O Canada!: Van Leeuwen looks to bring international experiences to UW
Kendra Van Leeuwen and the Badgers need to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger
Kendra Van Leeuwen, a sophomore point guard on the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team, spent the majority of her summer playing on the Team Canada’s U-19 women’s basketball team. Now, as Van Leeuwen enters her second season in Wisconsin, she hopes to have some of her international experiences pay dividends for both herself and the young Badgers.
While attending St. John’s College in Brantford, Ontario, Van Leeuwen played almost every sport imaginable. But her sister, Kelly, a successful Canadian women’s basketball player herself, helped guide her to basketball. She initially committed to joining current Wisconsin head coach back when he was at George Washington, but when Tsipis took the job in Madison, Van Leeuwen was granted release and followed him to the midwest. It also helped that a close family friend of Van Leeuwen had just ended her collegiate career as a Badger, that person being former Wisconsin point guard Dakota Whyte.
Whyte, like Tsipis, had a major role in both her style of play and her connection to Wisconsin.
“Dakota actually played with my sister so I grew up watching them when they were playing for Team Ontario,” Van Leeuwen said. “I was very young at that time but even when I came on my visit, she was there and greeted us and added to the family atmosphere being here at Wisconsin. Also being able to know a fellow Canadian that came here, along with everyone else pitching in, it just made it a great choice to be here.”
Van Leeuwen was impressive on a rebuilding Badgers team. She was one of just two players to start all 31 games, the other being fellow guard Cayla McMorris. She ranked top-10 in freshman records by recording 102 assists and also ranked inside the top five in UW’s 3-point shooting percentage.
After an impressive freshman year for a rebuilding Wisconsin women’s basketball team Kendra got notified in late June that she had been one of 25 athletes selected to tryout for the U-19 Canadian women’s basketball team.
“Every single time it’s brand new, it’s exciting; I just look forward to it. I get really excited about working hard to be there on that day because it’s just not about going there and performing: It’s about everything that you have done up and to that point,” Van Leeuwen said. “So when you get the call, it’s like all that hard work that you put in has paid off, so now you can actually go and show them and prove yourself in that situation during the tryout.”
She had some previous national team experience, but her competition just to make the team this summer was more different than in previous years.
“It’s a stressful time for any athlete, especially when you want something so bad because it’s a dream and you don’t want to think about not making it,” Van Leeuwen said. “When I went there, I just left everything on the floor and showed them why I deserved to be there.”
Van Leeuwen made the team though, and after a near flawless group stage in the FIBA U18/19 World Cup and a tough quarterfinal victory over China, Canada came up short to Russia in the semi-finals. Team Canada responded however with a victory over Japan to claim the bronze medal.
“I think when the final buzzer went off at the very end and that feeling that you had just made history and everyone was celebrating it was hard to put into words,” Van Leeuwen said. “Just the thrill and excitement that it was over and that it was great to be a part of a team that had made history and come together.”
Van Leeuwen is now back at Wisconsin and hopes to bring some of her momentum and experiences to Madison.
“It’s a pretty remarkable summer for a young woman who wins a bronze medal, gets into business school, has all these going on in her life, and the greatest part is that it doesn’t change her,” Tsipis said.
“Just the fact of her bringing back that experience and jumping right back into it. I think that’s one appreciation that Kendra’s teammates have for her — that she doesn’t change. As soon as she steps foot into the gym, she’s gonna work hard, gonna try to get everyone involved, and that’s how she kind of attacks life.”
Since Kendra has been a part of some of the most successful youth teams Canada has ever seen, the Badgers are optimistic she will help improve the Badgers’ culture. Van Leeuwen is confident she can bridge the two experiences and excited to get to work for UW in her second season. “I think taking a never-quit mentality is something I took away because you never want to stop growing in what you want to do,” Van Leeuwen said. “I think just keep pushing yourself and never settle for what you have now, you have continue to work hard and keep pushing yourself to achieve your goals on and off the court.”
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