Because of a rather unusual Ivy League rule and an understanding head coach, Laura Bagwell-Katalinich started looking for a new place to play while she was still playing at Cornell.
She had started at Penn, then transferred to Cornell, which required sitting out a season. After two years with the Big Red she had a year of NCAA eligibility left, but Ivy League rules don’t allow graduate students to play. So, with Cornell coach Dayna Smith’s OK, Bagwell-Katalinich put her name in the transfer portal back in January.
Almost immediately, Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen called.
Bagwell-Katalinich, who starred locally in high school at Holy Angels in Richfield, had expected to stay out east. “I had never thought about coming home,” she said. “I spent four years on the East Coast, loved every minute of it.”
Whalen’s call changed that. Whalen knows Danny Woods, Bagwell-Katalinich’s high school coach, and they traded stories. Whalen pitched the opportunity in Minnesota with the graduation of Taiye and Kahinde Bello.
“I got on the phone and immediately felt so at ease,” Bagwell-Katalinich said. “I don’t know why I didn’t see Minnesota as my No. 1 option. But now it’s kind of a picture-perfect comeback to your home state. The home fans, to play for a Minnesota legend of a coach. It seems too good to be true, to be honest.”
She will return to the Williams Arena floor where she won a Class 3A state title in 2016. A 6-0 forward, Bagwell-Katalinich is a strong rebounder and steady scorer who averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds while starting 50 of 52 games in two seasons at Cornell.
“We know what she can bring,” Whalen said. “She has leadership. She’s played a lot of games. And it’s at a position of need.”
Initially, Bagwell-Katalinich will compete for minutes in the post with players such as Klarke Sconiers — who had a strong Big Ten tournament — Barbora Tomancova and incoming freshman Erin Hedman.
“I’ve been through winning seasons, losing seasons, big games on big stages,” she said. “I think I’ve learned how to deal with the highs and lows that come with the game. The frontcourt is a little younger. I hope to bring a veteran presence.’’
Bagwell-Katalinich will graduate from Cornell with a major in communications. She has been accepted into a one-year master’s program at Minnesota that will focus on sport management. She spent the past two summers in the Twin Cities on internships and has worked out with Gophers players at their open gym sessions.
“I adore the coaching staff. The facilities are second to none,” she said. “As soon as I nailed what I wanted to do academically, that was it for me.”