Trevor Neider knew he was up against it.
The Mountain Pointe girls basketball team had expended a lot of energy getting past Highland and then they took a long break, during which some of the players attended the football team’s state championship game, before playing Pinnacle in the finals of the Lady Hawk Basketball Classic.
While Caitlyn Hetrick, Kaylah Lupoe and Michelle Luna were named to the all-tournament team, the end result was a bit predictable, the Pride lost 76-57, considering what was going on, but Mountain Pointe’s ascension into a top 10 is not.
Mountain Pointe, which improved to 6-1 on Tuesday with a 59-46 win over Xavier, might not be considered a top program just yet, but beating Highland on its home court and hanging with Pinnacle (it was 39-35 at the half) puts the Pride on pace for its fourth straight 20-win season.
What more would it take?
Performing in the postseason tournament is clearly next after going 1-3 since Neider took over before the 2009 season. Of course, the postseason is months away but if going 5-1 in the Highland tournament is a precursor, especially beating the Hawks 40-32 on their home court, of things to come then the Pride appear to be a positive path.
“We sold out in that because we knew the girls were going to the (football) game,” Neider said. “It was going to be our championship and we celebrated after that one. We played with Pinnacle hard and hung with them, but they shot the lights out.
“We wanted to win our pool (which they did), get into the final four after finishing fifth last year. The Highland win was important.”
The early success is a combination of having the core of last year’s squad back along with getting out and running early.
“A lot of teams kind of work their way into the season and with the offseason conditioning the players did we were able to hit the floor running,” Neider said. “Our up-tempo style worked to our advantage and we were able to do a good job of getting the shots we wanted.”
The Pride, who lost junior Sophia Anya after she transferred back to Marcos (she transferred to MP last winter) has spread the ball around as Hetrick averaged 13.7 and Lupoe 13.5 points apiece, while junior Maddy Sulka (7.2), freshman Tilasha Okey (6.3), and Luna (7 of 15 on 3 pointers) have had their moments as well.
The defense had a little something to do with the tournament run as well considering the first five opponents averaged 30.4 points (compared to 68.6 points offensively).
“We have a force under the basket,” Hetrick said. “We know we have (Lupoe) back there and everyone tries to keep that same intensity, but our (fast-paced) offense helps because we wear them out and they get tired.“
The Pride’s regular season schedule isn’t going to have many hiccups, although Desert Vista, Hamilton and others will be good tests along the way, so playing in the Nike Tournament of Champions will be vital for the team’s growth.
“We wanted to get the players more exposure and get them ready for the next level,” Neider said. “There are some good teams and it will be a good test.”
It is something the Pride knows it needs to break into the top 10 at the end of the year.
“We’ve been together a few years now and we think we can go far,” Lupoe said. “We’ve started out strong, but we know we are better at the end of the year than we are now. We will keep working so we can go far in the playoffs.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.