Rachel Geller had a pretty simple job during her first trip to the 4A state girls basketball tournament championship game.
Two years ago, Geller was a sophomore long-range shooting guard for Chaparral.
Since the Firebirds, who won the title, were so loaded, Geller was the last option on offense. She just hung out beyond the 3-point stripe at America West Arena and occasionally put up a shot.
Geller and the Firebirds are returning to the championship game at 5:30 p.m. Monday against defending champion Phoenix Thunderbird at the Arena. This time, the 5-foot-3 Geller has an expanded role. The Firebirds' only senior, Geller is the point guard and team leader.
"I definitely feel like I play more of a role now, just being a leader," said Geller as she watched her teammates warm up before a practice this week. "I've been out there before, and I learned a lot from the 2001 team. It has helped me out."
It took Geller quite a while to translate those lessons into action. Chaparral coach Joe English envisioned Geller taking over at point guard last season. It didn't work out and Geller again found herself camped beyond the 3-point line. While the Firebirds were good last season, they lost in the first round of the state tournament.
English put Geller at the point to start this season. Too many turnovers again led to her being moved to shooting guard — temporarily. At midseason, English tried Geller at the point again. Geller seized upon her latest opportunity. She ended up averaging 4.5 assists per game in leading the 25-7 Firebirds to the state title game.
"Last year, we started her at the point, and then she struggled a little bit with pressure," English said. "This year, we started her at the point and she felt that pressure again, and we brought in freshman Kali Owens. "Finally, it just got to a point where we had to have her. She has finally accepted the role."
Proof of that is Geller was named East Sky Region player of the year. That honor wasn't bestowed upon Geller for gaudy numbers. She is averaging just 10.7 points per game and is shooting only 30 percent on her 3-point attempts.
Geller was honored more for the intangibles she brings the young Firebirds, such as her leadership. At times, Geller said she almost feels like the mother of the team.
"I'm the oldest one and they come to me," Geller said with a sheepish grin. "It's weird being the only senior. I hope that they look up to me, and I think I know they do."
Just like a mom, Geller doesn't hesitate to let teammates know when they make mental mistakes.
"That's what captains have to do," Geller said. "They have to be out there and they have to be leaders out there. I was the same person (as her younger teammates) two years ago, so I know what it's like. It's like a cycle."
Under normal circumstances, a sub-plot to the championship would be that it is likely Geller's last game.
At 5-3, she knows her collegiate basketball opportunities are quite limited, so she is hanging up her shoes and attending the University of Arizona next fall.
These are not normal circumstances, though, for the Firebirds. English is retiring after 25 years at the helm. That overshadows Geller's departure.
That's fine with her.
"He's done so much for us," Geller said. "He taught me pretty much everything I know about basketball."