Cowgirl Hoops Growing, Learning and Finding New Roles During Preseason Practices

Photo Courtesy of University of Wyoming Athletics

Laramie, Wyoming – The Wyoming women’s basketball team have two-and-a-half weeks of practices under their belts, and first-year head coach Gerald Mattinson is happy with the way the young team is learning and getting better each day.

Mattinson is in his first season as head coach after spending the last 16 years on the Cowgirl bench as an assistant coach and associate head coach.

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Additionally, Heather Ezell was promoted to the associate head coach this offseason, while Fallon Lewis was promoted to an assistant coach after spending four years as the director of operations. Mattinson then hired Ryan Larsen as an assistant coach and Mattison Maisel as the director of operations.

“I think practices are going just fine,” Mattinson said. “A lot of us are trying to fit into some new roles and do some new things, not just me. Heather (Ezell) has a new roll, Fallon (Lewis) has a new role, Ryan (Larsen) has a new role and Matti (Maisel) has a new role, so besides the staff, everybody is trying to fill in with some new roles and duties.”

Larsen was most recently the head coach at South Dakota School of Mines, while Maisel spent last season as an academic advisor here at UW for the women’s basketball team.

The Cowgirls return two starters and seven letter winners from last year’s team that went 25-9 overall with a 13-3 mark in Mountain West play. The 2018-19 Cowgirl team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament for just the second time in school history.

The two starters returning are senior Taylor Rusk and sophomore Karla Erjavec. Rusk is primed to be Wyoming’s next 1,000 point scorer, as she is just 155 points shy of the milestone. Erjavec set the program’s freshman assist record with 124 helpers last season to lead the team.

“We have a lot of young players who are trying to fill into some new roles and duties, and we have some veteran players whose roles have changed,” Mattinson said. “Right now, we’re competing each day and getting a little better each day. We still have a long way to go and a lot of things to do, but overall, things are going fine.”

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Other returning Cowgirls that saw action last season include sophomore Quinn Weidemann, sophomore Tereza Vitulova, sophomore Alba Sanchez Ramos, senior Elisa Pilli and sophomore Tommi Olson.

Weidemann and Vitulova are the most experienced of that group, as they played in 34 and 27 games last season, respectively. Sanchez Ramos proved to be a capable scorer in her minutes, while Pilli had a good touch from long range and Olson averaged over a steal per game, defensively.

Wyoming also welcomes back Selale Kepenc, a redshirt junior who didn’t play last season while recovering from an injury.

The Cowgirls will have five newcomers on the roster in junior college transfers and Wyoming natives Jaye Johnson and Emily Buchanan. Additionally, a trio of freshman join the 2019-20 squad. McKinley Bradshaw and Paige Powell are both from Wyoming, while Jaeden Vaifanua is from Draper, Utah.

“I think the newcomers have shown a lot of growth,” Mattinson said. “As I tell them, ‘film don’t lie.’ Whether it’s good or bad, the film doesn’t lie. You can see from the first days when they had no idea about help-side defense, defensive rotations or how to set a down screen, or things like that, to now you can show them on film that things have changed and they have progressed even though it doesn’t feel like it every day. But we can see it, and we can verify it and show them on film that they’re getting better.”

On a team that returns only two starters, the competition is fierce for the starting role. It’s not just the returners that are competing for spots, the newcomers all are, as well.

“The thing I like the most about our new kids and the kids that are returning is that they are competing,” Mattinson said. “A lot of times when you have four or five new players to the program, it takes them a little while to learn how to compete. But every day, they go out and compete, and that’s something that’s hard to teach. It’s good that they have that in them.”

One thing that has stayed the same since last season is the team chemistry is off the charts for the Cowgirls. On and off the court, this group has a good time around each other, and that helps the team go far during the season.

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“When I’ve been around them, the things I’ve heard and laugh and joke about, I think they fit really well,” Mattinson said. “Our young women are a very easy-going group off the court. They get along with just about everybody. It seems like they’re doing a lot of things together, whether they’re having people over, making cookies or watching TV shows. I think it’s important for them to do that. They’re a good group of young women.”

The Cowgirls host an exhibition game against Adams State on Friday, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. Then, Wyoming officially begins the season by hosting Colorado Christian on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Arena-Auditorium.

Season tickets are now available for Cowgirl basketball. Prices for season tickets are $130 for the public, $100 for faculty and staff and just $70 for kids. Fans are able to pick their own seats, and four-month payment plans are available.

Fans interested in season tickets can call the ticket office at (307) 766-7220, visit or stop by the ticket office located at the Willet West entrance of the Arena-Auditorium Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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