Gopher Sports: Introducing Laura Bagwell Katalinich

Ignatius L Hoops

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The Minnesota women's basketball team welcomes six newcomers to the team for the 2020-21 season. GopherSports.com will sit down with each of them to get to know them better as they prepare for their first season in the Maroon and Gold.

Up first, it's Laura Bagwell Katalinich, a 6'0 senior forward who spent the past three seasons at Cornell University. A native of Minneapolis and graduate of Academy of Holy Angels, she joins Minnesota as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility. In her two seasons of competition with the Big Red, Bagwell Katalinich played in all 52 games with 50 starts and averaged 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 79.9 percent on free throws.


GopherSports.com: Once you decided to leave Cornell as a graduate transfer, how did you end up choosing Minnesota?
Laura Bagwell-Katalinich:
"It's funny, I didn't really know where I wanted to go when I was looking. I had no geographic idea and I wasn't planning on coming to school 10 minutes from my home, but I put my name in the transfer portal to see what options were out there. One day Coach Whalen texted me and asked if I had time to talk. I tried not to freak out to much and said 'sure, let's talk.'

"In choosing Minnesota, it was just the best all-around place for me to be, whether or not I was from here. It was just, by far, a really good fit for me. The team is really exciting, I actually competed against them while I was at Cornell, and the coaching staff is awesome. I've had a lot of coaches throughout my career and Coach Whay is definitely unique in that she's super engaging, always wants to know how you are, always wants to make sure that you're comfortable and feeling like part of the family. That was the biggest aspect for me: the coaching staff is amazing."

GS: Did you look at Minnesota coming out of high school or did the program look at you at all?
LBK:
"I did not. Coming out of high school, I probably wasn't Power 5 ready. It took a long way to get there, for sure."

GS: But you feel you're Power 5 ready now, right?
LBK:
"I do, I do. I think I've gotten stronger. I've gotten a little smarter in terms of footwork and reading what's there and being a little more patient. So, yeah, I think the route I took and the experience I gained at the mid-major level has been really helpful."

GS: Did you go to Gophers' games or camps growing up?
LBK:
"It's funny, but I didn't. Neither of my parents are from Minnesota, so I moved here when I was about five years old. I didn't start playing basketball until fifth grade, which is late nowadays. Every once in a while my dad would take me to a game, but to be honest we went to more Lynx games. So I got to see Lindsay Whalen play for quite a few years, and it was awesome."

GS: Did Coach Whalen resonate with you then? Did you pay special attention to her during those Lynx games?
LBK:
"You know, we don't play the same position, I'm not a point guard. But I did appreciate that she was a Minnesota girl, as well. When she was at Hutchinson (High School), she would compete against my high school a lot, Holy Angels, and my old high school coach remembered her. He was like, 'wow, she was really good then and really good now.' I knew that she had a great legacy in the state of Minnesota and at The U specifically, but I always thought she was a really fun player to watch, so that's why it's so funny that I'm here now. I can't believe it. Of all people to be coached by."

GS: What does it mean to finish your career in the state you grew up in?
LBK:
"It means a lot. One of my favorite basketball memories was winning a state title my senior year of high school on the floor of Williams Arena. That was a really special time for me, so to be able to come back and play on that court and finish my college career is just really cool and feels like almost out of a movie. This city means a lot to me; I've lived here most of my life and have had so many people help me to get to where I am, so I'm excited to be able to play in front of them and give back to where I grew up."

GS: You played a game for Cornell at Minnesota in the 2018-19 season. What do you remember from that game?
LBK:
"I remember they were really big and really fast and really good. I remember having a tough scoring game but I had 10 rebounds, I think. It was one of the first games – I knew I probably would have to do a grad transfer year even then – where I thought I might be able to compete against players of this caliber. I had to guard Taiye Bello and didn't totally fail at it. Another thing I remember is that, even then, Coach Whay was really poised and different as a coach. We were going through the handshake line after they had beaten us by 20 or so, and in the waning minutes we had emptied our bench, and one of my teammates had gotten a really nice block and Coach Whay had made sure to tell her 'hey, that was an awesome block.' So she's very unique in that way; she's very encouraging even if you're not on her team and that's one reason I'm so excited to be on her team now."

