Healthy Gupilan lifts GCC

She's accustomed to pain radiating throughout her body.

It's part of the equation in being an athlete, and that's something that hasn't gone undetected by Paola Gupilan. It can't with excruciating soreness still lodged in her left knee and back.

The best way for Gupilan, a sophomore on the Glendale Community College women's basketball team, to brush aside the pain is to continue training hard and helping the Vaqueros pile up victories.

It's easier said than done, but Gupilan would like to prove it after tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament, straining her medial collateral ligament and suffering a back injury, all since 2006.

At least there's a silver lining for Gupilan, who has helped the Vaqueros post a record of 12-9 and 2-1 in the Western State Conference's Southern Division entering Wednesday's home divisional game against Citrus College.

“Right now, this is the best health I've had in the last couple of years,” said Gupilan, who is averaging a team-leading 16.5 points and four assists per game. “So, I feel real blessed because I've been able to enjoy the game a lot more.

“I get a lot of these little type of injuries. I thought I had gone through a lot of bad luck with all of the injuries that I had suffered.”

That might have been the case at one point, but Gupilan has been able to put the injuries behind her and get the Vaqueros in position to be one of the top teams in the competitive division. The Vaqueros, who are seeking their first playoff berth since 2003, have turned to Gupilan, a Mark Keppel High graduate, to get on track after she missed all but two games last season because of a back ailment.

After opening conference action with a road loss to West Los Angeles College on Jan. 7, Gupilan responded with a big effort in the next game. She finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds to help spur the host Vaqueros to a 74-58 divisional victory against L.A. Valley College on Jan. 10 and followed that up Wednesday with another 19-point effort in Glendale college's 72-67 divisional road win against Santa Monica City College.

“I think that I've been able to get my shot down,” said Gupilan, who sustained a knee injury during a summer league game in San Diego before her senior season at Mark Keppel in 2006. “I think that I still need to do more because I'm trying to get to the next level.

“I feel that I still need to be able to work on some things, like getting stronger and faster.”

It will still take some time for Gupilan, whose cousin, Amanda, is a freshman guard at Glendale college, to be completely satisfied with her performance on the court and conditioning.

A healthy Gupilan on board might help the Vaqueros, who won 39 games the previous two seasons, get in position to end a five-year postseason drought.

“She's a crucial part of our team,” said fourth-year Glendale college Coach Monica Hang, whose team has won two games in a row. “She's been a huge asset to the team and one of the reasons why we have been winning.

“Despite all of the injuries that she's had, Paola is still intelligent. She's limited in the physical ability of getting up and down the court, but she makes up for it with her vision and shooting techniques.”

Gupilan ranks second on the team in rebounding and steals. She's averaging 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.

Her teammates have seen Gupilan serve notice, including freshman guard Rachel Estrella.

“She's been able to teach me a lot just by her passion for the game,” said Estrella, a Hoover High graduate and a reigning All-Area first-team member. “She's been able to encourage me a lot in different ways because the competition [at the college level] is a lot better.

“For us to be good, we have to rely on each other.”

Gupilan has been able to get the key baskets for the Vaqueros throughout the first half of the season. She doesn't want to fall off that pace at any time.

The Vaqueros have five weeks left in the regular season to make a charge toward the top of the division, considered one of the toughest in the state.

“Since I've been at GCC, we haven't finished higher than third,” Gupilan said. “We are trying to break the program's win total and make the playoffs, but we are going to have to finish first or maybe second [in the division] to get in.”

Pain or no pain, Gupilan will look to help the Vaqueros accomplish many or all of those goals.


?CHARLES RICH covers sports. He can be reached at (818) 637-3228 or charles.rich@latimes.com.

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