The win-or-go-home mentality of the postseason strikes a chord inside Joelle Pollak.

Already one of the best players in Western New York, Pollak, a Kenmore East sophomore, does what every coach wants from their players at playoff time — she digs down and finds a way to give even more.

“You just pretty much know this could be your last game so you’ve just got to go out there and give it everything you have,” Pollak said while sitting in the Ken East gym after the Bulldogs’ Section VI Class A-1 quarterfinal win over Iroquois on Thursday.

A full-timer on varsity since eighth grade, the 15-year-old Pollak learned about the grind of playoff life at a young age when she was brought up from junior varsity as a seventh-grader during the Bulldogs’ sectional playoff run.

Pollak said that playing alongside girls like Erin Whitehead and Kacie Mills not only helped teach her about what it means to take part in playoff games, but also what it takes to prepare for them mentally as well as physically.

“It taught me a lot,” she said. “If I wouldn’t have gotten pulled up it would have taken me longer (to progress). I would have been ‘here’ two years from now.”

That experience has also helped Pollak handle her unique situation of being the longest-tenured varsity player even though, chronologically speaking, she’s still one of the youngest girls on the team.

“I’m kind of used to it now,” Pollak said with a laugh.

Though not an extremely vocal girl, Pollak has always displayed the kind of leadership skills that make other girls naturally trust and follow her.

“She knows what it’s like at this time of the year and she knows what we have to do,” said Ken East coach Jack Blanch.

Perhaps a bit rattled by the reality that more was expected of her in her freshman season, Pollak battled through regular season ups and downs last year before once again emerging as a force in the playoffs. She scored 17 points in a quarterfinal win over Starpoint, then had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) against Grand Island in the semis as the Bulldogs marched their way toward a Section VI Class A championship.

Today, consistency is the hallmark of Pollak’s game. Along with the ability to light up the scoreboard for 20-plus points, Pollak still does all of the little things like diving on the floor, grabbing rebounds, making pin-point passes and playing solid defense.

“She’s very unselfish, that’s for sure,” said Bulldogs guard Felicia Glogoza. “Even if the buckets aren’t dropping for her she’s making good passes and going back on defense. She’s always working hard.”

Pollak also brings a fun-loving attitude and an infectious laugh that puts her teammates at ease, but at the same time also fills them with a sense of confidence that a win is attainable every time they walk onto the floor.

Something every team needs, especially at this time of the season.