Name: Kylie Huffman
Kylie’s week: The 6-1 freshman forward for the Trojans’ girls basketball team led California to back-to-back victories. After California began the season with losses against Brownsville and Chartiers Houston at the Brownsville tournament, Huffman recorded 30 points, 21 rebounds and six blocks against Carrick Dec. 11. It was just her third career game playing at the varsity level.
“During the game, I never keep track of how many points I’ve scored or anything,” Huffman said. “I had a feeling I scored that many points, but I was shocked about the rebounds.”
Three days later, the Trojans hosted Ellis School and once again, she recorded a double-double. Huffman scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 32-26 rout of Ellis School. The 2013 season is much different for California than last year’s squad that lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to Quigley, 81-38.
Trojans head coach Chris Minerd’s 2012 team featured three seniors while this season’s California squad includes four freshman – two who start and one who receives a large amount of playing time. After five games, Huffman is averaging 18 points, 13.8 rebounds and six blocks per game.
“She’s the first freshman I’ve ever coached that has had this type of impact this early,” Minerd said. “I coached her in middle school for the past two years so I knew how good she was, but any time a freshman can come up here and put up the numbers she’s putting up is impressive, especially for our area.”
Bright future: Huffman is joined in California’s starting five by a freshman classmate, Jenna Miller. Huffman and Miller have paved the way for the Trojans while many expected the team to have a rebuilding year following the graduation of Courtnee McMasters and Nataile Baron.
McMasters averaged 22.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and Baron added 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 points.
The key to the transition has been Minerd’s familiarity with the four incoming freshmen. The fourth-year head coach also coaches at California Area Middle School and believes his familiarity with the players has helped with the transition.
“One of the reasons I coached middle school was to bridge that gap,” Minerd said. “It’s good to get players to know me and I wanted to be able to get to know them. At times it can definitely be frustrating. We didn’t score much in the first two games because we had the freshman jitters coming out in that first game. Honestly, when they are clicking, it’s great to see and it’s a joy to coach these girls.”
The coach is not the only reason for the group’s success. Huffman, along with Miller, Dominique Gaston, who alternates in the starting line, and Ashley Holt, have been playing together since elementary school, including time spent on AAU teams.
“We’ve played together for so long,” Huffman said. I look forward to the younger girls coming up too that I know and look forward to playing with. The first game was nerve-racking, but I have gained confidence every game. The game is a lot faster and it’s more physical. It can be hard to keep up.”
Dedication: Huffman spends 10-11 months out of the year playing basketball. Between her time with California and her AAU team, the Western Pennsylvania Bruins, the freshman works at improving her game. The result is a 14-year-old using her 6-1 frame to outplay and outwork girls four years older than her.
That work ethic has resulted in the forward being able to post up in the lane against the opposing team’s tallest player or guard a speedy point guard. Her mix of interior post play and perimeter shooting has California off to strong start in Section 3-A.
“I work out a lot and spend a lot of time in the weight room,” Huffman said. “During my time with my AAU team, I was on the court a lot playing with bigger, faster and stronger kids from other schools so that has definitely prepared me to face the competition.”
Minerd has spent the past six years coaching at California, including the past three as the girls basketball team’s head coach. During that time, he has not seen a freshman play like Huffman.
“Even in our first game, she had 16 points and 12 boards,” Minerd said. “There aren’t many freshmen who do that in their first varsity game ever. She is definitely a special player and I cannot wait to see what she ends up doing in the next four years.”
Despite the strong start, Huffman is not caught up in her early success. She is aiming to become a better offensive player.
“I definitely want to work on my shooting and shot strength,” Huffman said. “I need to get better shot strength. Of course, I’m tall so it’s easier around the basket with rebounding and everything like that, but I work on my shot to be a better all around player.”