Dribble, dribble, drive: Fruita Monument’s Labonde uses her speed to penetrate lane
Lauren Labonde spends a lot of time around the hoop.
The Fruita Monument High School (6-7, 0-1 Southwestern League) sophomore guard is a gritty competitor who has no problem getting to the basket.
“She’s unstoppable off the dribble,” Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz said. “She is so fast, and keeps getting better every game.”
Labonde, in her first season of varsity basketball, is the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 12.8 points per game including 20-plus point games against Niwot and Thoreau, N.M.
Labonde has scored in double figures in eight games and scored fewer than eight points only once.
“She’s relentless off the dribble,” Schmalz said. “She won’t be stopped if she wants to go.”
One reason Schmalz is so happy with his young guard is because she’s a perfect fit for his dribble-drive offense, which relies on players being able to penetrate the lane.
But it’s not all about point totals.
Schmalz said one of Labonde’s best performances of season was a 54-37 win over Bloomfield, N.M., in which she only scored two points but finished with three assists.
“It was an active two points,” Schmalz said. “She was driving to the bucket and they were stopping her, but she was dishing it out, so even though she didn’t score a lot of points, she was a key to us winning that game.”
The 5-foot-7 Labonde spent much of her freshman season on the junior varsity team. Labonde had the talent to play with the varsity but would have sat behind seniors Sarah Hensley and Katie Lewis.
Schmalz likes to let his younger players mature as freshmen on the JV team before making the jump to varsity.
“I have the freshmen develop on the JV so they don’t feel as much pressure,” Schmalz said. “She scored a lot of points, and she developed a lot more playing a ton of minutes on JV, and this year she’s just exploded.”
Labonde got her first taste of varsity during the summer, and Schmalz said she understood she would have a big role for the Wildcats.
“She played a lot of varsity with us over the summer and she knew what she was supposed to do,” Schmalz said. “She won a game against Montrose on a drive, and she’s got the mentality to compete at a varsity level.”
Labonde seemed ready to go from the start of this season, scoring 20 points in the season opener against Niwot, going 6-of-7 from the field and 8-of-12 from the free-throw line.
“My first varsity game was scary because it’s a lot faster pace,” Labonde said. “You have to make decisions quicker, but I love playing at that level.”
Labonde still has room to improve, including at the foul line. Labonde leads the team in free throw attempts, but is shooting 62 percent from the line.
“She’s getting to the line a ton,” Schmalz said. “So if she was hitting a few more I think she could be averaging around 15 points per game.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 57-48 loss last Friday night to Grand Junction, in which Labonde scored 15. Fruita will host Glenwood Springs tonight.
“They are a quality team,” Schmalz said. “But as a group we are playing so hard that we are excited for any type of challenge.”