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Stellar sub: Pioneers' Merriman provides versatility

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Millbrook’s Lisa Merriman looks to pass during against Loudoun County in the Region II Division 4 championship game Saturday in Winchester. Andrew Thayer/Daily


By Tommy Keeler Jr. - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Lisa Merriman could start on most if not all of the other Group AA teams in the state, but at Millbrook she comes off the bench and that suits the senior guard just fine.

"Everyone always asks me how do I like being sixth man?" Merriman said. "And does it make me mad, a junior starting over me? It doesn't even bother me at all. I like coming off the bench, and being able to step up and fill either Danielle {Banks] or Sara's [Mead] shoes. And just play good defense and shoot the ball and not having any drop-off. And just get everyone the ball."

Coming off the bench is just one of Merriman's roles on the team, and she does each of them well.

Over the last three years, Merriman has done whatever has been asked of her. She's hit big shots in key moments. She's stepped up when a starter has been out. She's helped give the starters valuable breaks when they needed them, while also playing solid defense.

"She'd start for anybody else. We like her coming off the bench as a coaching staff," Millbrook coach Debby Sanders said. "We got another solid guard on our bench that can shoot the 3-ball. She can light it up from anywhere. She knows anybody's role on the floor. She's just the ultimate team player."

Merriman said her first real taste of basketball came in fifth grade, when she tried out for the Winchester Rising Stars Amateur Athletic Union squad.

It was there that she played with some of her future Millbrook teammates -- Mead, Courtni Green and Alisha Mobley -- for the first time. Merriman said that's where the current team first began to bond.

They also won an AAU national championship together, the first of many successes for the group.

Merriman was brought up to the varsity squad at Millbrook as a sophomore, and she said the transition was easy because she was back with some of her old teammates.

"I had grown up with all of them," Merriman said. "Coming in playing varsity from JV, it wasn't that big of a change because I was used to playing high level at AAU."

Merriman had a solid season her sophomore year coming off the bench, but one of the big highlights came in the state championship game against Greensville County.

With 35 seconds left in the third quarter, Green fell and sprained her ankle. With Millbrook clinging to a five-point lead, Merriman had to go in to replace her. She made the most of it, draining a key 3-pointer that gave the Pioneers all the momentum they would need to close out the win and their first state title.

"I knew I had to step up in those last couple seconds of the quarter, because Greensville was getting momentum," Merriman said. "I just stepped up, and I didn't even think about shooting. And I shot it and it went in."

Last year she repeated the feat. Merriman hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter in the state final against Robert E. Lee to give the Pioneers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

To start this season, Mead, the starting point guard, was out with an injury. Merriman stepped into the starter's role and the team didn't miss a beat.

"It's never good to get hurt, but knowing that even when I was out with my ankle that she would be able to step in and take care of business was a really good feeling," Mead said. "She's worked hard and she deserves the playing time she gets."

As the backup point guard, Merriman goes at it a lot in practice with Mead. The pair have a friendly competition with each other in practice.

"She pushes me to get better and I try to push her a lot to get better as well," Mead said. "We kind of use each other to motivate each other and to work hard."

This season, Merriman is having her best year. She is averaging 7.8 points, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. She is also one of the top players on the team in taking charges.

Merriman is also shooting 43.8 percent from the field, including 41.3 from 3-point range. Merriman said as good as her offense has been, she feels she's really improved on defense.

While she's known as a great shooter, she's also known for something else -- hitting half-court shots. Merriman said she first began attempting half-court shots during halftime of boys basketball games in eighth grade.

"I'd always get mad because I wouldn't make it, and then my freshman year I finally made my first one," Merriman said. "The only time I shoot them is the halftime shoot arounds. And then sometimes during our shoot arounds I'll just mess around. Last week, I made one from the volleyball line. I don't know, it's just kind of luck."

Merriman estimated she's probably made around 30 over the last four years, and has made as many as four in a row. She made one in a game for the first time earlier this season against Washington.

Typically the prize for hitting a half-court shot at halftime is free food from Chick-fil-A, which Merriman's teammates have also benefited from.

"We're of course always getting on her and trying to see what we can get out of that, too," Mead said with a laugh. "She's definitely the queen of the half-court shot. That's who we're going to give it to if it's a close game and we need a half-court shot. We're just going to pass it to her and she's going to take it for us."

The Pioneers have won 77 straight games and trying to win their third consecutive state title in the next 11 days. Millbrook will play Grafton on Friday in the Group AA, Division 4 state quarterfinals at James Madison University at 7 p.m.

Merriman said she hasn't really thought about the fact that this is the last two weeks for the seven seniors on the team.

"I just want to live in the moment and keep playing," Merriman said.






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