Kyla Irwin knew what she was getting into last October when she made an oral commitment to play for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The last 10 months haven't disappointed as her opponents at State College (Pennsylvania) High and on the AAU circuit deliver their best shots verbally and physically.
"I take it as a challenge," Irwin said. "But going to Connecticut is what I want so I'm not going to back down or hide from that challenge. And when other players go harder against me and push me harder, that's only going to make me a better player."
The 6-foot-2 senior forward has made progress.
Playing for her mother, Bethany, at State College High, Irwin averaged 20.0 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.3 blocked shots as a junior in earning first-team All-State honors. She was the first from State College to earn the award since Katie Glusko in 2002. The Lady Little Lions advanced to the District 6 Class AAAA final but dropped a heartbreaking 46-45 decision to Altoona on a basket by Paige Whitfield with 5.7 seconds left.
She caught another tough break in the spring as she prepared to play for her AAU club -- Alyssa Thomas Elite. She had to have her tonsils out.
"That set me back about a month," Irwin said. "It took me awhile to get back and I really didn't feel 100 percent until into June. But once we got going it was so much fun. I have great coaches and great teammates. We play really well together and our chemistry is so good."
One of the highlights of her summer was leading her team to the 17-and-under title at the United States Junior Nationals Hershey (Pennsylvania) National Showcase.
"Other teams would look at us when we came out on the court and they would think we were cupcakes," Irwin said. "But once we started to play we'd show what we were really like. We'd push the ball at them, we'd play hard, and we had so much fun. I know I made lifelong friends.
"And I like to think that I got better. Everyone faces adversity and you deal with it and you work to get past it. This summer I wanted to get stronger and smarter and I believe I did that."
Her AAU team is sponsored by Alyssa Thomas, the former University of Maryland All-American who is now in her second season with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun. Thomas' mother, Tina, is Irwin's coach while Thomas' father is the executive director of the Central PA Elite program.
"It's really awesome Alyssa does that for us," Irwin said. "AAU was important to her and she wanted to give other girls the same opportunity that she had. Alyssa's a very nice person and a very hard worker, and she's a great role model for us."
Another highlight of her summer was meeting two of her future UConn teammates -- Class of 2016 guard Molly Bent and Class of 2017 guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter -- on the AAU circuit.
"I was standing behind Andra and introduced myself and said, 'We're going to be teammates,' and she was great," Irwin said. "And I got to watch Molly play and she works hard and plays hard and really dishes the ball well. She's really cool and has a great family."
Irwin will enter her senior season third on State College's all-time scoring list with 1,397 points. Glusko tops the chart with 1,620 points.
But first she'll take her talents to another court. She was also All-State in volleyball last fall.
"I can't believe I'm a senior," Irwin said with a laugh. "It seems like freshman year was just yesterday."
Irwin plans to take her official recruiting visit the weekend of Oct. 16, which coincides with UConn's First Night program. She'll sign her national letter of intent in November.