Every basketball coach wants their team to be good in transition, but this isn't exactly what Mountain Pointe girls coach Trevor Neider had in mind.

The team has been down to as little as seven players dressed for games because of injuries and illnesses. It has forced players to transition into different positions.

And now that the team is starting to get some reinforcements back more transition is needed.

"Everyone has been playing out of position and now that we got a few players back, they had to make another adjustment after getting used to the first change," Neider said. "It's been a never-ending process."

The results have been good despite the shortage of players and role changes.

The Pride entered Thursday's action at 9-3 after winning the Gold Division in the Scottsdale Holiday Invitational at Horizon High. Mountain Pointe advanced to the tournament's semifinals after going 3-0 in pool play with wins over Phoenix Central, Phoenix North Canyon and Phoenix Paradise Valley.

"We've beaten the teams we should have and lost some tough games," Neider said. "We have fought through it and now we are starting to get a little bit healthy."

The season started with senior guards Nikki Villescaz and Cree Christian out with anterior cruciate ligament surgeries.

Villescaz might get cleared in mid- to late-January, but with college programs interested it might be best if she stays shut down. Christian, who has sustained two torn ACLs, was just cleared last week.

Sophomore point guard Michelle Luna is out after tearing her ACL in practice just before Christmas.

The team is closer to having a full roster now that sophomore forward Caitlyn Hetrick (fractured ankle) and junior guard Saba Asfaw (illness) returned for the Scottsdale tournament.

To get through the depletion of their roster, Neider has turned to promising sophomore and freshmen class.

"We are really helping each other out and stepping up," sophomore Ashley Clubb said of having a shortage of players. "It's hard at times, but you have to step up because there is no other option."

A lot of that has fallen on 6-foot freshman Kaylah Lupoe, who leads the Pride in most offensive and defensive categories.

Through nine games, Lupoe averaged 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.4 blocked shots.

"She makes our defense look 100 times better," Neider said. "A lot of the younger players have played together and they look to her. She has been huge for us and kept us in a lot of the close games."

Lupoe said the transition to the varsity game is made easier because she is one of seven players on the roster who play club ball for Triple G - Girls Got Game.

"It helps because we know where each other is going to be, how we play and what kind of pass we like," said Lupoe, who had seven blocked shots against Mesa Skyline and 17 rebounds against Laveen Cesar Chavez. "So we are all together as one, like a family."

Second in scoring is senior Aleks Cataruzolo (9.5) while freshman Maddy Sulka is third at 8.8. Luna, a sophomore, was leading the team in assists (3.0 per game) before getting hurt and now Clubb, a sophomore, has taken over that role.

So the young players are definitely guiding the team right now.

"They are a good group of kids who are excited about basketball," Neider said. "The experience they are gaining now is only going to help later in their careers."

In addition to the youth contributing one of the reasons the team has been successful is the defense. There have been five games - all wins - where the opponent has scored less than 40 points.

"It is something I emphasis because we are not a good offensive team right now because we are on our third string point guard," he said. "We do a lot of man-to-man, but since we are a young team and still learning we still struggle a little bit."

With that said the team is playing well as the East Valley Region schedule heats up. The Pride is the defending champions and while they have a bunch of new players who weren't part of it they are ready to take their shot.

"We all want to prove that Mountain Pointe is still the team to beat," Clubb said. "We are going to work to win as many games as possible and everyone is ready to step up and do the best they can."

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