Highland grad is UMSL's new freshman rebounding queen
Highland High junior Sam LaPorta isn't the only member of the family doing postseason damage in basketball.
Big sister Alex LaPorta is making waves as a freshman at Missouri-St. Louis. In the Tritons' 77-47 victory over Bellarmine on Thursday night in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Vadalabene Center, the 6-foot LaPorta set an UMSL single-season freshman rebounding record.
LaPorta had 11 rebounds, giving her 227 this season. The former record of 223 was set by Denise Simon in 1996-97. LaPorta also had eight points and three assists in the win.
"It's been a lot of fun. My teammates have been awesome," LaPorta said. "Making the transition has been great. This is a really great place for me. I love it here. I have great friends and the coaches have been awesome."
LaPorta, who also was a star volleyball player at Highland, has posted nine double-doubles. She is averaging eight points and a team-leading 8.7 rebounds.
Sixth-year UMSL coach Katie Vaughn has led the fourth-seeded Tritons (21-5) to 14 consecutive wins heading into their semifinal game against top-seeded Drury (27-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Vaughn knows LaPorta won't be overwhelmed by the moment. Not a chance.
"She's growing so quickly into the college game," Vaughn said. "That's what you hope in freshmen as they get that experience. Her physicality, her grit have helped her progress and work her way onto the floor.
"She does the intangibles, the things you can't teach. When we need a rebound, we know when she's in there, we're going to get it. She still makes some freshman mistakes, but she's gotten a lot of time this year and that's going to help her work through those. ... She plays through mistakes. She plays hard. That's something you can't teach."
LaPorta plays with a stoic expression on her face, staying even-keeled. But Vaughn said there's a fire burning inside.
"She's quiet. She's hard to read at times," Vaughn said. "But you can tell when she gets frustrated or when she gets mad. And when she gets mad, you better watch out because she's going to turn it on."
LaPorta said she tries to "keep a level playing field and a level head."
"I do what I have to do to make the team successful," she said.
LaPorta had 647 kills in her final three seasons as a volleyball player at Highland. Her older sister, Olivia, also excelled in volleyball and is a junior at Fordham University in New York City, where she is a 6-0 middle hitter.
Alex LaPorta considered playing volleyball and basketball in college, but settled on basketball only.
"It was a thought for a while, but I just decided I would miss basketball more if I didn't play," she said. "I can always play volleyball for fun. Focusing completely on the game of basketball rather than have to split myself between the two is helping me develop my game and become the best player I can."
Sam LaPorta, a Division I football prospect at wide receiver, has another season remaining at Highland High. But when he graduates in 2019, the halls won't be void of a LaPorta. Freshman Bella LaPorta, the youngest child of Joe and Staci LaPorta, is an up-and-coming athlete in her own right.
Alex LaPorta, a business administration major, is looking forward to her final three seasons. She knows there's room to grow.
"I think I need to develop my post moves better, probably, and my ballhandling," she said. "Pretty much everything I could get better on."
Vaughn knows LaPorta will accomplish anything to which she puts her mind.
"We work in practice on breakdown stuff," Vaughn said. "When I go in the gym the next day, she's in there with a ball working on it herself. So you know when kids are doing stuff on their own that you've talked to them about, they get it."