Van Kleunen draws on postseason experience to lead WBB

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Photo by John Steppe

Redshirt junior guard Lauren Van Kleunen.

When Erika Davenport tore her ACL Feb. 22, redshirt junior Lauren Van Kleunen was forced into action. After being the backup forward for almost all of the regular season, Van Kleunen became the team’s main presence in the paint for the postseason.

Now that Davenport and the other five seniors graduated, Van Kleunen will take over as the team’s most experienced post player.

A season ago, Van Kleunen averaged 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 34 games and was an important force in the postseason against centers like Rice University’s 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey and Texas A&M University’s 6-foot-4 Ciera Johnson.

But this year, Van Kleunen will not only be looked to for scoring — she will need to make a difference in all parts of the stats sheet.

“It depends on what they need me to do,” Van Kleunen said. “If it’s rebounds, I’ll rebound. If they need me to pass, I’ll pass. Any given night, any one of us can be a scorer.”

First-year head coach Megan Duffy has already taken notice of Van Kleunen’s wide array of skills.

“I really love Lauren’s versatility,” Duffy said. “We’ve been able to move her inside and outside. She’s got a really nice hook shot with both hands.”

During the offseason, the 6-foot-2 forward said she built up her body to prepare for the long season ahead. 

“I understand I’m not the fastest or the strongest, so (I’ve been working on) my strength and my speed,” Van Kleunen said. “I’ve really been working on understanding my body and how I can use it to be as successful as possible.”

Even though Van Kleunen has worked hard to improve her skill set, she said she still wants to get better each day.

“Coach talks about relentless growth. Every day, it’s a focus on one thing each day — learn from it and move on,” Van Kleunen said. “That’s really what I’m trying to work on, being as consistent as possible every day.” 

Last year, one of Marquette’s biggest strengths was its ability to move in transition and outrun others. The style of play might change this season.

“It might be a little different. We’ll probably play a two bigs style,” Van Kleunen said. “But we’re getting up and down, we’re still flying around with that Marquette speed that we’ve always had in the past. We’re going to continue that in the future.”

Van Kleunen said Duffy has done a great job of taking the team’s strengths and building around them.

“The thing I really liked about Coach was she is understanding our games and putting the offense in that way,” Van Kleunen said. “She’s understanding how we play and mimicking around our skill.”

Without a crew of veteran guards, the team will likely need more from the forward positions, and Van Kleunen is set to spearhead that effort.

“The post group, we really want to have a lot of energy, a lot of effort,” Van Kleunen said. “We want to be the core of this team.”

While Van Kleunen is an integral part of the team’s success on the floor, she also impacts her teammates off the court.

“Lauren just brings that presence and veteran leadership,” Duffy said. “We really like where she is.”

Freshman guard Taylor Valladay said Van Kleunen has already helped as a veteran voice.

“Lauren does a great job of being that leader, being that voice,” Valladay said. “If I don’t know something, I’ll go to LVK or I’ll go to (junior guard) Selena (Lott). They’re very open and there to be that holding hand and pick me up to let me know that it’s going to be okay.”

Van Kleunen said she’s looking forward to seeing the impact of the freshmen.

“We’ve got a good group. They’re young, but we’ve definitely got a lot of fighters and a lot of girls that are willing to buy into what coach is saying,” Van Kleunen said. “Every one of them is going to bring something. You’re going to see a very fun group.”

Coaches around the league do not have a ton of confidence in the Golden Eagles, ranking them ninth out of 10 in the preseason poll, but Van Kleunen said that doesn’t matter to the Marquette players.

“Last year we were picked first, this year we were picked a little bit lower than that,” Van Kleunen said. “It’s all how you see it, and regardless of what we’re picked, we’re going to work as hard as if we were picked first. It’s just an identity that we have.”