When it comes to point guards, Fridley girls’ basketball coach Erik Redepenning desires one attribute above all other.
“You want someone who makes everyone better,” he said.
Sophomore Lauren Backstrom fits the mold. Her determination and up-tempo style fueled the Tigers’ 9-0 start this season. They won nine games all of last season.
With teammates Suzanne Gilreath and Brooke Teff combining to average more than 50 points per game, Backstrom makes her mark in other ways. Her 3.1 assists per game rank near the top of the Tri-Metro West Conference.
“She sets the pace for our team,” Redepenning said of Backstrom, who started as freshman last year when another player was injured. She maintained her starting role even when the player came back.
Backstrom spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about the team’s 9-0 start and why early success won’t go to players’ heads.
Q: What does it feel like to have started the season with a 9-0 record?
A: It’s exhilarating. It’s kind of surprising but at the same time it isn’t — because our team has worked so hard for this. And it’s a long time coming because for awhile, Fridley girls’ basketball has been at a low. So this needed to happen and I’m glad it’s this year.
Q: How has your fast start raised expectations within the team?
A: I don’t know, I think we just keep playing through it. We have a lot of smart players on our team that know basketball and won’t let the record get to their heads.
Q: Is it intelligence that makes this group successful?
A: I think that’s a big part of it. Suzanne is a really good player and she’s not just good, she’s smart. Same with Brooke. And other players who play smaller roles on our team and maybe aren’t mentioned as much, they also know a lot about the game.
Q: You’re 5-4 now but were you ever tall for your age?
A: I was always short. Maybe in elementary school I was about average.
Q: That didn’t stop you from grabbing 13 rebounds in a game last week. Do you like mixing it up inside?
A: Yeah. That [Minneapolis Southwest] game was a pretty good game for me. We talk about boxing out a lot. Plus, I just want to get the ball so that we have the ball and can keep playing our game.
Q: When you’re on your game, what do you do well?
A: Speed. I like to run; I just want to go. And I like being able to build my team up where we’re in the groove and there’s just kind of a buzz.
Q: As the point guard, how do you try to create that feeling?
A: Just light a spark. Keep the tempo up whether we’re playing or in a timeout. Congratulating teammates or telling them ‘Pick it up a little bit.’
Q: You’ve earned the starting spot but you’re also a sophomore. Do your teammates respond to you?
A: I think there was a big jump for me from last year to this year. I stepped up into being more of a leader of the team. It built gradually, from my coaches telling me to take more shots to making sure I’m being a presence.
Q: A 9-0 start to the season is nice but there is a long way to go. What ideas do you have about how to keep the success going?
A: Our motto this year is ‘Not yet.’ Our coach always asks us if we’re good enough and we always respond, ‘Not yet.’ Our last practice was really dull and afterward our coach said, ‘You’ve won nine game and that’s cool but what are you going to do next? You can’t stop now. You’ve got to keep building up and getting better because we’re not there yet.’
DAVID LA VAQUE