Last week, Lady Griz forward Johanna Closson had one focus: moving past the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. But, after losing to Vanderbilt in the final game of her college career, she’s free to begin planning for another “big dance” – her wedding party.
“We’ve just kind of been waiting until basketball was over to set a date or plan, so that I wouldn’t be as busy or distracted,” Closson said.
On the top of the list for wedding preparations: learning to pronounce her soon-to-be last name. “It’s kind of a team joke that I can’t even say his last name,” said Closson, who is engaged to Jan Steenekamp, a former University of Montana tennis player and native of South Africa. “It’s really embarrassing. I’m working on the accent though.”
Closson, a 2004 graduate of Whitefish High School, has been busy the past few months, leading the Lady Griz to a 25-6 record in the regular season, a Big Sky Conference Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. She averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds this year.
“She’s been a great player for us over the past four years,” Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig said. “She’s a very good athlete – fast and quick, obviously has a lot of height – and she’s having her best year ever. She’s become a stronger mental player and is one of the kids leading us to the tournament.”
The former WHS standout was a three-time all-state basketball selection for the Bulldogs, setting a school record for career scoring (1,656 points) and a Class A record for most points in a single state tournament (101 points in four games). She was also a state champion in the triple jump as a freshman.
Closson made an immediate impact for the Lady Griz upon arriving at UM, ranking third on the team in scoring as a true freshmen and playing in all 30 games that season. And she hasn’t missed a game in her collegiate career since. “I’ve been very lucky,” she said. “I’ve had colds or sprains, but never anything that’s kept me off the court.”
She dismisses her personal achievements of passing both the 1,000 point and 600 rebound marks as “pretty cool,” saying the team’s two trips to the NCAA Tournament – the Griz also lost to Vanderbilt in the first round Closson’s freshman year – and this year’s Big Sky championship game will be the highlights of her career.
“The energy and excitement surrounding those games, sharing that with your team, it feels like nothing else,” Closson said. “That’s what you work for every season – to win the conference and go to the tournament – and getting there is just amazing.”
Now that basketball is finished, Closson said her future plans are uncertain. She’ll complete her fine arts degree next fall, and hopes to begin selling her paintings.
But, UM won’t be without a talented Bulldog for long – standout senior guard Ashley Ferda has committed to play there next fall. Closson’s advice to the fellow WHS grad: “Work your butt off and don’t take things for granted because the four years go so fast,” she said. “It’s hard to realize that as a freshman, but now I’m like, ‘What am I going to do without basketball?’”
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