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She's willing to pay for room to board

Mira Costa senior forward Mikah Maly-Karros is the Southern Section's all-time rebounding leader, and she has battle scars to prove it.

March 12, 2008|Anthony Stitt | Special to The Times

Don't be fooled by her perfectly applied mascara or lipstick when she strolls onto the basketball court. No, Mikah Maly-Karros likes to scrap.

Just look at all of those war wounds -- the bruises on her legs, the scratch on her neck and the scar beneath her right eyebrow, which required seven stitches.

"Relentless," one teammate called her.

"She's fierce," said Coach Don Braunecker, who has watched Maly-Karros transform from an awkward athlete into a masterful rebounder.

Maly-Karros, a 6-foot-2 senior forward for Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, is the new Southern Section rebound champion, surpassing local legends Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller, along with Alana Hampton, who had the mark of 1,718 while playing for Arcadia Rio Hondo Prep from 1989 to 1992.

Maly-Karros is up to 1,806 rebounds, and counting. She has one game left in her high school career, and it's her biggest.

On Friday, Mira Costa (28-6) will play in its first state title game, a Division II matchup against defending champion San Jose Archbishop Mitty (21-11) at 5:30 p.m. at Arco Arena in Sacramento. "This season is pure magic," Maly-Karros said. "It always seemed like a distant dream to play for the state title, but now the dream is here."

The dream, however, was nearly derailed.

Three weeks ago, the Mustangs lost starting point guard Amanda Johnson for the season because of a knee injury, and they eventually lost to Bay League rival Redondo by 14 points in the Southern Section Division I-A final.

But Mira Costa regrouped for the Southern California Regional playoffs and in three games has three overtime victories -- 59-58 over San Diego Mt. Carmel, 41-37 over Redondo in the semifinals, and 72-64 over Chino Hills Ayala in triple overtime in the regional final.

In those three games, Maly-Karros had a combined 59 rebounds. She has recorded double-digit rebounds in 33 of the Mustangs' 34 games.

Maly-Karros, who is also averaging 18.1 points, doesn't just grab rebounds -- she fights for them. Falls for them. Dives for them. "I have bruises and floor-burns all over my legs," she said, "and it stinks because I really love to wear dresses."

She said she recently added 15 pounds, which has helped her battle in the paint.

"If you try to box her out, you can't stop her," said one of her teammates, Cal State Fullerton-bound Megan Richardson. "She's real aggressive."

But elsewhere, like in school, Maly-Karros is a "free spirit," Richardson said.

"Megan is the team leader, and I'm the comic relief," Maly-Karros said. "I just want to keep it loose."

In previous seasons, Maly-Karros wasn't keeping it loose.

"I was emotional," she said. "If we were losing, I would let coaches and referees know that I was upset. I wouldn't make the proper facial expressions."

Maly-Karros said she had to learn to be more even-tempered, and the person who taught her was her stepfather, former Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros.

"My dad is so level-headed, and he would talk to me about how you're perceived by other people," she said. "And I didn't want to be perceived as a girl who was freaking out."

Karros said he is simply proud.

"She has accomplished more in high school than I ever did," he said. "There are things I've seen Mikah do this season and I'm like, 'Wow, these are moments I will never forget.' "

But there also have been some nerve-jarring moments, Karros said. "I get so emotional. I feel like screaming. I feel my stomach churning. It's tougher to watch games than to play in them."

Maly-Karros has signed with Loyola Marymount. She plans on majoring in English.

But first, she has one more high school battle -- the state title game.

"In our gym, I'll look up and see all the banners from our volleyball team," she said. "Now it's time for the girls' basketball team to make history."

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