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BARTON, Vt. -- Point guard Kylie Atwood was just 2 years old when she picked up her first basketball. She was fascinated and has been ever since. The 5-foot-4 sophomore from Lake Region Union High School is in a unique situation, socially. She is one of five adopted African-American kids on the Rangers girls' basketball team.As a freshman, Atwood was just what head coach Mark Tinker's team needed to make the next step, after reaching the state tournament the two previous seasons but bowing out in the semifinals in 2007 and the finals in 2008. With the young, yet unflappable frosh at the point the team won the school's first state championship in 2009.
Atwood as just a sophomore has visited and received offers from the University of Vermont and Marist and has garnered interest from schools outside of the northeast such as Loyola (Chicago) and Clemson. Her friend and teammate, Abbey Lalime, chose to stay close to home and signed this past fall with Vermont. Atwood is determined to leave New England as of now.
"I'd hate to have her go away. We'd have to go visit her a whole lot," her mother, Diane Atwood, said. "But if that's what she wants …"
The Atwood family is very close, in spirit and proximity. Her five brothers and sisters all live within a half mile of each other.
It's the way things are in Orleans County. Both of Atwood's parents grew up in the same area. Even the principal at Lake Region Union, a graduate of the school who left the area for college ended up right back where he started. The family bond is strong and a good number of kids grow up with the desire to raise their families nearby. Whether Atwood follows the path of her principal or not is yet to be seen.
|Kylie Atwood scoops a shot past a defender against Hazen Union.|
Atwood isn't in any hurry to get away from her family. She could not say the same about her pony, however.
Paige Wells is one of the starting five at Lake Region High School and is also Atwood's best friend. But even as an accomplished horse rider, Wells was in over her head trying to teach Atwood to ride.
"[Wells] is good at horseback riding and so I tried a few months ago to try and ride," Atwood said, "I almost fell off a few times … so we took a little break on horseback riding for a while."
"She has her own horse and she's had it for, what, three years, and she's rode it about twice," her father, Jeff Atwood, said.
That's where Kylie Atwood's lack of confidence stops. She commands attention and the respect of her teammates and despite her less than prototypical size for basketball; she competes and looks forward to playing outside of rural Vermont.For the past two-plus club basketball seasons, Atwood has joined Lalime on the 90-minute trek, three times a week, from Orleans County to Burlington where the Lone Wolf club program practices and trains. There the two were pushed and paired up with players with similar ambitions to play collegiately and taken outside of New England to compete against stiffer competition than the Northeast Kingdom could provide.
The Lone Wolf program competes regionally but also has been a staple of the Fila event circuit. The team is a regular at the Deep South Classic in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, an NCAA-certified evaluation event in April that draws national competition. This year the team draws stiff competition from the get-go with a first round matchup with the Cal Sparks top team.
"I think we knew how much it was worth it after my first tournament," Kylie Atwood said, "and then I got my first college letter and I was really excited about it, so we kept doing it."
Wayne Lafley, Atwood's club coach with Lone Wolf, has had a history of developing players in the region with many signing Division I scholarships. Just a few years ago, eight of the 10 kids on his travel team roster signed D-I scholarships. He said Atwood's work ethic is as good as any player who has ever played in his program.
It is Atwood's work ethic and court savvy that have allowed her to get looks from major colleges, and her options span beyond northern New England, in spite being a little undersized. She doesn't let her lack of height impact her dreams of playing basketball at a high level.
"I've always had the dream of playing in college," Atwood said.
In a place not usually known for such aspirations, she has kept that dream alive.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.