Freshman Abby Kain, left, at just under 6-foot-2, and junior Kylie Brown, at 6-3, give Simley’s girls basketball team an imposing presence. Photo by Richard Sennott • firstname.lastname@example.org
Talented Simley junior Kylie Brown was able to touch the rim last year as a sophomore. Dunking isn't out of the question.
"I'm working on it," Brown said with a laugh. "Maybe senior year, I'm hoping."
Division I offers are rolling in for Brown, who is averaging a double-double and has been a varsity player on a strengthening program since eighth grade. She has also become more aggressive on offense this season.
"I've always been a timid player. I don't know why, really," said Brown, who has received offers from Iowa State, Creighton and Illinois State, among others. "But over the years being on varsity, I've been trying to work on that a lot more. I'm trying to do what I need to do to help the team."
Simley coach Tim Peper has seen the effort.
"That's why you see her scoring average a little bit higher than last year," Peper said. "And I would expect to continue to see that climb throughout the year."
It must be intimidating to match up against the Spartans' two posts, each more than 6 feet. "I'm not sure," Brown said. "I've never had to play against ourselves."
Brown, at 6-foot-3, works alongside Spartans leading scorer Abby Kain, a freshman just under 6-2. Not many teams in Minnesota can boast two players who tower over opponents.
While Kain is the more physical post, Brown brings more of a finesse game down low. Both are dominating defensively.
"I don't know how many times I've seen guards drive, then they see Kylie there, and it causes them to pull the ball back out," Peper said. "I think that's a really nice weapon to have."
The two posts attract a lot of defensive attention. That, in turn, opens up a lot of options and opportunities for Simley's guards.
Alexis Boyd-Lockett, the Spartans' only senior starter, runs the show as point guard. Her sister Aejah Lockett starts as an eighth-grader. When teams are double- or triple-teaming the twin towers down low, Lockett has been knocking down open three-pointers. Junior Maya DeLao has been stellar for the Spartans, shooting about 50 percent from the floor while playing strong defense as well.
All three players surrounding the two posts are averaging more than eight points per game, creating a well-balanced lineup that can attack in many different ways.
A strong season last year, paired with the promise of four returning starters and a youthful roster, earned Simley a Class 3A No. 4 preseason ranking.
Peper ramped up the nonconference schedule this year in an effort to better prepare the team for the section tournament toward the end of the year. It's been a challenge for the Spartans, providing stiffer competition each week that they hadn't been accustomed to.
And with growing success in recent years, opponents have become increasingly aware of Simley's strong program.
"We used to sneak up on people," Peper said. "Now this year everybody's aware of us and they're ready for us and I think it's been a big game for everybody we've played against so far."
Call it a sign of a team worth watching as the season progresses.
"I feel like every year we've gotten better and better because we have such a young team," Brown said. "We have so much potential to keep getting better every year."