Nothing Teenie about it

Blugold point guard stepping up her game in conference play

UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball player Teenie Lichtfuss has averaged 17.5 points per game since Jan. 7. A first-team all-WIAC performer a year ago, Lichtfuss has scored in double figures every game since Dec. 13.

Photo by Submitted

UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball player Teenie Lichtfuss has averaged 17.5 points per game since Jan. 7. A first-team all-WIAC performer a year ago, Lichtfuss has scored in double figures every game since Dec. 13.

Story by Nick Erickson, Staff Writer

Ask UW-Eau Claire head women’s basketball coach Tonja Englund anything about her starting point guard, Teenie Lichtfuss.

No matter the question, whether it’s about Lichtfuss’s versatile play, 3-point shooting or stifling defense, one word will almost always come up in conversation: “unselfish.”

“She’s just one of the nicest people you are ever going to come across,” Englund said.

Ironically, it was a small stroke of vexation that prompted the three-year starter to elevate her game enough to put herself in the conversation of WIAC player of the year and propel her team to a shot at the conference title.

On Jan. 6, Lichtfuss headed into a fairly routine one-on-one meeting with Englund. The Blugolds were 7-6 and hovering around the middle of the pack in the WIAC standings.

With the leader of the offense in her office, Englund didn’t shy away from challenging Lichtfuss. She told her she to score more, to become better on defense and to step up as a leader.

“Some of the things she said were true, but it kind of made me angry with myself, and I just wanted to prove her right that I was capable of more,” Lichtfuss said.

Based on her recent scoring eruption and the Blugolds’ surge near the top of the conference, she took that conversation to heart.

Since then, Lichtfuss has averaged 17.5 points per game,  increasing her season total from just under 10 a game to 13.2 a night, which is currently good for fourth in the conference.

In that stretch, the Blugolds are 6-2 as a team, racking up big wins twice against reigning Final Four-participant UW-Whitewater and once on the road at nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh.

Against Oshkosh, which also happens to be Lichtfuss’s hometown, she scored 20 points and, along with center Madison Johnson, took over in the overtime session to upset the Titans and put the Blugolds on the map.

It was in that game, particularly in its most crucial moments, Englund saw a true transformation.

“There were a couple of times when I saw her want the ball in key situations, and I hadn’t seen that in her before,” Englund said. “It’s fun to see that as a coach. She’s grown; she’s evolved.”

Now that she’s been given the green light, Lichtfuss has become a bona fide threat from all ends of the court. In her first two years, she was more of a player who facilitated from the perimeter, whether that was shooting the 3 or finding a cutting teammate.

But since the start of conference play, she’s looked to get in the lane more and create off the dribble. She has jumped the passing lanes on defense more, and she is currently third in the WIAC at 2.5 steals per game.  This led her to more transition baskets and assists.

She said opposing teams respond differently to her now that she’s become one of the premier scorers in the conference, but it just makes her more aware at the point guard position.

“I’ve had some teams either try and double me off ball screens … or face guard me or deny me the ball,” Lichtfuss said. “That just means I have to be more creative on offense and make my teammates better.”

One such coach who had the task of trying to shut down Lichtfuss is UW-Platteville head coach Megan Wilson. On Jan. 21, Lichtfuss lit up the Pioneers for 15 points on three 3-point baskets in a 68-42 Blugold win in Zorn Arena.

Wilson said the development of Lichtfuss over the past three seasons has made her one of the most challenging matchups in the WIAC.

“She’s just a phenomenal athlete, and the number of ways she can create offense for herself makes it a challenge for anybody,” Wilson said. “She’s just refined her game so much, and you can tell that she’s not the freshman she came in as. She’s an experienced junior who commands a lot of respect.”

Although UW-Superior’s Sally Linzmeier and Platteville’s Alyssa Krajco might be the two frontrunners for WIAC player of the year, Lichtfuss is now clearly in the conversation. But that’s not the big prize the unselfish guard from Oshkosh Lourdes High School wants.

Ever since the season started, she and her teammates have eyed up the WIAC title and a NCAA tournament berth. As is her nature that her coach so often talks about, Lichtfuss would rather share success with others.

“I’m not going out there saying, ‘yeah, I want to be player of the year,’” she said. “It would be cool to say at the end of the year, but also, that’s not the reason why you play.”