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Veteran basketball player stays on the edge of competition

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

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Aaron Montes / The Prospector

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Aaron Montes / The Prospector

Senior center, Anete Steinberga, has an average of 13 points per game. She has helped the women’s basketball team sustain a 14-2 record.

   When senior center Kristine Vitola ended her season with a torn ACL Nov. 18 against Arizona State, everyone on the women’s basketball team had to step up their game.  Senior center Anete Steinberga, has done exactly that, helped the UTEP women’s basketball team get off to a school best 14 win streak at the start of the season.

“Obviously when Kristine went down, Anete has really been giving us a big presence in the paint,” head coach Keitha Adams said. “She’s been battling, being a great competitor, works hard every day and is very competitive.”

Averaging a career high of 14 points with 6 rebounds, the 22-year-old is in her senior year at UTEP. Steinberga was born in Ikskile, Latvia just north of Lithuania. She got into the sport at 14, after her grandmother read an article asking for any tall girls who wanted to join a women’s basketball team.

Steinberga was into dancing/ballet and was in art school and did not even like basketball. Her mother convinced her and said “we’re just gonna go tryout.” Once she got there, her coach instantly saw her talent and recruited her.

“It took me awhile to learn, but because of so many coaches teaching me stuff on my game, I had no time to worry about doing something wrong,” Steinberga said.

Two years later, Steinberga was already playing for the under-20 national team every summer, where she learned, not only post player’s moves, but all-around moves, crossovers, dribbling skills and mid-range jumpers.

On the national team, Steinberga was already friend, and a teammate with Vitola, though a year apart them, they created a bond that would carry on all the way to UTEP.

Moving to a different country with new colleagues, a new culture and a new lifestyle was tough for Steinberga. Saying goodbye to her basketball career teammates was the toughest.

“I was emotional, we were really good friends but when I go back home, we get together and remember the good times,” Steinberga said.

When she got to UTEP, Steinberga received the number 12 jersey, the same number she had from the national team. Given the nickname “Berg” in her first year, Steinberga had to sit out the first half of the season due to NCAA rules, but in her inaugural game, she made an instant impact by scoring 24 points off the bench. Steinberga became the third leading scorer and number one rebounder for the Miners that season. For that, she was voted into the All Conference USA freshmen team.

Trying to continue from a successful freshmen year, Steinberga struggled through an injury her sophomore year and had a career low in minutes, points and rebounds her junior year. That did not stop her from finding a groove this season.

Off the court, Steinberga knows getting an education while playing basketball, is rare in her country. In Latvia, the class schedule intervenes with practices and games, so athletes sacrifice their education in order to keep playing. That is one of the main reasons Steinberga came to the United States, for a balanced participation in both education and athletics.

Still in touch with her first passion, Steinberga is always seen drawing pictures for her art minor. Teammate Kayla Thornton, is still waiting on Steinberga to draw a picture of the team, but getting to know her as a friend is worth the wait.

“She’s funny, always a good person to be around with and she has a good heart,” Thornton said.

Once on the court though, Steinberga instantly acquires a stern approach or, as Adams would say, a “competitive instinct” kicks while playing basketball because no one on the team wants to win more than she does. During practice and game film sessions, Steinberga is focused and determined to get better every day.

“That’s my work, that’s what I’m here for, people have high expectations for us, we can’t come out goofy, and we need to be serious,” Steinberga said. “That’s why I take it that way.”

Steinberga is coming off an impressive week where she was named Conference USA player of the week. Steinberga raised her scoring average from 13 points to 19 points. The team started off conference play 2-0 with an average of double digit winning margins.

When asked about her team goals for the season, Steinberga likes to take the Bill Belichick approach.

“I don’t want to make any expectations,” Steinberga said. “I’m just going one game at a time. I rather focus on the now than what’s going to happen later.”

Albert Gamboa may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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