LARAMIE, Wyo. -
It was a season of many great things a year ago for the Cowgirls, including thrilling victories and falling records. The expectations for the 2006-07 season are even greater this year as head coach Joe Legerski enters his fourth season at the helm. He and the Cowgirl team will continue to build on those accomplishments and the excitement around Wyoming basketball.
Three starters and ten letterwinners return to a team that finished 21-9 overall and 10-6 in the MWC. The 21 wins was the most since the 1989-90 season when that team won 24 games, and the ten conference victories tied them with the most in school history. The 1978-79 team went 10-4 during that year. In all of that excitement, the Cowgirls also defeated to ranked opponents (#20 New Mexico and #19 BYU) in back to back games and headed to post season for just the third time in school history. A bid to the WNIT, Wyoming hosted two games against Oregon State and Nebraska, which included their largest crowd in school history of 4,443 against the Cornhuskers.
"We have demonstrated a great deal of success in the program over the last three years with the simple goal of trying to improve on a daily basis," said head coach Joe Legerski. "If we can continue to be better today than we were yesterday the wins will take care of themselves.
"Our selection into post season play was a tribute to the hard work of staff and players to move this program in a short time period to that level," he added. "The Mountain West Conference is one of the elite conferences in the country. To have success in our league and represent our league in post season play was a tribute to the commitment of the Wyoming players."
Of those ten letterwinners, two of them averaged 30 minutes of playing time and three averaged 15 minutes or more. To add to that, underclassmen accounted for 183 games and over 4,000 minutes compared to 96 games and 2,000 minutes by three seniors and a junior. Their is still however one returning starter that this team is mainly centered around.
Hanna Zavecz, a 6-0, junior from Melbourne, Australia, finished the 2005-06 season by being selected First Team All-Mountain West Conference and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors. She led the team in all five major categories, including scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots. In each of those categories, Zavecz was also ranked among the top ten in the Mountain West Conference.
"When discussing returning starters it begins with Hanna Zavecz. She was a First Team MWC selection as well as MWC Defensive Player of the Year. Her slashing style of play and ability to take over a game makes her a fan favorite and a player to be reckoned with. She has become a physically stronger player and has the potential to be one of the best to every wear a Wyoming uniform."
Without a doubt, the Cowgirls lost some significant players from a year ago including Honorable Mention All-MWC selection Erin Hicks and graduating senior Michelle Taylor. Hicks averaged almost nine points, six rebounds and four assists, while Taylor added 6.5 points and over three rebounds per game.
Despite the loss of those players, the Cowgirls still bring a lot of experience to the table. In all, the squad will comprise of two seniors, six juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen.
Besides Zavecz, several other players will be looked upon to carry the load both offensively and defensively. Junior Jodi Bolerjack will be one of those. She finished her sophomore campaign on a high note by earning Third Team All-Mountain West Conference honors, while averaging 13.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per contest. The other returning starter is junior forward Rebecca Vanderjagt from Townsville, Australia. She started in 18 contests in her first season with the Cowgirls and averaged almost three points and three rebounds per game.
"A Third Team MWC selection, Jodi blossomed into an offensive threat," said Legerski. "She stretches the defense like no other player and her confidence continues to grow. The team looks to her as a major contributor in the future success of our program.
"Rebecca Vanderjagt grew as a player in her initial season at Wyoming. Her ability to understand the motion game drew high praise from the coaching staff and made Bec an immediate contributor to a highly successful team. Her size and versatility define Rebecca and we believe her second season will be tremendous."
In her first year with the team, McGuffey took home MWC Newcomer of the Year honors. She averaged almost nine points and six rebounds per game and started in the last 11 games of the season.
"Megan is bigger, stronger and more confident than ever this year. She displayed toughness around the basket and her game continued to grow as the season progressed," Legerski said. "We expect Megan to continue her improvement on the offensive end of the court and step up as a young leader of the program."
Junior Dominique Sisk has a chance this season to compete for the starting point guard position. A 5-10 guard from Colorado Springs, she finished last season averaging almost five points and two rebounds while playing in all 30 games a year ago. Elisabeth Dissen (Hillsboro, Oregon) and Alysia Kraft (Encampment, Wyo.) both showed great potential in their first seasons with the program. Kraft saw action in 19 games, while Dissen played in 16.
"Dominique has the opportunity to lead this team from the point guard position. A complimentary player the past two seasons, she can change the flow of the game and we look for Dom to put her stamp on this team.
"Alysia and Elisabeth are sophomores looking to contribute in a big way. Alysia will add a long range threat and her work ethic over the past year has impressed the coaching staff and team. Elisabeth will provide toughness around the basket and receive an opportunity to be a major contributor to the Cowgirl front line."
Legerski is also very excited with the incoming players he has this year as he feels they should really have the ability to come in and contribute right away.
In all, the Cowgirls welcome six newcomers to this year's team, which includes five freshmen and one junior college transfer. They include Mallory Cline (6-4, Center, Wiley, Colo.); Gemma Koehler (6-1, Forward, Geelong, Australia); Megan Mordecai (5-10, Guard, Gillette, Wyo.); Justyna Podziemska (6-2, Forward, Wroclaw, Poland); Tahnee Robinson (5-10, Guard, Ft. Washakie, Wyo.) and Aubrey Vandiver (5-11, Guard, Laramie, Wyo.).
