Some students belong to a 4-H club. Kia Manuel is a prominent member of a 5-H organization known as the Gar-Field girls basketball team.

It seems whenever former coach Fred Milbert wanted to stress how hard the Indians should play, he would take liberties with the word "hard" to make sure he got his point across.

"When he writes it on the board, he puts like five h's in front of it," six-foot senior center Manuel said with a laugh. "Play hhhhhard."

Sometime toward the end of last season, Manuel began adhering to those h's, knowing they can translate into W's, which in turn can result in an AAA state title, like the one Gar-Field took home in 1998. An Indians celebration shot, with a grinning Manuel amid the pile-up, adorned the cover of the state basketball tournament souvenir program last year.

"When you're out there playing hard, you realize how fun it is, and you realize that you really love the game of basketball," said Manuel, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds and shot 56 percent from the floor. "I could play basketball all day every day and just be happy."

The Indians, favored to win a 13th consecutive district tournament title, are a bit of a curiosity this season, what with Milbert having resigned after 15 seasons and with veteran point guard Sarah Jansen off to college. Manuel, one of three current seniors who were in the program last year, has assumed a greater leadership role, a duty for which she feels prepared.

"It's easy to be a leader when you have such a close team, because you know that they respect what you're going to say," said Manuel, who scored in double figures in 11 of her final 12 games last season.

Manuel commands respect all right. The MSNBC junkie and aspiring owner of clothing stores for tall women will discuss just about any issue, as Milbert has learned. Manuel (pet peeve: frivolous lawsuits) recalls subjecting her former coach to about a four-hour filibuster on the way home from team camp in Charlotte, N.C., two summers ago.

"If someone says something and my opinion differs from it, then I'll be more than happy to say my opinion," a smiling Manuel said. "You won't leave until I'm heard--and I think I'm right."