WHITEFISH – Kate Klundt has spent years in the shadows of the Whitefish basketball greats who came before her. Johanna Closson, her cousin, and former teammate Ashley Ferda dominate the school’s record books. But this year the attention is on her and, as it turns out, the spotlight is where she belongs: Years ago, her basketball career began under a series of carefully placed spotlights that allowed her to play deep into the night in her Columbia Falls driveway.
Throughout childhood, Klundt played basketball for endless hours in that driveway. Sometimes she practiced alone, but more often than not she played with her mentor and close friend Closson. Though five years older, Closson embraced the dual role of teacher and peer.
Closson and Klundt often had company on the court. In a family where basketball spans generations, all the kids could play: Closson, Klundt, Klundt’s older brother Zach, and cousins Randell and Tanya Bergren. Klundt was the youngest and Closson said her little cousin’s time has finally come.
“Kate was always the smallest so she had to fight for her own,” said Closson, who was recently married and now goes by Steenekamp. “She’s having a great senior year and she just kind of bloomed.”
Klundt has indeed bloomed. In her senior year, she is leading the Northwestern A conference in both scoring and rebounding at 19.3 and 11.5, respectively. She’s more proud of the rebounding mark because she views it as a reflection of her hustle, a foremost strength of her game. Closson refers to it as “her intenseness and her aggression – she never gives up.”
Anyone who has been to a Whitefish game knows that Klundt may lead the conference in floor burns as well. She believes every loose ball is hers. That tenacity is largely what enables her to lead the conference in rebounding at only 5 feet 8 and play all five positions.
“You have to give everything, even if you’re tired,” Klundt said. “If there’s a loose ball, dive on it. Make it fun for the fans.”
Her goals, both individual and team, are straightforward: She wants to be all-conference and all-state, while helping the team finish first or second at divisionals. She’s well on her way to the individual goals, but the team has gotten off to a 3-5 start. Much of the blame can be placed on injuries.
For a few games, the Lady Bulldogs were playing with a six-player rotation, with Klundt playing nearly every position on the floor. Now four players are back from injuries and, for Klundt, it almost feels like the season is just getting started.
“I think our team has so much potential,” Klundt said. “We have a squad now.”
Klundt has always admired Closson and followed in her footsteps. She knows those are some large footsteps. In high school, Closson was named all-state three times for the Lady Bulldogs, finishing her career as the school’s all-time leader in points and blocked shots and second in rebounds. She then went on to play at the University of Montana, playing her last game for the Grizzlies last March.
“I definitely looked up to her,” Klundt said. “She just inspired me. I went to all of her high school games. She was amazing, and still is.”
Today Klundt and Closson remain close friends and send text messages to each other everyday. It’s not always easy to see each other since Closson lives in Missoula, but when they manage to get together they don’t miss a beat. They talk about basketball, watch games on TV and, when needing a break from hoops, they find an outlet for their competitive streaks: ultimate Frisbee, Pictionary and marbles usually do the job.
Closson majored in fine arts at UM and has always been an adept painter. Klundt, though not artistically inclined in general, has decided to try her hand in painting. On a recent afternoon, Klundt was picking dried paint chips off her fingers and laughing about her first foray into fine art. Earlier in the day she had made a valiant effort at recreating a park bench with oils, but the finished product wasn’t what she would call a Closson.
“Johanna is the best painter I’ve ever seen,” Klundt said. “I’m trying to follow in that path, but it’s hard.”
But Klundt is doing a fine job following Closson’s basketball path. She hopes to play college ball. Anywhere would be fine, but somewhere in Montana or close to the Big Sky state would be optimal. She has already visited Carroll College, the University of Montana-Western and a handful of schools in California and Washington. Klundt thanks her coaches for helping her reach a level where she has a shot at college.
No matter what happens with college, Closson’s advice to Klundt is to enjoy basketball everyday while it’s there.
“It goes by fast,” Closson said. “Then you miss it when it’s over.”
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