Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chief Sports Editor
For the next installment of the Spire’s Student-Athlete Spotlight, I caught up with Avery LaBarbara, a junior on the women’s basketball team. LaBarbara is coming off a phenomenal sophomore campaign, in which she was named to the 2019-20 All-Patriot League Second Team, after picking up Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors in the 2018-2019 season.
Outside of basketball, LaBarbara is a bright Political Science major, having made the Patriot League Honor Roll during the 2019-2020 season. In the past two years, she’s also done a great amount of volunteer work with the team. LaBarbara and her teammates volunteered at the Worcester Soup Kitchen, Be Like Britt Foundation, Working for Worcester, and the Mercy Centre.
Below were some questions I was able to ask Avery on the newly unveiled Patriot League Women’s Basketball schedule, her training over the last months, and more.
Q: The Patriot League has recently released your guys’ schedule, which includes 16 all-conference games starting on January 2, culminating in the start of playoffs on March 7. Playing all-conference opponents in such a shortened regular season has a whole new feel as opposed to a normal regular season, so how is the team preparing for this kind of change?
A: Obviously the circumstances are very unconventional in all aspects of our lives as a team, so we were expecting our schedule to look a little different–we can’t fly, we can’t stay overnight in a hotel, etc., which takes a little bit of the experience away from some of the younger girls on our team, but we are just extremely grateful that we are even having a season. In terms of preparation, we’re really starting to increase our conditioning because we have to play teams back-to-back days, so we need to be in shape for those Saturday and Sunday contests. We also are just doing our best to keep our bodies healthy, whether that’s stretching everyday after practice or consistently going to the training room for treatment. The most important piece to our preparation is to just focus on ourselves, and not necessarily our opponents. We need to be the best team we can be, and the only way to do that is to stay in our lane and focus on us.
Q: This past season the team was on a tear, making it all the way to the Patriot League Tourney Semifinals before COVID-19 unfortunately brought the tournament to a halt. What is the team doing to stay motivated and keep momentum going from last season to make sure you can return to that position?
A: Although we did lose four starters, our mentality is different this year, but almost in a better way. Because we don’t have a ton of experience and not a lot of the returners have played significant minutes, everyone feels revived and even more motivated to get a shot at playing. The culture of our program has taken a turn (in a positive way) because everyone is buying in, and we are embracing the fact that we are young, but I am confident that we can surprise some people as the season progresses.
Q: Last season, your teammate Lauren Manis made history by becoming the first HC WBB player to be selected in the WNBA draft. What role did she play in helping you become such an important part of your team?
A: I truly can’t say enough about Lauren Manis. First, she’s just an amazing person and has been a true role model for me for my first two years. Secondly, I have truly never seen someone who works as hard as Lauren. I really give a ton of credit to her in helping me have a successful two seasons just because of the way she trusted me and had an incredible amount of confidence in me, despite the fact that I was the youngest on the floor. Not only am I so proud of her because of her basketball abilities, but I am just extremely grateful for the leader and role model she has been for me (and still continues to be) for the past two years.
Q: Last year, you led Patriot League with an .827 free throw percentage and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. What have you done in the offseason to hone in on your free throw shooting ability, and more importantly your playmaking assisting ability, after presumably having to work out without teammates for such a long period of time due to COVID?
A: Because I was without my teammates this summer, I used the extra time alone to reflect on myself as a player, seeing what weaknesses I could improve to turn them into strengths, and how I could turn my strengths into greater weapons to benefit myself and the team. Although I did lead the conference in free throw percentage, I’m really not satisfied with 82%, and I believe I can do even better this season. Even though I was unable to play with my Holy Cross teammates this summer, I played pickup every morning with Division I mid-major girls from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, so I was able to play with other girls and stay in basketball shape.
Q: With half of your time as a Holy Cross athlete gone by so far, what are you most proud of accomplishing in the first half of your career, and what are you looking most forward to in the second half?
A: Although I’m pretty proud of myself for getting Rookie of the Year, I would say I’m most proud of the way that I have taken care of the ball for the past two years. Especially last year with leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, I think that really demonstrates my growth as a player as I learned the tempo of the game, and how to just be a smarter point guard without turning it over. Around the league, I have been known strictly for my offensive capabilities, but truthfully, I think I’ve become a pretty solid defender this season. I’m really looking forward to seeing how I’m able to become a two-dimensional player, rather than just an offensive threat.
Q: With only one senior on the roster, as a junior, how are you hoping to step up as a leader on the team and mentor your younger teammates?
A: Being an upperclassman on such a young team is really exciting for me, actually. I tend to lead by example, whether that’s working hard at practice, being coachable, or just being a good teammate/person off the court. Also, I feel like the younger players (and even my classmates) trust me and look up to me due to my experience, so I am extremely comfortable with being the most vocal one out there on the court because I know I’m trusted and respected.
Q: Who’s one pro player you model your game after?
A: I think the player that’s most similar to me is Sue Bird. She is just such a dynamic player and in my opinion, she’s the greatest point guard to ever play in the WNBA. I have been a pass-first point guard in my days here so far, but I think that similarly to Sue, if I need to score, I find a way to do that.
Thank you kindly to Avery for her time, and best of luck to the Holy Cross Women’s Basketball team on their season ahead!