Bradley native Katie Bergeron flourished while playing NCAA Division III basketball for Bowdoin College.
She scored more than 1,000 career points, helped lead the Polar Bears to four NCAA Tourney berths and received league first-team honors and player-of-the-year awards in those four seasons.
But the former Old Town High School basketball standout wanted more and crossed an ocean in pursuit..
She landed in Leeds, England, where she has excelled in the past two seasons while playing basketball for Leeds Carnegie, a basketball club for players in several age groups, including a senior division in which Bergeron competes.
“Overall I have absolutely loved it here,” Bergeron, 26, said in an email exchange with the BDN.
“Not only have I received a great education and played semi-professional basketball — I have met some amazing people and made some unforgettable memories. I have also met my boyfriend here, which I’ll always be grateful for,” she added. “He has been a tremendously supportive of me on the court and also with school.”
Bergeron, a 5-foot-5 point guard, has averaged approximately 22 points, 5 assists and 3.5 steals per game for Leeds Carnegie in two 50-game seasons. She was honored after the recently completed season when she was named the Division 2 England Basketball player of the year, EuroBasket player of the year as well as awards as the year’s top guard and import player.
She has also found time to further her education, obtaining two master’s degrees, one in Sport Business and another in Sport Law, as the club has ties to Leeds Metropolitan University.
A season away from playing basketball is what ultimately enticed Bergeron to go to Leeds. During her final season at Bowdoin, she was recruited to play for Leeds Carnegie by current coach Mark Gunn, but felt she should pursue a job and did so at Boston University while also serving as an assistant coach at Emmanuel College.
The allure of returning to the hardwood persisted.
“Although I love coaching and loved Boston, I couldn’t get playing out of my head and the February after I graduated, I emailed the coach back, asked if the offer was still there,” Bergeron said. “He said yes and we began the process.”
At the end of August 2012, she had moved to Leeds.
“I really didn’t know much about European basketball and English basketball in particular — I was given this one chance by the coach and I knew if I didn’t take it, I would regret if forever,” said Bergeron, who has her rent and membership fees paid by Leeds Carnegie, totaling approximately $5,000.
She encountered some social and cultural differences in Leeds, but quickly adjusted.
“I have lived the past two years in Leeds and I’ve loved it,” she said.
“Leeds is in the north of England which is a much slower pace than the south but Leeds is a great city — always something new to do,” she added. “There is a professional rugby and a football (soccer) team in the city, a great theater and art scene, as well as many shopping venues. It is a great mix of fast-paced city life with a close-knit, laid back community feel.”
Bergeron is also relishing the infrequency of people on their cell phones while commuting and is adjusting to a decreased emphasis on punctuality shown by her new community.
“If you plan to meet someone at 7 — you can count on nothing happening til about 7:15/7:20,” she said. “ I’ve noticed this not only in a social setting but classes, meetings, appointments — just about everything.”
On the court, Bergeron has also adjusted to international rules such as four 10-minute quarters, no 1-and-1 free throws, and players not allowed to call timeouts. She also adapted to facing a high level of competition from European and other U.S. players by amping her game up a couple notches via the reputation she established at Old Town and Bowdoin of being tenacious in games along with a tireless work ethic in practice.
“I think my main goal has been defensive intensity,” she said. “Being short, I didn’t have time to be tired or lazy — I think I’m in the best shape of my life and both years have played just about 40 minutes every game and full court pressed the entire time. I think my one year of being a part of a coaching staff really helped me appreciate the smaller things like defense and hustle.”
The change from college to semi-pro basketball is one Bergeron is still adjusting to and has been a bit difficult due to the support her college team received at Bowdoin from the school, community and her two head coaches, Stefanie Pemper and Adrienne Shibles, whom she described as “two of the most inspirational women I have ever met.”
In England, she explained, that the sport of basketball is not as popular as it is in the U.S. and the level of commitment to women’s basketball is different.
“Here in England there isn’t any sport specific legislation like Title IX that we have at home,” she said. “ At Bowdoin we were supported by the entire community and there was a very fixed structure of practice times and access to resources and it is just not the same here.
“Don’t get me wrong — I have loved playing here and would recommend it to anyone,” she added. “However, there is much more need for personal direction and work ethic if you want to improve. In college we had anything and everything at our fingertips — and here there is a male-dominated system that takes some figuring out.”
She hopes to continue her international basketball career with possibly another season with Leeds Carnegie or may opt to play in another country.