Kloee Sander is not your typical Class A post player. She stands at 5-foot-9 "on a good day," she says.
But what the Lincoln Pius X senior lacks in size, she makes up for in energy, experience and effort.
"The one thing about Kloee that really stands out is just how hard she works," Lincoln Pius X girls basketball coach Ryan Psota said. "She puts her heart and soul into everything she does. She plays 100 miles per hour every possession of every game."
Sander's tenacity and leadership have been key ingredients in the Thunderbolts' success this season. They're 11-3 heading into Saturday's game against Omaha North. Pius X, ranked fifth, has several players capable of scoring, and Sander and 6-3 sophomore Alexis Markowski form one of the best front-court duos in the state.
Despite matching up against girls taller than her most games, Sander is very effective as a front-court player in the Bolts' high-low system. She'll get her points inside and she's among the Thunderbolts' top rebounders.
So what's her secret?
"When I go into a game, I'm not thinking about points, I'm not thinking about rebounds, I'm not thinking about any stats besides don't foul out," said Sander, who leads the Bolts in scoring at 14.1 points per game. "But I'm saying, 'I'm going to outwork the girl I'm guarding.' If I'm outworking them, then my teammates, something will open up for them, something will open for me."
Psota sees a player who can get in great position and gain an inside advantage several passes into a possession.
"For a kid her size, she can see where the pass is coming from and set her kid up by sealing better than anybody that we've had in quite a while here at Pius," he said. "She just uses her body so well to get an advantage offensively."
Sander has always been a post player. She stuck with the position because she always thought she'd get taller before reaching high school.
"I was always told that I'd grow, because you look at my 6-8 dad and my mom's about 5-8, you just think you'll be somewhere in the middle," Sander said. "I didn't."
Sander's development as a post player, however, continued to grow. Her siblings played a big part in that.
Sander's older sister Kennedy, who helped lead Pius X to its last state championship in 2015, had a similar approach to the game — strong work ethic, play hard — and it rubbed off.
"We were always beating each other up in the gym and always having fun with it," Sander said.
Sander also takes her younger brother to the gym, and gives him the green light to push her around near the basket. Sander can't change sides until she makes three in a row against him, she says.
While Sander likes life in the block, she also has put an emphasis on becoming a better player around the perimeter.
She would wake up at 5 a.m. many mornings in the offseason and hit the gym to work on her outside game. Playing with Nebraska Laser club teammates Gretchen Moll (Lincoln Lutheran) and Kayla Luebbe (Seward), both true post players, allowed Sander to play more on the outside during the summer. All the work — and all those early wake-up calls — is paying off for Sander. Her ability to drive to the rim or pull up for long-range shots has given opposing teams more to think about.
In addition to an expanded skill set, Psota said Sander brings an unselfish attitude to the gym, a perfect fit for a Pius X team built on a win-first mentality.
Sander also is driven to do something her sister accomplished four years ago — helping the school win another state championship.
"I love basketball and I love being part of something that's bigger than myself," said Sander, who is student council and student body president at Pius X. "My teammates want it so badly, as much as I do, and after watching my sister make it junior year and winning it senior year, I've seen what passion and energy can do. When you're surrounded by girls that want it just as much as you do, it's so easy to get that energy for them."