Six blocks.

It was the first quarter, and Natalie Kucowski already had six blocks.

Each one seemed effortless for the St. Basil basketball captain as any time an opposing player came close to the rim Kucowski was there to turn it away.

Sometimes she tipped the shot, redirecting it. Other times she completely denied it.

The result was always the same. All ball and no points for her opponent.

Casey Remolde knows exactly how it feels.

On game days, Kucowski and Remolde work together for the 13-0 Panthers. But at practice, No. 24 (Kucowski) and No. 23 (Remolde) face off in the paint.

It started in open gyms.

Before the season, Remolde had a feeling she would have to guard the 6-foot-3 center who regularly shoots three-pointers, a mismatch for roughly anyone. After all, at 5-foot-10 Remolde is the next-tallest player on the roster.

Even then, her shot sometimes gets swatted away.

"I understand what the other team is going through," Remolde said. "I understand what happens to them because it happens to me, too."

"It always feels good to get a shot off, and it isn't blocked," she added with a laugh.

St. Basil opponents know the feeling well.

Kucowski's presence in the paint isn't the only thing the Lafayette recruit brings to the floor as she is averaging more than 17 points and has notched nine double-doubles on the season. Her score sheet is littered with other stats, too - steals, assists. You name it.

"Before each game I'm not thinking to myself, 'I need to go out and get 15 points, get a double-double, have however many blocks.' I just want to play hard, and then those things come to you throughout the game," Kucowski said. "Honestly, the best games are when the whole bench gets in and you see freshmen, sophomores scoring, and the bench stands up and cheers for them, and you look at the box score and count how many girls scored in the game."

In the contest in which she had six blocks through the first eight minutes - a league matchup against Merion Mercy - Kucowski finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 blocks. Triple doubles have become quite common for the versatile player.

"I would hope to be that kind of player," Remolde said. "She's a strong team leader, too. That's my goal, to become a player like Natalie."

How does one become a player like Natalie?

It's something that Kucowski was thinking about herself before the game against the Golden Bears even started, how she's evolved since she was a freshman, brought on by assistant coach John Gallagher reminding the squad that the seniors only had "10 to 15 games left."

She learned a lot that freshman year, she said, thinking about the eight seniors who helped a then inconsistent and unsure-of-herself underclassman find her footing.

Kucowski is no longer inconsistent or unsure of herself on the basketball court.

But those lessons from that first year? She uses them every day and hopes to instill them in her younger teammates.

"I can't see there being a better player that ever walked these hallways," coach Terry Mancini said. "She'll finish with 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and over 500 blocked shots.

"She's has a great outside shot. She's a great passer. She's very unselfish. Her basketball IQ is outstanding."

They are hard to miss when you first enter the Basil gymnasium. Nine banners stretched out above the team benches. Four of the first five celebrate Catholic Academies titles, while another four indicate District 1 championships. In the middle is one that looks different than the rest.

It's longer and has a different design. It lists the four Panthers who have scored 1,000 career points.

Kucowski is close to reaching the milestone, only 25 points away. She's also been on two district championship teams, meaning eventually she'll be a part of one-third of the basketball banners that hang on the rafters.

But three of nine isn't enough for Kucowski, who is still motivated by the Panthers coming up short in both league and district play a season ago.

So, she'll go head-to-head with Remolde in practice, with the reminders hanging from the rafters above her.

Some plays - some days - the sophomore will get the best of her. On other plays - other days - the senior will do the same to the underclassman.

No matter the play - or the day - you've got to remember to be careful how and where you take a shot. Otherwise it's going to get blocked.

Even if you are careful, it still might.

@ka_harman