By Christian Heimall, Staff Writer
On Jan. 27, the Hofstra women's basketball team was eating breakfast at its hotel on the beaches of Wilmington, NC before a game against the UNCW Seahawks. Looking out into the ocean, freshman guard Kate Loper saw something she had never seen before.
"Being from Idaho we only have the Pacific Ocean so I had never seen dolphins," admitted Loper, recalling when four or so swam maybe 100 yards off shore that morning.
But dolphins aren't the only things Loper never experienced back home.
"We never had a shot clock or AAU ball in Idaho," she recalled of her high school days in Post Falls, Idaho. It was there that Loper dominated the high school scene winning the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2010 as the state's best player. However, despite averaging over 22 points per game in high school, it was by sheer coincidence her path to Hempstead began.
"I actually never heard of Kate," said Hofstra head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "I was at a tournament in Washington, DC watching a New York City kid when I saw her playing for the Spokane Stars."
After seeing Loper play, Kilburn-Steveskey kept an eye on the high school junior and when the opportunity came, she took a visit to see her. Loper would later return the visit as well as give Hofstra a verbal commitment even with West Coast schools like Montana and Oregon calling.
"Coach [Kilburn-Steveskey] told me she was going on a road trip to Idaho and I was like ‘What's in Idaho?'" said redshirt junior Candice Bellocchio. "She told me there was a shooter out there and when Kate came to visit we loved her. She's been an amazing addition to our team."
When asked what caught her eye about the 5'11" guard, Kilburn-Steveskey immediately said it was leadership and ability to shoot. That talent has already earned Loper six Rookie of the Week honors in the Colonial Athletic Association as she has helped power the Pride to the conference's top offense.
"I can tell immediately when I let go of the ball if it's going in or not," Loper says of her three-point ability. "I love having someone come right at me because I feel as if I make more when there is pressure than I do when they are wide open."
In her first season of college ball, Loper is third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game and shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc (third best in the CAA, first among freshman).
"I never thought I'd get the chance to do this much this quickly," Loper humbly said of her contributions to the Pride. "I don't want anyone to think I'm out here trying to simply win Rookie of the Year or anything like that. I'm just thankful to be playing and helping these girls win."
The addition of Loper has made Hofstra's offense a dual-wing threat along with junior shooting guard Nicole Capurso. While the two both make their living from downtown, Loper says there is no competition between the two.
"She's like my big sister, someone I look up to a lot," Loper noted. "It's never anything selfish because we both just want to help the team win so whoever is open or has the hot hand that's who is shooting and we both love it when the other one is doing well."
But while Loper has been one of the top shooters for the Pride this year, she has still been able to contribute off the floor.
"I tell her all the time, even when she's a knucklehead, that she's a breath of fresh air," commented Kilburn-Steveskey. "She's extremely coachable and just fits in with the rest of the team so well."
"She's her own person and that's the best part about her," said Bellocchio. "She likes to start her own trends; she has a bunch of these watch bracelets that I see all over her room. Kate is just a lot of fun to be around."
If you get a chance to watch Loper play, you immediately notice her three-point shooting. But if you see her smile, you notice something else.
"When I was home for Christmas, my mother works at a dentist's office and they were putting rhinestones on people's teeth for breast cancer awareness," said Loper, showing off the jewelry on the left side of her mouth. "I ended up getting one to help show my support and it was done so it can come off whenever I want it to."
While the transition from the high school game to the college game has seen great success for her, there is one part of home that was very tough to leave behind.
"I have a sister who is now eleven years old and in the fifth grade," Loper said. "Obviously you miss your parents and friends, but not being there if she needs me is really tough."
The freshman sharpshooter says she still talks to her sister almost every day. It's a simple thing that makes the 2,500 plus miles between home and Hempstead much shorter.