Jahnae Martin is the smallest player on the Desert Vista girls basketball roster, but that’s only because it is listed in height and not intensity.

The 5-foot-4 senior heads up the Thunder’s signature defensive pressure by being the instigator on the perimeter.

“She’s a great on ball defender,” Thunder coach J’ontar Coleman said. “She is the engine for our team defense. She has the pressure of guarding the opponent’s best guard, but she loves it. She thrives on that intensity and makes everyone around her better. I think when she plays with that type of energy it is easier for everybody else to step up. They feed off her energy and we want that intensity every possession and she provides it.”

Martin is that player that is both loved and loathed.

It’s been said a million times — hate ’em if they are wearing the opposite jersey, but love ’em when they are wreaking havoc for you — because it’s true.

The mentality she brings to the floor every game is one of the reasons the Thunder has vaulted into the national rankings (No. 18 by USAToday, No. 14 by MaxPreps) as Arizona’s top Division I team at 19-0 heading into Friday’s game at Mesquite, which the Thunder lost 46-44.

“I take pride in defense and when I get steals it really gets the team going,” she said. “I want to disrupt everything they are trying to do.”

She makes it so tough for the opposition just to get the offense started — if a turnover isn’t committed before then — that by the time they start their offensive set there is a sense of urgency.

And then that’s when the Thunder defense really digs in.

“She is a great defender and very, very aggressive,” junior guard Sabrina Haines said. “You always have to be on your toes because she is going to force someone on to make a bad pass.”

Martin’s imprint is much more than the numbers — 3.1 points, 1.6 assists, 1.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals — would indicate, but there is no question No. 3 is the key to the defensive pressure that averages 16.2 steals a game.

“They look to me on defense to get everything going,” Martin said. “Playing tough defense is something that you have to do to play for Desert Vista. That’s our No. 1 thing we do.”

When it comes to intensity she has a partner in Haines, who has been better than advertised after transferring from Mesa Mountain View.

Division I players Emily Wolph (Santa Clara) and Kristine Anigwe (Cal) are still the focal points of the team, but having a third offensive option with the multi-faceted skill set Haines has, along with the defensive desire to match Martin, allowed the Thunder to become dominant.

“It’s all hustle for me,” said Haines, who averages 9.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.2 assists a game. “Every since I was little my mom said hustle is everything. When you give all your heart then it makes a difference. I want to be aggressive and help my team win by being more aggressive and out-hustle everyone else.”

Coleman said the addition of Haines, who averaged 11,9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals for Mountain View last year, took the Thunder to a different level.

“Sabrina is that piece came in,” he said. “I call them The Big Three. You can’t focus on one player and you have to focus on all three and that’s why we are on this little run right now.”

It has all added up to a pretty special season up to this point with only six regular season games remaining until the second season gets under way.

“It’s a lot of pressure and there’s definitely a target on our back,” Haines said of the winning streak to start the season. “We know we can be great and when we play at our best we are hard to beat. We have to keep our energy going and hopefully we can pull it off.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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