Mountain Pointe's Kayla Lupoe has become one of the Division I top defensive players.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

Girls basketball is played below the rim and against Mountain Pointe, which is the home of Kaylah Lupoe.

The 6-foot-1 junior post player has a natural ability to block shots and when she gets a hold of one it can provide the same kind of oohs and ahhs a big dunk does.

“It’s like a turning point in a game,” senior guard Ashley Clubb said. “She gets us all pumped up. She always has our back. When I take a chance (defensively) I know she is going to clean it up.”

Lupoe has a height advantage most games, has good hands and feet, and yet she is still challenged in the paint. Of course teams have to keep coming inside but the opposing player often alters her path when Lupoe steps up.

It doesn’t always help.

“We can’t beat her in practice in 2-on-1 drills,” Pride coach Trevor Neider said. “She has a very good feel for it. She doesn’t swat them eight rows back then yells and screams like some kids, but she is so effective.

“She doesn’t really leave her feet, doesn’t get in foul trouble and isn’t trying for the big swat. She is disciplined with it.”

Lupoe and her older sister, Karyn, a 2010 Pride graduate, worked on blocking shots with their dad, John, who played at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

“We’d go to the gym and work on everything,” Kaylah said. “It helped a lot. He always said focus on the ball not the person.

“It’s a great feeling. A big block is a feeling of power, like you have control of the game. It helps the team, too, because it provides that big lift and we get the ball back a lot.”

She has had some quality games over the last three seasons, but nothing was more impressive than the triple double she had against Boulder Creek in a first round win in the postseason last year against the 6-3 Sam Young.

Lupoe finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.

“That was great because she was bigger than me and I had to defend her,” Lupoe said. “I had to make sure I had my team’s back.”

Lupoe has been on varsity since she was a freshman and her offense has started to become just as important as her defense.

She’s had four 20-plus point games this year and if it weren’t for some lopsided scores among the Pride’s 19 wins (in the first 23 games heading into Thursday’s action) there’d be more. Lupoe had a lot put on her shoulders when she was a freshman and it allowed her to develop even more.

“I am better offensively because I was counted on as a freshman,” Lupoe said. “It made me want to make sure I was there for them. I want to grow a little bit each year.”

Neider, who said Lupoe could be more dominant if she was more aggressive and selfish, knew she was going to be good when she came into the program and has seen only development since.

“Everyone said she brings a “block party” wherever she goes,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘OK, that’s club ball and she is only a freshman,’ but she was better than even what everyone said. She has only gotten better in every aspect of the game since.”

It will be hard for Lupoe, who has been in contact with several Division I schools including Arizona State, to approach school records, which have lapsed over the years, but it is a good bet that she is behind Stanford All-American and WNBA All-Star Nicole Powell, who graduated from Mountain Pointe in 2000.

It doesn’t take away from Lupoe’s career numbers as she is on pace for 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 300 blocks, 200 steals and 100 assists.

It all adds up to one dominant force below the rim.

“We steer everything toward Kaylah,” said Neider, whose team host North at 7 p.m. tonight. “She’s erased a lot of our defensive mistakes and that’s what we want. We know we can get away with things up front because she is going to make up for it down low.”

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