Women’s basketball wins five of six to find itself near the top of the conference

Lichtfuss gets into a groove offensively for Blugolds



Story by Nick Erickson, Staff Writer

It was the morning after a 19-hour bus ride from San Antonio.

The UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team was fresh off a 60-46 loss in its final game of the Trinity Classic on Dec. 30. The Blugolds’ record dipped back to .500, not a place a team with conference title and NCAA tournament aspirations wanted to be.

Junior guard Teenie Lichtfuss and a lot of her teammates got together for a morning shootaround and decided something had to give. The talent was there for the veteran-laden squad, but the results weren’t.

Now they are. Since that morning, the Blugolds have won five of six conference games and propelled themselves into the mix for the WIAC championship behind UW-Oshkosh and UW-Superior atop the conference standings.

“Ever since we got back from our trip, we kind of came together and decided that if we want to win conference, we need to start now,” Lichtfuss said.

And since they’ve started, they haven’t really stopped.

The Blugolds got signature road wins at traditional conference powerhouses Oshkosh and UW-Whitewater in back-to-back games and took care of business at home with three blowout wins against UW-Stout, UW-La Crosse and UW-Platteville. They fell to Stout on the road Wednesday night.

Head coach Tonja Englund’s team has won games in a variety of ways. Against Platteville, the Blugolds sunk a season-high 12 3-pointers. At Oshkosh, they won a defensive battle by holding the Titans to just 35 percent from the floor.

“Depth has been a major factor for us, and that’s where I think we have a major advantage in our league right now,” Englund said.

While the Blugolds have been getting contributions from a lot of players in the midst of this winning streak, Lichtfuss in particular has turned her game up several notches.

Lichtfuss, a first-team all-WIAC performer a season ago, played more a facilitator role from the point guard position instead of a scorer in the team’s first 12 games.

Before the Blugolds welcomed Stout into Zorn Arena on Jan. 7, Englund and Lichtfuss sat down in the coach’s office for a visit.

“She basically said ‘we need to step up and score, but continue to be a good point guard,’” Lichtfuss said. “She told me I needed to basically do more.”

That same night, the junior from Oshkosh Lourdes High School erupted for a career-high 27 points. She’s scored in double figures every game since then.

“I think that she took it to heart, and I also think she doesn’t realize a lot of times how good she can actually be,” Englund said. “Since that conversation, she’s definitely gone out and put it on her shoulders.”

Against her hometown university, Oshkosh, on Jan. 17,  Lichtfuss scored 20 points and took over in overtime, Englund said. It was the first time she had seen her really demand the ball late.

While Lichtfuss has been scoring, the Blugold defense has prevented opponents from doing so. They haven’t allowed a team to score more than 60 points since Dec. 10, which has a lot to do with the post players, Lichtfuss said. Eau Claire leads the WIAC in blocked shots per game at 4.76.

“They’re really starting to figure out that they are shot blockers,” she said. “That’s forced teams to shoot more perimeter shots than they’re used to, and they’re not getting as many easy buckets.”

The Blugolds finish off the season playing a lot of important games at home, making a run at the WIAC title a real possibility.

But a possibility is different from an actual result, and Lichtfuss and Englund both said the team has stayed grounded and will continue to do say as the second round of conference play is underway.

“We have to basically play every team again,” Lichtfuss said, “but we can’t just settle with a three-way tie.”