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Klabo and Freije emerge as UND's new women's basketball leaders

Lexi Klabo and Fallyn Freije grew up playing high school basketball in North Dakota and teamed up in the AAU circuit. In 2014, they both committed to play college basketball at UND. Now, entering the 2017-18 UND women's basketball season, Klabo a...

UND women's basketball head coach Travis Brewster addresses the media Tuesday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
UND women's basketball head coach Travis Brewster addresses the media Tuesday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Lexi Klabo and Fallyn Freije grew up playing high school basketball in North Dakota and teamed up in the AAU circuit.

In 2014, they both committed to play college basketball at UND.

Now, entering the 2017-18 UND women's basketball season, Klabo and Freije are making another move together.

Klabo and Freije have become the face of the Fighting Hawks, who open exhibition play on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Minnesota Morris at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

"They've really taken the tradition of the program and embraced it," UND coach Travis Brewster said. "They've said, 'Hey, this is who we are and this is the North Dakota way.'"

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A year ago, UND was 20-11 and won a share of the Big Sky Conference regular-season title. But the Fighting Hawks were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament and lost to South Dakota in the first round of the WNIT.

UND lost two career 1,000-point scorers from that team in Makailah Dyer and Leah Szabla.

With the experience of Dyer and Szabla now gone, UND turns to Klabo and Freije to lead the way for a team with just one senior in transfer guard Chastity Franklin.

"It's definitely different because we've always had people above us showing us the way," said Klabo, a former Fargo Davies High School standout. "But we have a feel for the game, what we can bring to the table, and we're learning as we go. We're trying to show the underclassmen how to work every day."

Last season, Klabo was an all-Big Sky second team pick. Freije was all-Big Sky honorable mention.

Klabo, a 6-foot-2 post, scored 11.8 points and grabbed 8.3 rebounds per game. She was second in the Big Sky in rebounding and second in field-goal percentage (.548). Klabo scored 22 points in UND's Big Sky tournament loss to Portland State.

Freije, a 6-0 forward from Edmore, N.D., averaged 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.

"I think coming in as freshmen, we knew that if everything was handled the way it needed to be and we reached our potential, this is what we envisioned happening," Freije said. "Being great friends and being from North Dakota, this is what we worked for and want on our shoulders. We want that responsibility."

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Freije said the large junior class (nine) has taken on a leadership role in practice. In addition to Klabo and Freije, UND also returns juniors with experience in Grace Sawatzke, Jill Morton and Bailey Strand.

"We really feel that a lot of times how we go is how the team will go," Freije said. "In practice, we want to show habits and intensity. If we're not crashing hard for rebounds, why would the other girls? And when times get tough, we know we need to be the ones holding it together."

Brewster isn't surprised Klabo and Freije have come to the forefront of his leadership group.

"You look at their family background, and it's the same thing," Brewster said. "They come from good families ... and what better way to do it than with someone you trust and care about. It's exciting to see."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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