Rancho Mirage basketball captain Willow Mannes has always been underestimated at first glance.
“Willow is one of those players that we say doesn’t pass the eye test,” said Rancho Mirage girls basketball coach Rob Cullinan.
Instead, she lets her game do the talking.
“I’ve always come in with the mindset that it doesn’t matter if I have a 6 foot 5 girl guarding me, it doesn’t matter how skinny I am, if my technical skills are better, if I can dribble better, if I have a quicker release shooting, I’ll win,” Mannes said.
Her coach says she just has that "it" factor.
“She literally has like little fan clubs, they’ll stay at tournaments and stuff to watch her play,” Cullinan said.
“When I was in elementary school, I would always play, like on the asphalt with all the boys, and it definitely made me a really tough player,” Mannes said.
Mannes has been a captain since her sophomore year. A lot of her natural leadership ability comes from her role as the team’s point guard.
“Playing the point guard spot is like playing quarterback in football,” Cullinan said.
“You’re, kind of, responsible for the rhythm of the game,” Mannes said.
With that position also comes pressure.
“You know, there will be times where I don’t know if I’m good enough for this, but learning to deal with that and pushing yourself and just working harder is really important,” Mannes said.
“She has been able to take that hard coaching and she thanks me all the time for it because it’s made her a better person in her mind,” Cullinan said.
Mannes plans to focus on her academics in college, majoring in English or Creative Writing. She says the lessons she’s learned on the court - like how to be a leader and responding to criticism - will stick with her in that next chapter.
“She has a deep respect for people, no matter who they are, what they are, what they believe in, and I think that is a big part to her success is that she internally knows who she is,” Cullinan said.