When Katie Loberg was growing up in Princeton, Minn., the only college sport she followed was Gophers women’s basketball.
Now just a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, she’s the team’s starting center.
“It’s been my dream team to play for them ever since I was little.” Loberg said of the Gophers. “I’m really loving it here.”
After a prolific prep career with Princeton High School, the 6-foot-4 Loberg chose to stay close to home and play for the program she looked up to when she was young.
An especially active child, Loberg discovered her love for athletics early in life.
“My mom enrolled me in almost every community education program she could,” she said. Though she plays basketball in college, Loberg excelled in other sports as well in high school; she was selected to the all-state track and field team fives times, four of them for the high jump.
She credits her grandfather for helping her ultimately chose basketball. When Loberg was little, the two watched the women’s team play and talked about basketball frequently. Loberg said her grandfather, a former basketball player, eventually led her “in the right direction towards basketball.”
Playing with the Gophers is the fulfillment of a big dream for Loberg, but success at the college level has been more difficult to come by. During her time at Minnesota, the Gophers have gone just 24-33, including a 9-23 conference record. Loberg was not a part of all the recent struggles, starting only one game as a freshman, but in basketball, a team can only win and lose as a group.
Luckily for the Gophers, the losses haven’t demoralized Loberg, who has even been able to spin the tough stretch for the program in a positive light.
“You can’t really look at it as being something negative,” Loberg said Monday, a day after the team’s fourth consecutive loss. “They’re all experiences that make us stronger as a team.”
Jackie Voigt, a junior forward on the basketball team and Loberg’s roommate, has seen her progression as a player since she arrived last season. “She’s really stepped up,” Voigt said about Loberg’s increased playing time this year; Loberg has started 20 games for Minnesota.
The Gophers entered this season without veteran centers Zoe Harper and two-time All-Big Ten honoree Ashley Ellis-Milan, who graduated from the program last year and left a large hole in Minnesota’s frontcourt.
Only one year removed from high school, Loberg has embraced her role as the starting center and is averaging 9 points and 4.2 rebounds a game.
“This season has definitely been a huge growth period for me,” Loberg said.
The challenges she’s faced so far with the team, however, have been greater than she ever expected.
One of the unexpected obstacles is the “handful” of injuries she’s had this season. In addition to being diagnosed with Achilles Tendonitis, Loberg had to get an MRI on her left knee after she injured it in a collision Nov. 14 against Wisconsin-Green Bay. The injury caused her to miss three games.
“It’s been something I’ve never really had to deal with before,” Loberg said of the severity of her injuries, but she said she realizes it’s a part of the game. Like the teams’ struggles this season, she’s not letting it affect her attitude toward the game.
“[The injuries] just made me a stronger person mentally and physically. It’s something that you’ve got to battle through.”
When she gets some free time away from her busy basketball schedule, Loberg enjoys spending much of her time, well, spending.
“My roommate Jackie Voigt and me will … go shopping. Some of the teammates will go shopping. I love shopping,” she said.
“We both love to shop,” Voigt agreed.
As a freshman, Loberg played behind Voigt, who is one year her senior. Now they are both starting for the Gophers and combined grab more than 25 percent of the team’s rebounds each game. Both are from Minnesota, with Voigt growing up an hour and a half south of Loberg in Cottage Grove.
“She’s definitely someone I look up to,” Loberg said of Voigt. “I’m lucky to have her as a roommate.”
While this has been a disappointing season all around for the Gophers, Loberg’s development as a player is hard to ignore, as she’s hit double figures eight times this year and is shooting close to 50 percent in her first year as a starter.
“I love the coaches, I love the team,” she said. “It’s the sport that I grew up loving.”
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