Freshmen making presence felt on varsity rosters - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

Freshmen making presence felt on varsity rosters

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Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 10:26 am, Thu Jan 27, 2011.

Basketball lends itself to individual talent.

The floor is spacious, the roster is small and coaches tend to play the best regardless of age.

It's why basketball has a tendency to have more freshmen seeing varsity action than other high school sport. The young ones come in so experienced after years of club ball that the game speed is the only thing holding them back so once the adjustment is made they are cleared for takeoff.

The Ahwatukee Foothills area has seen some freshmen make an impact in recent years (Jahii Carson for Mountain Pointe boys, for example), but this year's crop is deep and talented.

The Desert Vista girls team is getting major contributions from Emily Wolph at point guard, while Mountain Pointe has Kaylah Lupoe leading the team in nearly every category and Maddy Sulka is providing a punch off the bench.

On the boys side, the Pride (11-5) has Jalen Brown living up to the billing as one of the school's better all-around athletes while classmate Austin Witherill dresses every game and has seen some action.

Brown, who made all-region as a defensive back in football, has been a solid contributor all season and had a breakout game against Scottsdale Chaparral at VisitMesa.com Invitational. He scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point ranges.

"He's a freshman and some days his age shows," Mountain Pointe coach Brian Fleming told the East Valley Tribune after the 75-70 win over Chaparral. "He knows and we know that those days are going to happen. But then he does things like he did (against Chaparral). He didn't look like a freshman at all."

The real impact, however, is coming from the girls teams.

Wolph is the Thunder's point guard after playing most of her club season for the Arizona Rhythm as a shooting guard.

"I had a different vision for her as we needed a point guard and she never said a word," Desert Vista coach Rachel Proudfoot said. "She adapted well. We are really trying to get her to shoot more. When she isn't handling the ball it is a whole different outlook for her."

Wolph is averaging 7.9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals a game. It's a good start, but Proudfoot knows the 5-foot-4 sparkplug can do more.

"Right now I don't think she realizes that she possess the ability to have the whole team believe in her," Proudfoot said. "Everyone knows she is going to do the right pass and take the right shot when needed. It was like she came in and was worried about being too selfish."

Now that injuries - the Thunder (8-9) played without three rotation players Tuesday night in a loss to Hamilton - have hit even more responsibility has been placed on Wolph, along with sophomore Kylie Butler.

"I have always had expectations but I didn't know I would play this much," Wolph said. "I am just working hard and trying to help my team as much as I can."

Wolph, who had a season-high 17 points against Mountain Pointe and has had as many as seven assists in a game, is getting more comfortable with the role at the point.

"I was always a backup at point guard and it was a big transition, but I like it a lot," Wolph said. "The vision and being open to all of the possibilities is the most important thing."

At Mountain Pointe (12-4), Lupoe has been a dominant force. On the season she is averaging 11.9 points, 9.2 points, 3.5 blocks and 2.1 steals.

"She has been phenomenal," Pride coach Trevor Neider said. "There's been games where she has had eight blocks and 15 rebounds. She plays like someone who is 6-4 instead of 6-foot. She is the glue to our defense and we are putting more pressure on her on offense."

Sulka, who is averaging 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds, was brought along more slowly, but is one of the first options off the bench. She scored 20 against Phoenix Camelback in December had 15 points in the win Tuesday and against Mesa Westwood.

"Maddy is a great shooter and is always around the ball," Neider said. "She does a little bit of everything and looks better on tape because a lot of what she does doesn't show up in the stats."

Neider said playing young players can be a difficult thing early on, but as the season progresses it becomes a non-issue.

"I told them when I brought them up that they were going to be treated like everyone else," he said. "They've played a lot of basketball and they make freshman mistakes, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. We have played our best basketball the last three games and part of it is their growth."

The transition was made easier for the Pride tandem because they have each other to lean on and played together on the Triple G club team.

"I absolutely love playing with Kaylah," Sulka said. "We always warm up with her and work with each other."

While all of the players are handling it well there can be that hint of doubt in the back of a coach's mind on whether it is too much too early.

"Maybe .... maybe," Proudfoot said. "And she isn't a player who is going to say a whole lot if it is. It would be nice to get her a little more rest in games. She communicates well and we ask her about the game.

"When they get the exposure to the game this early they can become students of the game."

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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