From the desk of Sean O’Sullivan
LARAMIE – A Cowgirls basketball team, featuring three starters and nine letterwinners returning, opened practice on Wednesday in preparation for the quest of a third consecutive 20-win season. The Cowgirls are coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons for the fifth time under coach Joe Legerski.
“The effort was there, (Wednesday),” Legerski said. “It’s a new year and a new group. They’re trying to find their way as to who the leaders are going to be, but I like the effort we had . We have an interesting group. We have six seniors and six freshmen, so there’s so much learning that has to go on, the amount of teaching we continually have to do.”
The Cowgirls led the Mountain West and were 15th in the NCAA in three-point field goal percentage last season, shooting at a .376 clip (236-of-628) last season. The strong shooting was aided by senior forward Marta Gomez, who led the league by shooting .484 (59-of-122) from behind the arc, and junior forward Taylor Rusk, who was fourth in the MW by shooting .430 (61-of-142) from three-point land.
The Cowgirls also set a school record from the free throw line, shooting .766 (374-of-488) as a team. That percentage was good enough to lead the league and was 18th in the country.
Senior forward Bailee Cotton was named to the MW All-Defensive team last season. She led the Cowgirls in steals (40) and rebounds (203), and helped direct the Mountain West’s best scoring defense (57.2 PPG allowed).
Gomez was named the league’s Sixth Player of the Year for the second-consecutive season. She averaged 8.5 points per game and 2.6 rebounds per game off the bench for UW.
Additionally, Legerski was named MW Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season and the third time in his career.
The Cowgirls will look to replace 2018 MW Player of the Year Liv Roberts (14.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG) by committee. The Brown and Gold return three of its top four scorers in Rusk (10.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG), Gomez (8.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and Cotton (8.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Senior guard Clara Tapia will once again be looked upon to direct the offensive attack. She averaged a team-leading 4.3 assists per game with a MW-leading 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Wyoming also returns senior forward Sladjana Rakovic (4.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG), senior forward Tijana Raca (1.5 PPG, 0.6 RPG), senior forward Rachelle Tucker (1.3 PPG, 0.9 RPG) and junior forward Coreen Labish (1.0 RPG) from last year’s team. Junior forward Selale Kepenc will miss the 2018-19 season due to an offseason surgery.
Joining the Wyoming veterans, the Cowgirls welcome six high school players to the squad in Karla Erjavec (Sport Gymnasium, Zagreb, Croatia), Tommi Olson (Highlands Ranch HS, Worland, Wyo.), Alba Sanchez Ramos (Colegio Torrevilano, Madrid, Spain), Maria Torreblanca (IEW Joaquim Blume, Melilla, Spain), Tereza Vitulova (Sportovni Gymnazium L Danka, Domasov, Czech Republic) and Quinn Weidemann (Westside HS, Omaha, Neb.).
The Cowgirl veterans are helping the newcomers find their way on the team.
“You end up seeing that quite a bit,” Legerski said. “Bailee Cotton is always out there trying to give a little direction, Clara Tapia does the same thing, and that’s always good to see from your point guard. You’re seeing those veteran players out there, with the unique situation we have with the balance this year. It’s a new year and a new team, and we know we have a long ways to go right now to be competitive.”
The first official practice came about a week after the final individual workouts from the fall, where the staff used drills and repetitions to help the newcomers adapt to Wyoming’s advanced motion offense.
“Individual workouts help us with getting our offense in,” Legerski said. “Running a motion offense, it’s all about reads and different types of screens, so there’s really no pattern to what we do. Trying to teach that to young players takes quite a while. That’s where you see the veterans step up and try to help. But that’s what the individual workouts allow us to do, is to install our offense.”
The Cowgirl season kicks off with an exhibition game at home against Western State University on Friday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m., with the first game of the season coming against Chadron State College at home on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m