ty’s on the court, something’s gonna happen.”
Given her undeviating motor, injuries would normally be a typical side effect. However, Mitchell has missed only a handful of games. She was sidelined for four contests this season as she battled through a sacroiliac joint issue.
“Between the chiropractor, steroids and therapy, she got back fast,” said Russell coach Mandy Layne. “It was amazing when she came back and was just able to get in shape. Her athleticism is very impressive.”
Mitchell is tasked daily with defending the other team’s best guard. On non-game days, that duty doesn’t vary — in practice, Layne pits her against 2,000-point scorer Madison Darnell.
“I love the challenge,” Mitchell said.
“She knows her role and she carries it out each and every day,” Layne said. “She and Madison really make each other better.”
Fite’s noticed Mitchell’s impact on his own players.
“I can use Gracie Yates as an example, or we can go back to (former guard) Emily Frye,” Fite said. “She really put a defensive presence on (Frye), and she’s made Gracie a better player.”
Just as baseball’s best hitters have the green light from the dugout on a 3-0 count, Mitchell has the green light to defend however she sees fit, no matter the situation.
“Any cross-court pass, unless she’s guarding the passer, if she’s on the baseline, the wing, wherever, she’s gonna go for it,” Bradley said.
Bradley, Fite and other opposing coaches have astutely observed Mitchell’s offensive improvement, too. Layne can afford to stand back and smile from time to time.
“If you get anywhere out of position, she can drive right by ya,” Layne said. “And she’s definitely improved her ability to make layups. She can take that little jumper, too.”
Mitchell is nearing 900 career points. She is hitting 44 percent of her field goals, including almost 32 percent of her 3-point tries.
“She’s made Russell hard to press because of her speed,” Fite said. “If she gets it on the sideline, going down that left side, she’s a hard person to cut off, a hard person to contain. She’s an improved shooter now, and you gotta respect her.”
Mitchell can flip the switch from serious demeanor to free spirit in an instant.
“The kids love her,” Layne said. “She’s kind of a jokester. She knows how to lighten the mood.”
Mitchell and her teammates are as cohesive as they’ve been in her career, she said, even with their chemistry stacked against that of the 2015-16 16th Region championship squad.
“We’re always hitting each other’s hands, picking each other up when we’re down,” Mitchell said. “We hang out outside of basketball, so it’s really good.”
Mitchell attributes her nonstop hustle to the energy she feels when the clock is running.
“I feed off the crowds, the positivity, everything,” Mitchell said. “The girls, they help me. We help each other.”
Russell rushes into this week on a season-high eightgame winning streak. The Lady Devils (18-6) are looking at five remaining regular-season games.
Layne will continue to rely on “the best defender in the 16th Region,” as she labels her, to serve as the Lady Devils’ catalyst.
“Once again, it starts with her,” said the coach. “She puts the pressure on and our kids just feed off of that.”
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