Scott Thompson is convinced that if Faith Bergstrom had waited a while longer, she would’ve received offers to play for some of the most prominent women’s basketball programs in the nation. But at the same time, he knows that her decision to attend a university known for its prestigious engineering programs most likely will turn out to be a wise one.
“She has an engineering mind,” said Thompson, head coach of the Camas High School girls basketball team. “It was fun to have her get recruited by engineering schools, because when I was talking to coaches, they’d talk about their players, and I’d say, ‘You have a bunch of Faiths.’ She’s a real student of the game. She gets a ton out of film sessions. She watches herself play and evaluates all of the details and finds answers. She really wants to crack the code.”
Bergstrom, a Camas junior, announced via Twitter last month that she has made an oral commitment to continue her academic and athletic career at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, California, after graduating from Camas High in June 2021.
The Mustangs’ National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-I sports teams participate in the Big West Conference.
“(Cal Poly) was actually one of the few schools I was able to visit (before the COVID-19 outbreak), so that helped,” Bergstrom said. “I got to see the town, which is gorgeous. The school has a very good mechanical engineering program, and that’s what I’d like to major in. I was able to be around the coaching staff and watch practice (sessions), and I liked what I saw. I asked their coach to let me know when they were running low on scholarships, and she said they had one left. I talked to my parents for a long time that night, and I decided that I didn’t want to let (this opportunity) go. I liked the school and the city and the coaches too much to let it go.”
Bergstrom chose Cal Poly over offers from the University of California San Diego, the University of Montana, Harvard University and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. She plans on majoring in mechanical engineering and is considering a career in product design.
Cal Poly has the second-best mechanical, computer and electrical engineering program in the United States, according to a study released by the U.S. News & World Report last fall.
“Faith is the most academically driven player I’ve ever coached,” Thompson said. “Academics are very important to her. When college coaches were recruiting her, they’d say, ‘We never recruited a player with an ACT score as high as hers.’ She knows what she wants to do and has a career path in mind, and I believe Cal Poly is a perfect fit. A (bigger) school could’ve offered her a great basketball opportunity, but she felt as though she already had a great basketball opportunity (at Cal Poly), and on top of that a great academic fit. It takes a mature person to recognize that.”
“Faith is an excellent student,” said CHS physics teacher Tristan Wells. “I don’t think I ever saw her without a smile on her face. She always put everything she had behind everything she did. Of all my students in Advanced Placement physics, I believe she had some of the largest gains. It was a great pleasure teaching her this year.”
The 6-foot-2 Bergstrom developed into a dominant force during the 2019-20 campaign, averaging 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a game for the Papermakers, who advanced to the 4A Hardwood Classic. The junior shot 56 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line.
“Her post moves are so polished, and her footwork is (tremendous),” Thompson said. “With her height, length and ability to rebound, she dominates everything inside. She’s a great shot-blocker. She can do it all. When she goes out there, I pencil her in for a big night every time. She’s turned into that kind of player.”
Bergstom’s improvement was more mental than physical, according to Thompson.
“If you only saw raw footage of her sophomore year, you’d say there’s a lot of talent there, but you wouldn’t think Division-I offers are coming,” Thompson said. “If you watch tape of her junior year, you’d say she’s a legitimate Division-I player at the (post or power forward positions). She’s come a long way. During her sophomore year we saw signs of her talent, soft hands and ability to score from anywhere, but her confidence wasn’t there yet. Last season she came in with a ‘get me the ball and I’ll get buckets’ mentality.”
As much as Bergstrom’s approach to the game has helped her, it also held her back at times. When she learned to blend her natural tendencies with more of an unpremeditated approach, her game blossomed.
“She wants to solve every problem, but basketball is not that simple,” Thompson said. “Things are fluid, and there’s always going to be challenges. The defense is different every time. She would like to figure things out instantly on the court. Part of the reason she grew this year is that she started to understand that there’s not an immediate answer for every question that she has. She doesn’t know what will happen next, but she’ll figure it out as she goes. She learned that you can’t solve all of the problems before you touch the ball, and that you have to solve them in the moment.”
On the offensive end of the court, Bergstrom is somewhat of a throwback. In recent years, modern basketball trends have dictated that players play at a faster pace and shoot more 3-pointers, a style which makes traditional post play all but obsolete. While Bergstrom is perfectly capable of making an outside shot, she is especially efficient when she has the ball less than 10 feet away from the basket.
“I do a lot of back-to-the-basket stuff, which apparently isn’t done much anymore,” she said. “My dad calls me an ‘old-school’ post. I love combining multiple (techniques) into one inside move. Sometimes it seems that people can’t guard me, whether it’s because they are (smaller) or not used to seeing my kinds of post moves anymore.”
Bergstrom is thinking about ways to expand her game to prepare for the college level, however. She knows that because there’s a good chance that she’ll be asked to switch positions, her skill set will need to become more diverse.
“I’d like to improve my 3-point shot. I can shoot it, but not always accurately,” she said. “I’d like to improve my ball-handling because I’m probably going to be doing more of that in college. And I’d like to improve my speed as well; I’m not super-fast.”
Bergstrom began playing basketball when she was in the third grade, but started to get serious about the game during her middle-school years. She was a member of the Vancouver-based Columbia Cascades Club during her freshman and sophomore years, and was set to play for the Vancouver-based Upper Left Legion club squad this spring before the pandemic struck.
“I like (basketball) for sure, but I don’t know if I love it,” she said. “I want to get better at it. I like getting better. But I feel as though if it left my life, I would be able to fill (the void) with other things. But I definitely enjoy playing. The team aspect is the one big thing I love — playing with people, getting to know them, the team bonding.”
Bergstrom has stayed physically active during the pandemic, working out with longtime trainers Ashley Corral and Kevan West of Vancouver-based AC Performance Training. But she’s also been focusing on cultivating some of her other interests, some of which, not surprisingly, involve the creation of things.
“I’ve always liked to craft things with my hands — Legos, origami, crochet, embroidery,” she said. “During the (quarantine) break I started baking bread as well. It’s the building up of things and seeing what I can make that appeals to me. Currently I’m working on (crocheting) a reversible doll — it’s a human figure that flips inside out to reveal a different costume. It’s kind of like my Tony Stark/Iron Man. It’s my biggest project so far, and I really enjoy it.”