After winning a Division II state title in girls basketball last season, the Napoleon Lady Cats are turning a page in their program - one that continues a legacy of not just great play on the court, but an exemplary example off of it.
Napoleon senior Emma Pedroza is the perfect player to continue the Lady Cats' culture.
"She is similar to the kids in the past," said Napoleon girls basketball coach Corey Kreinbrink. "She is an extremely caring individual. She makes sure others are involved and makes sure everyone is on the same page. At the same time, if something needs to be said she is not afraid to get that job done as well."
Pedroza is well aware of the role she finds herself in as the girls basketball season begins.
"So much comes with being a part of this program," said Pedroza. "There are as many things off the court as on the court like accountability, loyalty and respectfulness. Coach K has helped me with all the important things in life.
"It's so different with everyone gone," she added. "They were the ones that helped me when I needed it. I have to push the others now, like they helped me."
Pedroza moved to Napoleon when she was in eighth grade and by that point had made the transition from an athlete to a basketball player.
"I started playing in the fourth grade, but I wasn't serious about basketball until the sixth or seventh grade," said Pedroza, who started playing AAU basketball with Taylor Strock, Cait Good and Kalli Helberg (who would become her teammates at Napoleon). "I was really big into softball. I wanted to play it in college. My dad realized I could be good at basketball, but I needed to play it all the time. He's the reason I am the basketball player I am."
Pedroza played 16 games at the varsity level as a freshman, joining her sister Shae, who was a junior that season, on the team.
The next two seasons have been well documented, with the Lady Cats going undefeated before COVID-19 shutdown the state tournament just before Napoleon was supposed to play. The Lady Cats came back last season and won the Division II title.
Pedroza was a key player both seasons, averaging 6.1 points per game off the bench as a sophomore and 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a starter last season.
For her career, Pedroza is shooting 42.1% from the field, including 36% from 3-point range.
"Being left handed has a lot of advantages," said Kreinbrink. "It is a different look than what defenses are used to seeing. She has a really quick first step and a good release with her shot.
"When she got here she was not a good outside shooter," added the Napoleon coach. "She turned herself into one of the better shooters in the area."
She did that with pure work, spending four or five hours in the gym every day in the summer and either coming before school or staying after practice (or sometimes both) once the season started.
"I have memorized the gym schedule," said Pedroza.
With her sister graduating two years ago and seven seniors gone from last season's team, Pedroza is now the one in the spotlight.
"I have joked with her that she has been waiting for this her whole life, being the go-to player on the court," said Kreinbrink. "Not that she wasn't capable before, but she is the No. 1 option right now and the pressure of learning to deal with that."
Learning new roles is something Pedroza thrives on.
"I love trying different things," said Pedroza, who is auditioning for a one-act play (something she has never done before). "I love the chance to grow as a person, and there is no better time to do it than when you are young."
Pedroza, who has a 3.9 grade point average, is secretary of student council, vice president of the senior class and on the prom committee. She is even thinking of playing softball again.
After high school, Pedroza has already signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Lourdes University, reuniting with her sister.
"I love playing basketball with my sister," said the daughter of Oscar and Brooklyn Pedroza of Napoleon. "I want to major in business and minor in sports management. But after basketball, I want to earn a ministry license and preach at conferences all over the world.
"I love going to church," added Pedroza, who also has a passion for writing. "I have made a lot of my friends at a church setting. I am strong in my faith."
It is this combination of player and person as to why Kreinbrink is confident in the direction of the Lady Cats' program.
"She can do a number of different things," he said. "A lot more than people realize."