MONMOUTH — Monmouth Academy girls basketball coach Scott Wing moves his players three feet beyond their comfort zone for 10 shots at the end of shooting drills at the start of each practice.

Some get jittery simply flirting with the 3-point arc. Junior point guard Tia Day does not.

“She’s out close now to like three feet from the half-court line,” Wing said. “We obviously don’t want her shooting those in games, but it makes that one that’s seven or eight feet off the three-point line that much easier.”

Day and her teammates face the ultimate challenge Saturday when they face Class C North regional champion Dexter for the Class C state championship. Day has been preparing for the occasion for years.

“I’ve known Tia since we did Little Dribblers when we were about third or fourth grade,” fellow junior Abbey Allen said. “She was really talented, I knew that. When we came up we were all looking forward to playing with her.”

Day connected on 51 3-pointers during the season while averaging 12.9 points a game, but her game encompasses much more. She’s also averaged 4.8 steals and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 84 percent from the free throw line, numbers usually attributed to quintessential point guards.

“I’ve been playing point guard for probably my whole basketball career,” Day said. “I like being able to control the play and kind of run the show.”

Day cites her dad Mike, a standout playing at Monmouth in the early 1980’s, as her No. 1 role model.

“He’s really taught me all I know,” she said.

As far as college or professional players go, Day’s a big fan of former UConn and current San Antonio Stars point guard Moriah Jefferson.

“I like how aggressive she is and how she distributes the ball to other players,” Day said.

When Day is the object of opposing defenses, she concentrates even more on setting up her teammates. She scored 10 points, including eight of nine free throws, in the regional championship win against Old Orchard Beach and received the Robin Colcord Award as the tournament’s outstanding player. Allen led the team with 17 points.

“I’ve known Tia since we were in kindergarten and we’ve played basketball together forever,” junior Emily Grandahl said. “She’s such a good point guard because she can see stuff on the court that no one else can see. She can thread passes through a whole crowd of people. She’s startled me sometimes with her passes. I was not expecting them.”

On a team without a senior, Day has emerged as a leader, primarily by example but she’s not afraid to challenge her teammates.

“She keeps us in check,” Allen said.

Day is an accomplished softball and soccer player for the Mustangs, but basketball has always been her primary sport. She’ll play AAU ball after the season, lift weights in her basement and get into the gym whenever she can to perfect her shooting and ball handling skills. At 5-foot-5 and about 125 pounds, Day is not the biggest player on the floor, but she’s strong for her size, able to throw full-court passes and drain long 3-pointers.

“She can throw a chest pass from the foul line to the opposite block,” Wing said.

Wing has watched Day play soccer and says she applies the same instincts on the pitch as she does on the court with her ability to see plays developing before others do. She’s not particularly fast, he added, but has good lateral quickness.

“The mental aspect is probably the biggest thing that (jumps) out,” Wing said. “In soccer she sees the same things she sees in basketball. She’s very skilled with her feet but I don’t think she’s quite as good with her feet as she is with her hands.”

Saturday will mark Monmouth’s first trip to a Class C girls championship.

As a program, the Mustangs have played in four Class D title games but have yet to win a Gold Ball. Day is confident but not cocky and knows the senior-laden Tigers will present a challenge.

She also knows the Tigers want to slow the pace while her Mustangs want to push it. Her job, among other things, will be to dictate that pace when possible.

“It’s definitely been a big goal,” she said of the championship appearance. “I remember us juniors watching when Jenn Lola was playing in the regional (final) so it’s really exciting to be playing Saturday and maybe bring a Gold Ball here.”

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