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Former Center Grove standout traded high-tops for hiking boots

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Center Grove graduate Liz Stansberry was an Indiana All-Star her junior year. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Center Grove graduate Liz Stansberry was an Indiana All-Star her junior year. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

The tranquility Liz Mitchell immerses herself in contrasts with her years as a basketball player at the high school and collegiate levels.

Intentionally separated from sounds of cheering fans and officials’ whistles, Mitchell and her husband, Jerry, reside in a cabin in the woods of Brown County with their two dogs.

Her home’s exterior is cedar, the interior poplar with a wood-burning fireplace made of Brown County stone. A gravel road runs in front of the residence.

“Every night we sit on our deck and eat dinner. I do the cooking, and he does the dishes. It’s so serene,” Mitchell said.

The 1997 Indiana All-Star from Center Grove known then as Liz Stansberry has made a conscious effort to live these first 35 years to their absolute fullest.

It’s a journey that’s included moments of prioritizing and relocation, but not a single regret.

“I’ve changed quite a bit for the better just exploring life and being diverse,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to find out who I was and kept going until I found it.”

Mitchell received her nursing degree at 30 and works as a clinical liaison for Indiana University Health Morgan Hospital in Martinsville. It’s a livelihood that involves aspects of marketing, nursing assessment and networking.

Traveling today is considered a job responsibility, not a turnover.

“It’s such a wide territory I cover. I kind of choose where I go that day, which is great. My dad is in sales, so maybe that’s where it starts,” said Mitchell, a 6-foot junior forward on the Trojans’ 1996 state championship team.

“When I get home we just talk about our day and go on a hike. I wear my Stilletos at work and at night I wear my boots.”

Early hoops

The youngest of Vic and Marcia Stansberry’s two daughters remembers falling in love with the sport in the third grade.

A Franklin College graduate, Vic would coach Liz’s teams all the way up through AAU competition.

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s contributions to the greatest moments in Center Grove’s girls hoops history can’t be lessened by time.

Starting alongside two would-be All-Stars in Jenny Martin (1997) and Emily Butler (1999), Mitchell had 11 points and a team-high five rebounds in the Trojans’ 72-47 semifinal dismantling of Kokomo at the state finals.

She canned two 3-pointers en route to tallying 12 points later that evening as Center Grove beat Valparaiso 55-44 in the championship game.

“It seems like a long time ago. Another lifetime almost,” said Mitchell of that magical postseason run. “We just all worked together and were such a team. We didn’t have that one person. That one star. If a newspaper interviewed one of us, they interviewed all of us.”

Former Center Grove girls basketball coach Joe Lentz laughs reliving the opening moment of the final game against Valpo.

After winning the opening tip, the Vikings opened the scoring, carefully exhausting half a minute of Market Square Arena scoreboard clock before taking a 2-0 lead on a perfectly executed backdoor layup.

Lentz looked at the clock: 7:30 remained in the opening quarter.

His team then inbounded the basketball, worked it to Mitchell, who promptly buried a 3-pointer at the 7:24 mark.

“At that point I said, ‘I think we’ll be OK,’” said Lentz, now girls coach at Ben Davis.

“Liz was just consistent and solid. I could have set things up to have her average 30 points a game, but we had other players. She was good at everything and had good length. Fundamentally sound and a good shooter. But Liz and all the other kids bought into playing as a team.”

Mitchell ranks fourth in career points among Trojans girls players with 1,112 behind Nikki (Anderson) Cerbone (1,347), Martin (1,275) and Butler (1,124). She is second all-time in free throws for a single game (12 for 12 against Perry Meridian her senior season) and for consecutive makes (26).

Something of a rarity because of her ability to excel offensively and defensively all over the court, Mitchell would go on to play at Vincennes University (1997-99) before transferring to Murray State University (1999-2001).

Mitchell as a Murray State senior led the Racers in assists (79), 3-pointers made (39) and free-throw percentage (.821).

“It was great. Denise McDonald from Pike High School and I were together all four years,” Mitchell said. “I loved Murray. Just a beautiful, serene campus between the lakes. Not much there, but I enjoyed it. I’m not what you would call a big city girl, so it was perfect.”

Staying active

It’s been 13 years since Mitchell has played basketball competitively. She shoots baskets on occasion and remains an interested spectator when her beloved Kentucky Wildcats are on TV.

In her day, she played and excelled.

“Liz was a pure shooter. I always had confidence that her shots were going in. She was a match-up nightmare,” said Venus (Harmeyer) Thorne, a classmate of Mitchell’s and the starting point guard on those mighty Center Grove squads. “Teams often had to guard her with their ‘4’ or ‘5’ players because of the number of guards we played. These players couldn’t keep up with her quickness, and the smaller players couldn’t handle her length and strength.

“She was a hard worker but knew how to lighten the mood and make the game fun and enjoyable. I think she has always had a good perspective on life and knows how to make the most out of it.”

Mitchell’s activities today are more nature-based — hiking, chopping firewood, camping, canoeing, waterskiing and working in the couple’s garden.

A country girl doing country things.

The couple hopes to start a family one day soon, a best-case scenario being twins: one male, one female.

In the meantime, there are jobs to do — Jerry, a 1997 graduate of Franklin Community High School, works as a toolmaker for Rolls Royce in Indianapolis — and a certain rural solace to savor.

The Mitchells like bonfires and are known to play Bingo on Friday nights in Brown County.

A long way from the 3-point stripe, though Mitchell admits her experiences in athletics continue to benefit her.

“It’s helped me with my leadership skills, especially with those Center Grove teams because everyone had a say so,” she said. “It helped me in college, and it helps me with my job today.”

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