CLEARMONT — With a subtle fist pump and a high-five from the head coach, Kristin Klaahsen is in her realm. With the state tournament’s lights shining down, she doesn’t flinch. No stage is too big and no moment too large for the Arvada-Clearmont High School guard.

Klaahsen recently put a bow on her high school career. Her final season included a Conference Player of the Year award, a second consecutive conference title and a runner-up finish at the state tournament. An All-State recognition soon followed, providing further evidence of Klaahsen’s basketball ability.

But it wasn’t too long ago where Klaahsen didn’t have the same overflowing confidence she has now. There was a time, just four years ago, where Klaahsen lobbied with her friends to give basketball a try just so AC could field its own team.

Klaahsen began playing basketball in fourth grade. She learned the basics of the game at the same time her older sister, Kylar Klaahsen, practiced with the junior high squad. When it came time for Kristin Klaahsen to join the junior high ranks, she’d practice with her teammates for a couple hours before attending high school practice shortly thereafter. The symbiotic relationship afforded Klaahsen the opportunity to play alongside older and more advanced players, while the high school received a much-needed practice body as participation numbers remained low. When Klaahsen moved to high school basketball, only three other girls went out for the team. At that time, Lady Panther basketball didn’t have a clear future.

Would AC girls basketball have to pair with Buffalo High School permanently or would an AC-Normative Services co-op for the 2015-16 season suffice?

The school elected to go with the latter, and thus the Klaahsen dynamic duo was born. The pair of Klaahsens anchored the backcourt as the two enjoyed unparalleled chemistry.

It was short lived, however. During the region tournament that year, Kylar Klaahsen, a junior, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Kristin Klaahsen’s backcourt teammate, her crutch, the person who had been there since she first picked up a ball, was gone.

And the pressure proved too great for Klaahsen.

“I had a severe panic attack and started hyperventilating,” Klaahsen said. “I had a complete shut down, and my coach had to completely calm me down. … I was pretty unconfident.”

It took a couple of years for Klaahsen to build up the unflappable confidence she embodies now. Even in the Lady Panthers’ journey to a conference crown as a junior, Klaahsen would experience ebbs and flows, unable to find equilibrium within herself.

“It took a little confidence building, and it took some convincing from us,” AC head coach Sarah Walker said. “We’d tell her, ‘You’re good enough to do this, and we believe in you to do this.’ … We’d see confidence for a couple-week stretch, and then it just hit a lull.”

Walker has enjoyed a front-row seat to Klaahsen’s growth both on and off the court. Walker coached Klaahsen during her seventh- and eighth-grade years and her last three years of high school.

Walker endured the talks about AC’s basketball program co-oping with Buffalo. She had seen players come down with unfortunate season-ending injuries. She had addressed her team after lopsided defeats and braced them for high expectations.

Klaahsen provided Walker with a constant the last few years, a foundation with which AC basketball can build for the future.

“She’s a Cinderella story, for sure,” Walker said. “I’ll probably talk about Kristin the rest of my career. I’ll use her as an example because she’s what I wanted to build my program around. She’s turned into the kid that I want every kid to strive to take after in their own way.

“She set the bar pretty high.”

AC basketball is no longer in jeopardy of losing its basketball program. The Lady Panthers haven’t just survived, but they’ve made a name for themselves. No longer are they cast aside as the little school that not many can properly pronounce. AC has shown it can not only win a conference championship but multiple ones. The Lady Panthers have shown that they aren’t satisfied by simply qualifying for the state tournament. When AC punches its ticket to state, it’s with the notion of contending once there and claiming state title banners.

The program has Klaahsen to thank for that.

“We are finally on the up and up,” Klaahsen said. “People are starting to realize us. “We are not the team everyone dismisses. We are the team everyone has in the back of their mind, ‘This is the team we have to beat.’”