Mountain Pointe junior Caitlyn Hetrick drives to the basket during their game against Marco de Niza. Dec 6, 2011. Darryl Webb/AFN

Darryl Webb

Caitlyn Hetrick is free of pain and administering a little bit of it on the opposition.

It's what Mountain Pointe expected all along from Hetrick, but a couple of injuries slowed her development and kept her on the sidelines.

"I feel great and 100 percent healthy," the Pride junior guard/forward said. "My shot is smooth and I am being aggressive to the basket. I am almost at the top of my game, but not there yet. I love the way we are playing and think we can go all the way this year."

It's awful early to worry about February playoff games, but it is clear that the Pride has a much better chance of pulling off a deep run into the postseason with a healthy and motivated Hetrick.

"She can be a difference maker," Pride coach Trevor Neider said. "She has been really good to start and that's what we expected last year, but her season was derailed."

Hetrick opened the year with a 22-point effort in a win over Gilbert and since reached the 20-point barrier two more times, and averages 16.1 points through the first eight games to help the Pride to a 6-2 start.

The 5-foot-8 Hetrick plays much bigger than she is and is a bit of a bruiser. Finesse takes a backseat to a physical presence.

"Caitlyn is tough and she never gives up on a play," sophomore post Kaylah Lupoe said. "We missed that last year."

Ah, last year.

The problems started in summer ball when she played through some pain. Neider would ask her what was wrong. The response always came back that she was fine. What she forgot to say was that she was also stubborn.

Hetrick played on a fractured fibula and just dealt with the pain before getting it checked out. It got a chance to heal completely when she was recuperating from a fracture suffered in the preseason scrimmage that knocked her out of commission for the first month of last year.

"I thought it was a bruise and it hurt, but I didn't know it was that bad," Hetrick said of the fibula. "I just figured I could play through it."

She did, but it hindered her development because she couldn't play at her usually frantic pace and then the ankle injury forced her out.

"That was hard watching," Hetrick said. "We were a good team, but I knew I could make us better if I was out there playing like I can."

The Pride got a taste of what she could bring to the team when Hetrick returned at the end of December after missing the first nine games.

"I came back, but I still wasn't 100 percent," said Hetrick, who averaged 9.2 points, reaching double figures seven times. "It was frustrating because if I am not hustling and working harder than everyone else, than I am not playing my game."

By this summer it was clear that Hetrick was back to being herself, and before the season she was named a unanimous captain.

"That meant a lot to me because I missed time and didn't play like I wanted to," she said. "I want to lead and take us where I think we can go. We are more of team this year and that wasn't always our approach last year."

The team is coming off a 20-win season with a roster that is a year older after playing plenty underclassmen and added point guard Myesha McGhee, who sat out last season after transferring from Red Mountain, to give the team high hopes.

The development of Hetrick, who averages 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.8 assists, has taken the pressure off Lupoe, who nearly averaged a double-double as a freshman.

The opposition is starting to take notice of Hetrick and it won't be long before the defense is focused on her instead of Lupoe, who is averaging 7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, which in turn will create some space for Lupoe on the block.

"It's going to come pretty quick, but we have the depth to deal with it," said Neider on the opposition changing defensive focus. "Teams are going to start trying to take her away, but Caitlyn will keep coming because that's who she is. We don't run a lot of plays for Caitlyn, but she has such a good shot. She is not going to back down to anyone."

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

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