Porath uplifts teammates, terrifies opponents

Cory Sparks, Sports Editor

From January to the beginning of March, star point guard and now senior Leah Porath was leading the UW Oshkosh women’s basketball team on an absolute tear as they entered round 16 of the Division III NCAA tournament.

Unfortunately, just as Porath was scoring 17.5 points per game, the coronavirus expanded to the point that sports competition across the country had halted.

Porath is currently a business major whose 3.65 cumulative GPA made her a member of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 WIAC Scholastic Honor Rolls. After three years as a Titan, Porath is averaging 10.5 points per game, is shooting 48.1% from the field, and is shooting 36.7% from behind the 3-point line. (Courtesy of Leah Porath)

Porath, who was the only Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player to have seven games where she scored 20 points or more, was very hopeful about the remainder of what was turning into a magical season for the Titans before it was cut short.

“Based on how well our team was playing together at the end of the year, I really saw no end for us,” Porath said. “I felt, with the right game plan, we could’ve beat anybody.”

In comparison to her sophomore year, Porath took a huge leap forward during the 2019-2020 season, and it was very evident in her 27-point performance against Bethany Lutheran College (Minn.) in what was a round-32 victory, and the last game of the season, for the Titans. From her sophomore to her junior year, Porath improved her points per game total from 7.2 to 17.5, her three-point field goal percentage from 20.9 to 40.8, and she increased the amount of free throws she got per game from 1.6 to 4.0.

“Leah went from a strong rotation player to an All-American, so there’s not really a phase or two that improved,” head coach Brad Fischer said. “Her consistency from the 3-point line helped open everything up but she was one of the most efficient players in the country. She found different ways to score every night and, I think, became a huge match-up problem for people because of it.”

Porath felt that all of these aspects of her game were unlocked when she improved her mental approach to the game.

Being able to break the other team down before the tip-off even occurred gave Porath a sizable advantage over her competitors.

“I became more knowledgeable about shot selection, understanding the strengths of my teammates, being able to read the defense, etc…” Porath said. “That summer I worked a lot on how to read the defense and being able to read what move was most effective based on how the defense was playing.”

While Porath was a nightmare for matchups on opposing teams, having WIAC highs of 12 field goals made against Alma (Mich.) and a 90% field goal percentage against Augustana (Ill.), she is praised by her fellow teammates for the relentless effort that she puts in and the positive impact that her playstyle has on everyone.

“She is someone you can look up to and strive to be like. She puts 100% into everything she does, and you can always count on that,” junior forward Abby Kaiser said. “She is [also] someone who draws a lot of attention and teams revolve their defense around her. Because of this, Leah is able to set our offense up by setting screens and getting her teammates open, even if she is not the one taking the shots.”

Porath also gives credit to her teammates for taking their competitiveness and overall execution to the next level, and this jump in both of those categories showed considering the team won their last six contests. Among those last six games was a win against UW-Whitewater, who is ranked 14th in the nation according to D3hoops.com, in order to solidify their bid into the 2020 March Madness tournament.

Along with her fellow teammates, Porath credits her coaching staff for planning accordingly for each opponent that the team took on.

“Our defense definitely improved at the end of the season,” Porath said. “This is because our coaches did an amazing job preparing us for each game, and as players, we executed that game plan and understood how to guard specific personnel.”

Along with those broadened team components being fired on all cylinders, Porath heated up when the game mattered most. In the team’s 67-60 win against Bethany Lutheran (Wis.), Porath scored nine of the team’s last ten points, including two crucial 3-pointers in the last four minutes of the game to solidify the Titans’ win.

“Down the stretch, Leah just continued to get better,” Kaiser said. “As we moved down the stretch, every team knew who Leah was and knew all of her strengths. However, she did not let this affect her game. Instead, she continued to show up every game and give it her all.”

In order to perform at a high level when it mattered most, Coach Fischer pointed to the emphasis that was put on a team effort in order to preserve Porath, their most valuable player, for those crunch-time moments at the end of high-stakes games.

“One of the biggest things about our late-season run is we didn’t put everything on her shoulders,” Fischer said. “She carried us early in the year, and we were asking her to do a lot in that middle portion of the season. At the end, we had a lot of people step up and give her some help.”

As for how she is seen as a player from a coach’s perspective, Fischer had a very specific answer when describing Porath’s style of play.

“Leah is tenacious,” Fischer said. “She has a tremendous work ethic paired with a competitive edge that makes her tough to handle every single day. She doesn’t just show up on game day. She is a seven-day-a-week competitor.”

In preparation for a season with an up-in-the-air status, Porath has made one thing very clear about her goals and the team’s goals if they are able to play against competition.

“My goal is to get farther than the sweet 16. I believe we have the talent and discipline to be able to achieve that,” Porath said. “Our team is going to continue practicing like there will be an NCAA tournament in order to get the most out of this year as well as already start preparing for next year.”