When listening to Frank Moore analyze Kylie Vandenberg’s game, it doesn’t sound too good until he finishes. And all of a sudden it sounds awesome.
“The way she takes layups and shots around the basket are unorthodox,” the High School North girls’ basketball coach said. “Nothing’s flashy. You would look at her and say ‘This girl’s not good.’ The next thing you know you have to put your best defender on her.”
So, she lulls defenders to sleep?
“That’s exactly what she does,” Moore continued. “She’s not quick, she’s not fast, but she’s very smart.”
When told of that assessment, Vandenberg had no problem with it.
“I think it’s true,” she said. “I don’t do anything fancy. But as long as he says get the job done and I get it done, that’s what matters the most, to be honest.”
In other words, it’s not how you get to where you want to be, just make sure you get there. The senior has been making sure of that since fourth grade, when she first started working with Moore at his basketball camp and playing AAU ball.
“You could always tell she loved the game and she loved the work; where a lot of people don’t love doing the little things to make good improvements,” said Moore, now in his sixth season as WWPN head coach. “I always remember when I worked on her team with their shooting form, Kylie was the one person who you could tell went home and practiced, and worked on keeping the guide hand straight and worked on following through with her shooting hand.
“She was always very meticulous with it. She paid attention to the details. It was clear from a young age that she loves the games; wants to be good. She dedicated herself to the game.”
That became apparent this season as Vandenberg helped WW-PN to a 10-13 record entering the Central Jersey Group IV state tournament Feb. 20. It is the Northern Knights’ most victories in Vandenberg’s four years of playing.
Along with fellow senior captains Maya Anico and Emily Potenza, Vandenberg has led a fairly young team in learning a new offense this year.
“We’ve had growing pains,” Moore said. “We really put an emphasis on playing fast. In recent years we wanted to play fast, we kind of got away from that. This year we’ve stuck to it, and I think it’s paid off. We feel we should have won at least four games that we lost, but when you change your style of play, sometimes that’s gonna happen.
“This is the hardest working team we’ve ever had. They come to practice every day wanting to get better, pushing each other. The seniors push everybody to run their sprints hard every single time. The seniors have made a point to make sure all our girls are included and to make everyone feel like a family as much as possible.”
Along with her leadership skills, Vandenberg has also been filling up the stat sheet. Through 23 games she led the Knights in scoring (10.6 per game), rebounding and 3-pointers (40).
Asked if she feels she is getting the most out of her ability, Kylie said “Yeah, I think I have compared to years before. I think I’ve gotten a lot more confident in my abilities so it’s made it easier for me to be a leader and do things for myself.”
It doesn’t hurt that the WW-PN has been winning more.
“For sure,” she said. “At practices it feels like everyone wants to be here more than the last few years. It feels like everybody wants to work hard and get better so it’s easier for me to go in and work hard.”
At 5-9, Vandenberg can play the perimeter or under the basket. She has that rare ability to make threes and also get putbacks on the offensive boards. While she enjoys hanging at the three-point line, she knows that oftentimes she can thrive underneath.
“When people are in man (defense), there are often small guards on me so it’s easy to post up on them,” she said. “When I’m the tallest on the court I’d go to the high or low post. I like both; it’s fun to be physical inside. I like to think I’m versatile and can do multiple things, but I’m still trying to work on some things defensively, specifically.”
Work has been her trademark since she started playing. Moore calls her “an athlete you want to coach.” Whatever Kylie needs to learn, she does it through hard work.
“She’s been hitting her threes lately and when teams play us man, we put her down low, and she has nice post moves,” the coach said. “It kind of opens things up for our other shooters. The defense has to help down there on her.
“I would call her a three level scorer. She can score in the low post, she can hit the three. If she’s open mid-range at the foul line and she can hit that also. She has a very soft touch on the ball.”
But she’s hardly a soft player. In fact, she never backs down. After Covid struck during her sophomore year, Kylie finally got a full season as a junior and found that she was quickly the main girl on the opposition’s scouting report. Conversely, she would guard the other team’s top scorer.
“She always embraces that challenge and she enjoys the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player or having to figure out how to get open when she’s face-guarded or being guarded by a box-and-one,” Moore said.
Vandenberg picked up her competitiveness at a young age when she would knock heads with her brothers, who were also athletic.
“They’re probably the main factors in my playing sports,” she said.
Kylie considers basketball her favorite sport but is also on WW-PN’s field hockey and lacrosse teams.
She is hardly, however, a one-dimensional person. With a 3.9 unweighted and 4.3 weighted grade point average, Vandenberg is on the National Honor Society and is also president of North’s Interact Club.
She has received interest from Division III schools to play basketball but has not followed through on them, saying that “I don’t want to choose any place for basketball (as the first priority.”
“I’m not definitely sure what I want to major in,” she continued. “But something in sport science, health science. Possibly physical therapy or psychology, nutrition, anything along the health field. Once I pick a school, I may consider walking on, maybe to a freshman team or whatever.”
One thing is certain. When she graduates, Moore is going to miss the spirited player after eight years of coaching her.
“It’s been fun for me to watch her grow up and it’s bittersweet, especially this time of her senior year, for me knowing she’ll be leaving,” he said. “I trust her more than any other athlete I’ve ever coached. She’s just that responsible, she’s that kind of a leader.
“I feel she’s an extension of myself on the court. She sees everything going on, she’s always on top of the girls and where they should be, what they should be doing. She’s always consistent. We know she’s gonna show up and play hard every night and give it her all.”
And who cares if she doesn’t do it in a flashy way. The bottom line is she gets it done.