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This Laker Girl would rather blend in with the crowd

Katie Reynolds enjoys being part of the dance crew, but she's just as happy being a student with a 3.5 grade-point average at Long Beach State.

May 08, 2011|By Melissa Rohlin

Katie Reynolds leads a double life.

By day, she wears sweat pants and a cap while she attends classes at Long Beach State, where she has a 3.5 grade-point average as a communications major.

By night, she wears bright red lipstick, half a bottle of mascara and little more than a bikini as she dances in front of 19,000 people.

She's a Laker Girl.

Reynolds keeps her opposing realities separate.

"I typically don't tell people what I do," she said.

That means while her classmates are discussing the previous night's Lakers game, she'll pretend she wasn't sitting courtside. And while they make injury predictions about the players, she'll pretend she doesn't have insider knowledge.

Bearing that secret can sometimes be grueling.

When the Lakers beat Boston in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season, she stayed awake until 2:30 a.m. picking confetti out of her hair and shaking with excitement. The following morning, she sat quietly in the back of a classroom as everyone talked about it.

"That's the hardest it's ever been for me to not say anything," she said.

She said she's been recognized only once — a fan recently saw her bikini spread in a Laker Girl calendar and approached her on campus … something she's tried to avoid.

Reynolds, 23, has been on the team for four years.

The turnover rate, she said, is closer to two years since the girls must try out each season — often competing against 500 to 800 hopefuls — and are expected to maintain a similar weight and look each year.

Reynolds describes dancing in front of a sold-out Staples Center crowd as "surreal" and being a Laker Girl as the "pinnacle of the professional dancing world."

She's witnessed the power of a Kobe Bryant dunk from a few feet away, had her photograph taken with actor Gerard Butler and tripped in front of radio personality Ryan Seacrest — accidentally, she insists.

"I'm blessed," she said with a smile.

Even though the Laker Girls and players share the same court, they don't interact much.

Reynolds said she's a huge fan and even tracks many of the players' statistics during a game, but she doubts that any of them know her name.

For Reynolds, game days are six-hour stints that involve hundreds of twirls and leg kicks, smiling until her face cramps and multiple costume changes under dire time pressure.

Practices are twice a week, three hours a day. She said she often wakes up at 6 a.m. to attend a class and doesn't return home until 10:30 p.m.

"There have been times when you think to yourself, 'I hope someone doesn't think I'm just a dumb cheerleader,' " she said. "If you really get to know us … we really change that perspective."

This was Reynolds' last season.

Not surprisingly, she timed her exit to correspond with one of her hero's.

"I think I'm going to hang it up and retire with Phil Jackson," she said. "Not many people can say that."

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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