Lady Kadets conquer Sierra Stallions on the court

Kylee Blacksten powers past Sierra’s Jasmine Monroe-Shivers (23) in the fourth quarter of Air Academy’s match against the Sierra Stallions. Photo by Liz Copan

Air Academy girls’ basketball coach Phil Roiko saw the potential in Kylee Blacksten before the Colorado signee put on a Kadet uniform.

Roiko remembers spotting Kylee off to the side during breaks in older sister Katyln’s summer-league games.

“We’d look at her and say ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is going to be pretty tall,’” Roiko remembered.

“We could definitely see the potential just watching her out on the court.”

But it was still just potential. Kylee quickly made an impact on the Kadet varsity team as a freshman despite a shot that needed a lot of work.

“I can’t describe to you how ugly it was,” Roiko said.

Kylee felt like she was a strong shooter in elementary and middle school, when she was coached by her mom, before she started tweaking her form around eighth grade.

“I kept hearing different things from different coaches. Then, I started getting worse,” she said.

“I created a lot of bad habits.”

Though she’s still working on refining her technique in the months before she starts her collegiate career, Blacksten realized much of her potential by the time her prep career came to an end in the Class 4A Sweet 16.

Kylee, now 6-foot-3 with guard skills and more than 1,000 career points to her name, earned Gazette Preps Class 5A-4A Girls’ Basketball Peak Performer of the Year honors after averaging 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks as a senior. She had more on her plate this year after the Kadets graduated their second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers from the squad that went 26-1 and suffered its only loss in the state championship game her junior season.

“She was terrific in her leadership. No one led by example better than she did,” Roiko said. “Everybody knows the time she puts into it outside of practice.”

As a senior, the Kadets’ leader scored in double figures in all but three games, scoring a season-high 25 points on two occasions. The second came in her final high school win — a 53-35 playoff win over Palmer Ridge — when she hit 5 of 8 shots from 3-point range.

Roiko pointed to a game during her junior season when he realized that potential would not go to waste. Kylee scored a career-high 29 points and made 12 of 18 shots in a matchup with Discovery Canyon and Ashten Prechtel, who went on to make an impact as a freshman at Stanford.

“Kylee had probably the best game of her career against Ashten,” Roiko said.

“You could just see her really rise to the occasion.”

Now, Kylee’s working to raise her game in hopes of helping the Buffaloes become more competitive in the Pac-12, one of the toughest conferences in the country.

“There’s a lot of areas I’m trying to get better at,” she said.

Her high school coach is excited to see what the next four years hold for Kylee, just like he was five or six years ago.

“Her work ethic is amazing,” Roiko said.

“It’s nice to have one of the better players in our state playing in our state.”