"We feel very good about our 2006 recruiting class. They have all of the tools necessary to come in and contribute to the program immediately."
The fans should be excited to watch a couple of local products with the addition of Justyna Podziemska, Tahnee Robinson and Aubrey Vandiver. Podziemska was a two-time First Team All-Conference, All-Region IX and WCCAC Player of the Year selection while attending Casper College (Casper, Wyo.) the past two seasons. She averaged 16.1 points and seven rebounds during her sophomore year and 14 points and 8.5 rebounds as a freshman.
"Justyna brings a wealth of experience to the court. At 6'2", the Junior College Region IX Player of the Year has the ability to play a number of positions for us which contributes to the strength of this team. Her passing ability is second to none and she makes players around her better."
Robinson was a four-time All-Conference and All-State selection at Lander Valley High School, who led her team to a 25-5 mark and the 3A State Championship as a senior. She also earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Wyoming, the Milward L. Simpson Award, given to the top female athlete in the state, along with being named a McDonald's All-American and Gatorade All-American.
Vandiver finished up her career at Laramie High School by being selected First Team All-Conference and All-State as a senior. She also led her team to a 19-9 overall record and a third place finish at the state tournament, which helped her earn 4A Player of the Year and South Conference Co-Player of the Year honors.
"Tahnee is a smooth two guard who has the ability to take over a game on the offensive end. Her ability to get to the basket as well as shoot the three with great consistency will be trademarks of Tahnee's career at Wyoming.
"Aubrey brings a mental and physical toughness that is a must for every championship caliber team. The ability to play a number of positions on the floor along with her skill level will make Aubrey an immediate contributor to the Wyoming basketball program."
Mallory Cline joins the Wyoming program after an outstanding career at McClave High School (McClave, Colo.). She was a three-time Colorado Class 1A All-State and All-Conference selection, while helping her team to three straight Colorado State 1A Championships and a state record 75-game win streak. Gemma Koehler joined the program in January of 2006 and redshirted which gives her four years of eligibility left. She was a two-time Junior All-Australian Camp selection in 2002 and 2003, and played at the Australian Institute of Sports in 2004. Freshman Megan Mordecai, from Gillette, Wyo., was a two-time All-State selection and helped her team to the Wyoming State 4A Championship twice during her career.
"Mallory brings a winning attitude to the program. Three high school championships and an All-Colorado selection makes her an ideal fit to continue our winning ways at Wyoming. At 6'4", she provides the size and athletic ability that is needed at the Division I level.
"Gemma joined the Cowgirl program midway through last season and gets her first opportunity to contribute to the basketball program. She is adjusting to the college game and her passing skills will enhance our motion game."
With all of this in place, Legerski feels that as a program they have really developed a good nucleus to move forward in to the future.
"The strength of this program lies in the interchangeable parts of our team. We have a number of players that can play several positions which enables us to create the best match up for Wyoming night in and night out. We can play with a "big" team on the floor or switch to a "small" lineup without changing the philosophy of the team. The blend of newcomers only strengthens that theory. The ability to have several players "have a big night" contributes to the strength of this team. Everyone knows the offensive skills that Hanna, Jodi and Megan possess and we expect them to improve their production as they continue their careers. Justyna, Dominique, Alysia, and Tahnee are offensive minded players that can change a game from the offensive end and will demonstrate that throughout their careers"
The schedule will present many challenges for this team as they are slated for a very tough non-conference schedule in the early going. They will take on such perennial teams as Charlotte, Colorado, Idaho State, Kansas State, Montana and Nevada.
In all, Wyoming 2006-07 schedule includes eight teams that participated in either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT (BYU, Charlotte, Idaho State, Kansas State, New Mexico, UNLV, TCU and Utah). BYU, New Mexico and Utah all finished the season ranked in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
"The non-conference schedule is as difficult as we have played in my short career at Wyoming," said Legerski. "The biggest hurdle will be the number of road games compared to home games this season. The opportunity to play perennial NCAA participants Kansas State and Montana will help prepare our team for the challenges of league play. Big 12 foe Colorado will return to Laramie with a strong team. Charlotte, Nevada and Idaho will present a unique challenge to a young Wyoming team in that we will compete in tournaments in Boulder and Missoula."
There will also be fierce competition as the Mountain West Conference enters its eighth season of existence, where the Cowgirls will face such power houses as Brigham Young, New Mexico, TCU, UNLV and Utah. Other teams challenging in this very competitive league are Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State.
"The Mountain West Conference displayed the ability to compete and win at the highest level during the 2005-06. Six of the nine conference teams participated in post season play last season with several post season victories among the conference schools. Once again, the 2006-07 season will be extremely competitive. BYU, New Mexico, TCU and Utah will be the teams to chase as the season gets underway. The strength of any league is measured from top to bottom and the Mountain West Conference continues to make strides in becoming a league whose strength is measured in the high number of quality teams. The league continues to be one of the elite conferences in the country and 2006-07 will provide the same excitement for the Wyoming fans."
The Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament venue will change places this season as it moves back to Las Vegas and the Thomas and Mack Center. Each team in the conference will qualify for the single-elimination tournament, which begins on Tuesday, March 6, 2007 and runs through Saturday, March 11, 2007.