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Kladivo emerges as team leader for Knights

April 24, 2015
Traer Star-Clipper

Kailey Kladivo's concussion symptoms are gone.

The consequences have not been forgotten, and that's the way the Wartburg junior center wants it.

Last year, the former North Tama standout played in just 18 of the Knights' 27 games, starting only 11, thanks to a pair of concussions. Moreover, Kladivo struggled to sharpen her conditioning after missing roughly five weeks of practice.

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"She was never really in great shape," is the way Wartburg women's basketball coach Bob Amsberry summed up his center's situation.

It's a different season now, and life on the court is shaping up well for Kladivo and the Knights. Yes, they lost a 78-50 game on the road to eighth-ranked St. Thomas, but that decision merely dropped Wartburg's record to 8-1 in 2014-15.

Individually, Kladivo's off to a strong overall start. The 6-foot-2 center ranks among the Iowa Conference leaders in several categories. She stands second in scoring (15.9 points per game), fourth in field goal percentage (59.8), sixth in rebounds (6.3 rpg) and tied for fifth in blocked shots (1.0).

Now, Kladivo is healthy and highly motivated by what happened during her injury-shortened sophomore season.

"I kind of used last year and sitting out as kind of fuel for the fire," said Kladivo. "My teammates have been great supporting me that way. Everybody's added something to the team. I'm just trying to add my part, I guess.

"One of the big things is I stepped it up and did a lot more work in the offseason - lifting and stuff. I came in here a lot stronger, mentally as well. I got .... mentally tougher and I'm providing a lot more leadership. I learned what I wanted to do and to become more goal-driven. Seeing a goal I want, I'm not going to stop until I get there."

Amsberry said Kladivo's rise in all phases of the game has been one of the key factors in Wartburg's early-season success.

"She's off to a tremendous start," said the Knights' head coach. "We challenged her a little bit after our season last year to take more of a leadership role. She has really done that.

"Her success came from a lot of hard work over the summer on her own. She's stronger, more physical, more versatile, more explosive. Those are all things she worked on over the summer. Mentally, she's playing more like a junior. She's been way better mentally than she was last year, which was a tough year for her."

At North Tama, Kladivo twice earned all-state honors in basketball and claimed top-four honors three times in the high jump at the state track meet.

She considered roughly 10 schools, spread between Division II and Division III, before choosing Wartburg.

"I loved the atmosphere here and the coaches," said Kladivo, who has also continued her track and field career under Knights head coach Marcus Newsom. "I could see myself contributing a lot and being successful here."

As a freshman, Kladivo moved into the rotation, starting 13 of 26 games, and averaged 9.7 points plus 5.3 rebounds. Even though the concussions cost her valuable game minutes and practice time, Kladivo's numbers climbed to 12.0 points and 7.2 boards.

Along the way, she's made the adjustment from high school basketball to the college game.

"It's still a big thing for me to work on, being tough down in the low post," said Kladivo. "At North Tama, I didn't have to post up too much. Now, our centers, post players, have to have more of those. It's different playing with your back to the basket. That's been the biggest challenge."

A year ago, most of Wartburg's roster grappled with challenges beyond Kladivo's issues. By Amsberry's count, three key Knights suffered major knee injuries. Thus, Wartburg dropped to a 12-15 record overall and 5-9 in the Iowa Conference,

Through the pre-holiday portion of the 2014-15 season, a different picture has been drawn. Wartburg opened with a 76-55 victory over Monmouth, beat Wisconsin-Platteville in an overtime battle on the road and kept rolling until St. Thomas ended the eight-game winning streak.

With Kladivo leading the way, six players are averaging between 7.3 and 15.9 points per game.

"We've got really nice balance," said Amsberrry. "Last year, this group went through a lot of adversity and they grew a lot through that."

The Wartburg coach added, "We thought that at some point, fighting through it would pay off, and I think that impacted how our returners approached the game. We've developed some resiliency through the process."

Wartburg's women host a four-team holiday tournament, beginning today. Then come the Iowa Conference battles. Luther will visit Waverly in the league opener Jan. 7.

"I think we're really excited and ready for that challenge," said Kladivo.

Added Amsberry, "We've still got to get a lot better. There are a lot of things we're still learning about this team. We're working on a daily basis to get better. Although the record is nice, we're not looking at that. It doesn't matter. What matters is the daily process, and we're staying true to that."



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