The tallest girl on the floor takes the outlet pass and dribbles up the court in the elementary basketball league.
She’s also the point guard.
When the opposing teams’ whispers get too loud, her mother pulls out her birth certificate to prove that she’s the correct age.
Always being the tallest girl and having parents coach her in multiple sports, things were sometimes complicated for Kaylee Blake. But she always took things in stride. She kept her cool, kept her easygoing personality, kept improving.
The 6-foot-1 Blake developed into an outstanding three-sport athlete at IKM-Manning High School. And she closes her career with one final honor, as The World-Herald’s Western Iowa Female Athlete of the Year.
“I thought she was consistent,” IKM-Manning basketball coach Gene Rasmussen said. “She gradually improved as she came along. Each year we expected a lot out of her, and she did do that. She became a very good leader.”
The daughter of Larry and Kathy Blake comes from good bloodlines. Her 6-5 father played football at Northern Iowa and Northwestern College, and her mother ran track at Iowa State.
As two of her grade-school basketball coaches, her parents weren’t going to allow her to just stand under the basket and grab everyone’s misses. She spent considerable time as the point guard, “just to help develop those ball-handling skills, and be able to attack the basket and not just being in the way,” she said.
Even though she eventually became a post, the skills served her well. The Briar Cliff basketball recruit was a capable passer and able to help relieve pressure against the press on occasion. She surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career and was a four-time All-Western Iowa selection. As a senior, she averaged 17.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 57.8 percent from the field and 73.3 percent from the line.
Her basketball teams reached the state tournament in three of her four seasons. Her top memory came from her sophomore year at state. After losing to No. 1 OA-BCIG by 36 in the regular season, the Wolves trailed by 14 in the third quarter. They rallied to take a brief lead early in the fourth before falling 54-50. It was the closest call in Des Moines for the Falcons, who went on to win the 2-A crown. Blake had 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the loss.
“Playing OA-BCIG so well was definitely an accomplishment for us,” Blake said.
In volleyball, coach Kathy Lage remembers Blake as a seventh-grader coming to a camp she was hosting.
“One of the (freshman) coaches was there, and he said, ‘I didn’t know freshmen could come to this camp,’” Lage said. “He was talking about Kaylee. I said, ‘She’s a seventh-grader.’
“He said, ‘I’ll never see her, will I?’”
He was right. The four-year varsity regular helped the Wolves to state as a freshman. She was a two-time All-Western Iowa performer. As a senior, she registered 3.58 kills per set with a .347 efficiency, and added 43 aces and 52 blocks.
She posted those numbers despite never demanding the ball at key times or getting upset when the ball wasn’t coming to her enough.
“I kept thinking, ‘When is she going to get mad?’ But that was never her,” Lage said. “I compare her to McKaylie Croghan, who was the best quiet leader we’ve had. She didn’t say very much, but you watched her and you learned from her.”
In track, Blake qualified twice for the state meet and twice for the Drake Relays. She placed fifth in the 2-A discus as a junior, and second in the discus and seventh in the shot put as a senior.
On her final high school attempt, she heaved the discus 143 feet, 7 inches for her second-place medal. It stands as the seventh-best throw in western Iowa history.
Blake did it all while maintaining a grade-point average just over 3.8. She was in the school choir and a member of the student council and National Honor Society.
“Sometimes it was very overwhelming,” Blake said. “Especially if you lose sleep, then that just makes it even more stressful. … We eventually found a balance by my senior year, so it wasn’t so stressful for me.”
A rare athlete who drew legitimate recruiting attention in three sports, Blake eventually chose basketball and Briar Cliff. She said she “always dreamed of Division I basketball, WNBA, that sort of stuff,” earlier in high school. She came to realize that she felt more at home in a smaller setting.
Briar Cliff coach Mike Power said he expects Blake to bring “true back-to-the-basket, strong, post play to our program.’’
After serving as father and coach in many different settings, Larry Blake said he’s most proud of the way his daughter interacts with teammates and adults, and of the good choices she’s made.
“We’re fortunate,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues that people deal with, with their teenage kids. We didn’t have to.”