GS: What was your degree from Cornell? And what do you plan to study at Minnesota?
LBK:
"At Cornell, I got a bachelor of science in communication and a minor in business. At Minnesota, I'll be doing the one-year Master of Education program in sport management."

GS: Do you have any post-graduate plans at this point?
LBK:
"Not right now. Obviously with the pandemic everything is crazy in terms of the job market, and I'm grateful to have this extra year to figure things out. I'm keeping my options open. I love marketing and that side of business, but I also love sports so if I could incorporate the two, I think that would be an awesome career."

GS: Obviously COVID has altered just about everything in the country. What have you been able to do to keep your game up?
LBK:
"It's hard because what we can do physically is limited. There are many sanctions and restrictions keeping us from jumping right in. One thing I've found that has been helpful is to watch a lot of film, of both myself from workouts so far, but also of last year's team to get an idea of how people play together, where I can be on the court to succeed or put my teammates in a position to succeed. It's unfortunate we can't get as many physical reps, but I think the mental reps are just as important right now."

GS: You've had some opportunities this summer to be around the team and play with them. What has your experience been like with them?
LBK:
"I think this team is full of quick learners. Obviously about half of the team is new, in one way or another, so I think the coaches have worked really hard to get us up to speed so that when we are able to ratchet up the hours together things are going to go smoothly. From what I've seen, everyone has something that they bring that is really unique and I think going to help. We have a lot of people that can stretch the floor, some really quick first steps out there. It's a different level from the Ivy League and mid-majors, absolutely. I'm really excited to play with people like that."

GS: You're new to the program but have already spent four years as a Division I basketball player. Have you felt yourself being a mentor to some younger players already?
LBK:
"Yeah, in bits and pieces. Obviously it's hard right now to be a basketball mentor because we haven't had that much time to play together. But even as someone who has been to college, the freshmen have tons of questions about classes and basketball and, obviously, I don't know everything about Minnesota, but I know generally how to time-manage and how to network and do all these things off the court. We're in totally unprecedented times with Zoom and all the online alternatives to more traditional classes, but it's something where I want to make everyone's transition as easy as possible because I've done it before.

"On the court, I think the younger girls are really open to advice or tips, whether it's 'hey, maybe you should come at it from this angle and that will get your teammate open,' or 'hey, try facing up a little more.' There are little things you can throw at them and they're pretty receptive to that. I think everyone is pretty willing to learn from each other, which is good because there is so much newness this year."

GS: For people who haven't seen you play, how would you describe your game?
LBK:
"I think the number one thing to know about me is that I have a big motor and I work really hard. That's something that I've always had, and it's something that I'm really proud of; just always wanting to go 100 percent and run the floor. It's gotten me to some pretty cool places, having that kind of attitude. But from a skills-standpoint, I am kind of a power forward -- you can call it the "4" – and I love the mid-range, getting to the hoop, doing the dirty work and cleaning up rebounds. That's where I've made my living at Cornell and I'm excited to do it here, as well."

GS: Is there any significance to the No. 12 jersey you'll be wearing?
LBK:
"There is, that was my high school number. That time at Holy Angels was really special to me, especially winning a state championship. I unfortunately didn't get to wear it at Cornell, but I saw it was open here and wanted to finish with that same number."

Off the Court with Laura
Favorite Food:
Anything Italian; I love pasta.
Favorite TV Show: My tried and true favorite is The Good Place, but during quarantine I did watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and it's pretty good.
Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or TikTok: Haven't gotten into TikTok yet, but definitely Instagram and occasionally Twitter.
Hidden talent: I play piano and guitar.
Favorite Pro Basketball Players: A tie between Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird. For the NBA, Luka Doncic is fun to watch.
Favorite Basketball moment: Obviously the state title in high school, but at Cornell my junior year getting us to the postseason for the first time in program history. The had just started the conference tournament when I was a freshman, so Cornell hadn't been in those two years prior, so getting there was definitely one of my favorite memories.
 

Shades

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That was a great Q&A session that didn’t entirely shy away from the tougher questions. Learned some interesting things about her. Learned some things I didn’t know about Whalen. Thanks for posting the whole thing because I rarely bother going to the links.(y)
 
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