February 27, 2023 

How Mia Lakstigala, the “Quiet Assassin,” has helped propel GW this season

The transfer from Penn is making an impact on and off the court

In Caroline McComb’s first season at George Washington, the team was second to last in the Atlantic 10 in made threes and 3-point percentage.

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In the offseason, she knew she had to bring in someone to change that around the same time.

Mia Lakstigala entered the transfer portal after having a breakout third season at Penn, looking to use her last year of eligibility.

Lakstigala enters the A-10 tournament fifth in made threes per game and sixth in 3-point field goal percentage in the conference, while the team is second in made threes per game (8.1). But she and the team believe defense is their identity and use it to fuel the team’s offense.

“We all put ourselves in the best position to do the best that we can and I think my teammates do a really good job looking for me to get that open three, which has been helpful and they’ve also given me a lot of confidence to shoot and score,” Lakstigala told The Next.

Teammate Mayowa Taiwo believes Lakstigala has impacted the team in every facet of the game. “I think she plays with a type of freedom and fluidity that you don’t see in a lot of people’s games … And it’s been a great addition to this program, especially as we’ve been trying to [put] the ball in the hoop more,” she told The Next.

McCombs also noted Lakstigala’s ball-handling skills from high school were another skill she could utilize at GW, though she didn’t need to do as much while she was at Penn.

“From the jump, we wanted to give her confidence in her ball handling abilities and being a playmaker for us as well and not just locking her into being a set 3-point shooter,” McCombs told The Next.

Taiwo noted that Lakstigala has also helped give her teammates the confidence to try and score and help the team add a potent offense on top of its defensive identity.

GW finished the 2021-22 season last in points per game (51.6) and finished the 2022-23 regular season ninth in the conference (64.5 points per game).

While she is the team’s second-leading scorer (13.8 points per game), she makes her presence felt all over the court also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals in a team-high 32.3 minutes per game.

“I think Mia was always a really, really tremendously talented player on both ends; she affects the game in really beautiful ways,” Loyola Chicago head coach Allison Guth, who also coached against Lakstigala as Yale’s head coach, told The Next. “I think the kid can shoot it lights out and really can score in multitudes of ways.”

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On Feb. 18 against Loyola Chicago, Lakstigala struggled from the floor, going 4-13, including 0-3 from behind the arc. She made her presence known in other areas of the game, notching four rebounds, one block and a career-high six assists.

“Finding the open person is something that we talked about a lot, and she was able to do that. And then we were able to connect,” McCombs told media after the game. “So yeah, really, really proud of her — I think sometimes when you don’t see the numbers in the scoring column, you might not think you have as good of a game, but she was also very effective today for us.”

Lakstigala started playing basketball in elementary school and while she also played soccer, basketball remained her favorite. Her father, who played basketball at Iowa, coached her growing up, including as an assistant coach on her high school team. He was also the most influential person in her basketball career, helping her get extra reps in the gym and pushing her to be the best she can be.

During her freshman season at Penn, she would call her father and he would be a calming voice through the transition from high school to college.

Lakstigala is a quiet leader, demonstrating what should be done by coming in early and staying late. “She’s going to put the time in to be the best at whatever it is that she wants to do,” McCombs said.

Taiwo believes that Lakstigala has helped continue to build the culture at GW through her work ethic and McCombs sees it as well, both on and off the court.

From getting shots up early the morning after a game to getting a master’s degree in interdisciplinary business in one year, though Lakstigala doesn’t promote what she does, she sets an example for her younger teammates.

“I just think when you really take a look at the people that you’re around every day and how they carry themselves and handle their business and do well she’s somebody that if I’m watching I’m looking at Wow, how does she do all of those things and remain the person who she is. So, I’m thankful for this year with her,” McCombs said.

I always learn from all of our players but you learn a lot from the older players that have already gone through, the highs and lows of college basketball and just really life as an 18 to 22-year-old … I think that’s a huge part of being a grad transfer is sharing that information with the younger players and the value that brings them. I can give them the stories as a coach, but when it comes from their peers about things they’ve done well and right and things where they’ve messed up. They really take that information to heart and I think that’s where they learn the most.”

McCombs also describes Lakstigala as a quiet assassin.

“She’s not an outspoken person. She’s very wise for her age,” McCombs said. “I think she’s got tremendous value and knowledge. But she’s quiet until she’s asked upon. But she just has [knocked] down shots from all over the place.”

Lakstigala doesn’t like to brag about her accomplishments but has teammates more than willing to do so. In an interview with The Next, Taiwo followed up with Lakstigala, saying she enjoys watching Candace Parker play because they went to the same high school by saying, “Let’s not forget that Mia is second to Candace Parker at their old high school in points scored. She wasn’t gonna say that, but I’ll say that for her.”

Despite her standout season, Lakstigala didn’t originally plan to use her fourth year of eligibility. She was ineligible to suit up for the Quakers this season, having graduated last spring. Lakstigala had accepted a job offer at Citibank that she was able to defer a year to play at GW.

Though she was nervous about playing at a school other than Penn, she enjoyed her time visiting GW and was welcomed by her now teammates and coaching staff with open arms.

“I’m proud of Mia for taking a leap of faith to join GW and then just the immediate impact she’s had not only on the court but off the court,” Taiwo said. “Basketball is such a relational sport and it does really depend on the people you surround yourself [with] and it can be scary joining a new program in your grad year. So I applaud Mia for doing that. … I’m really proud of Mia for taking this year, taking this step, making an immediate impact and just finding ways to be successful and help her teammates be successful.”

Lakstigala and Taiwo are looking forward to the A-10 tournament that begins on March 1 and believe that if they stick with their principles and execute to the best of their ability, they can win the tournament. The Colonials are scheduled to play the winner of Duquesne and Loyola Chicago on March 2.

“We want to go in with a lot of momentum and just play how we know how to play which is hard and just with a lot of grit,” Lakstigala said.

Lakstigala wants to enjoy every moment as her basketball career comes to an end.

“Now that I can see I only have so many games left, so many practices left that I’m glad that all these little memories I have, I cherish so much,” she said. “So I feel like I’ve given so much to the sport of basketball and also gotten so much, so just really enjoying all the little moments that come with it.”

After her basketball career comes to a close, Lakstigala will take the lessons she’s learned along the way, including the importance of hard work and a good work ethic.

“Whether you have a bad game or a good game, just getting in the gym consistently has really helped, I think get the results that you want to see,” she said. “So that’s something that will definitely stick with me throughout life.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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