Fruita’s LaBonde loves her role as defensive stopper
For the stifling defense she played last week and hopes to play in the Class 5A first-round girls state playoff basketball game at home against Boulder tonight, Fruita Monument’s Lauren LaBonde was preparing in first grade.
At the Grand Junction Athletic Club, which has since closed, LaBonde’s father, Steve, would engage his daughter in a UCLA drill — crouched defensive stance, making slow, tiny jab steps backward to one side, then the other, a practice aimed at cementing the art of playing defense without crossing one’s feet.
The 6-year-old would play for her father until she reached high school at Fruita Monument.
In a 33-32 loss to Montrose last week, she held 3-point shooter Kala Keltz to zero points.
“And she held her to only one good look,” Fruita coach Dan Schmalz said.
Today, in the first rounder that No. 7-seeded Fruita Monument (13-10) plays against No. 10 Boulder (8-15), LaBonde will nag Panthers junior Lena Jaycox, who has averaged 14.1 points and has made 46 3-pointers.
And that’s OK with LaBonde. She grew up immersed in a culture of defense. Points were not at a premium. Moreover, if she got beat off the dribble on defense, Dad let her know about that, even if it happened once.
“I always loved playing defense more than offense,” LaBonde said. “I love to try to get them out of rhythm. Make them think about (their shot).”
Schmalz said solid defense is what it will take to get the Wildcats past Boulder. If they do, they will head to Colorado Springs to play No. 2 Doherty (21-2) on Saturday.
“We just try to play real solid, half-court man-to-man defense,” Schmalz said. “Even our posts are quick. They’re not big stiffs; we’re athletic at the post.”
LaBonde has battled back from a sprained right knee and broken left pinkie finger to become a defense stopper after missing several games during the regular season.
Now she runs post patterns down the court. Point guard Jessica Sinner gets an outlet pass and looks upcourt for a streaking LaBonde.
“That’s pretty much our fastbreak,” Schmalz said.
No. 3 Grand Junction (19-4), the Southwestern League champion, received a first-round bye and will play Friday at home against the winner of tonight’s game between No. 6 Rocky Mountain (15-8) and No. 11 Littleton (7-16).
In the Class 4A state playoffs, Montrose (14-9), which tied the Tigers atop the league standings at 9-1, but was second in the league because of the tiebreaking criteria, is a No. 3 seed. The Indians play the winner of No. 6 Golden (15-8) and No. 11 Pueblo East (8-14) on Friday.
Other first-rounders today are No. 5 Delta (18-4) hosting No. 12 Conifer (9-13) and No. 12 Palisade (7-15) at No. 5 Evergreen (14-8).