Last season’s promising women’s basketball
team comes up just short.


At a midseason University of Utah women’s basketball practice, Associate Head Coach Joe Legerski wrapped things up by running the team through a free-throw shooting drill. The drill called for each player to make one free throw. Any miss from one of the 14 players resulted in the entire team’s running wind sprints. Three times the team lined up to drain one free throw. Three times one person missed. Three times the entire team ran sprints.

By the fourth round, faces were tired and frustrated. Once again, each player attempted to make one free throw. Thirteen shots went in without a hitch. The last shot went in—and then came out. “Line’em up,” bellowed Legerski. And that about sums up the 2001-02 season for the Ute women.

The team finished the season with a 15-12 record, 8-6 in Mountain West Conference games. Had a couple of bounces gone the Utes’ way, the record could have been much better. With no loss by more than 11 points, there was an opportunity in each game to pull out a win. A call here or, dare I say, a completed free throw there could have altered the season and put the Utes in postseason play.

“We’ve been competitive in every game we’ve played. It seems there were key times in games we lost when we didn’t make a play or get a rebound,” says Coach Elaine Elliott MS’94.

The Utes went into the season hoping to be carried by momentum from last year’s conference champion team that notched 28 wins and a first-ever trip to the NCAA Sweet 16. This year’s squad played a brutal pre-season schedule and had impressive wins against UCLA, Oregon State, and Montana. They entered conference play with a respectable 9-5 record.

But topping last year’s conference performance—a perfect 14-0 record—turned out to be difficult. Not only was this year’s team marked by its opponents because of its past success, but each conference team had also greatly improved from the previous season. “From top to bottom, this year was the best balanced conference strength since I’ve been at Utah,” says Elliott.

The Utes began the conference season right where they left off last year by thumping Wyoming. The win set the stage for a key game between nationally ranked conference favorite Colorado State. The game lived up to its billing by going into three overtimes, but the Utes lost after running out of gas in the third overtime. Senior Erin Gibbons played all 55 minutes of the game but insists, “I really wasn’t that tired at the end of the game.”

The physical and mental toll from the Colorado State battle seemed to take something out of the squad, as they went on to drop three out of the next four conference games. With the starters playing most of the minutes, the Utes’ young bench couldn’t gain enough game experience to give the starters sufficient rest. Significantly, the Utes were leading at half-time in most of the season’s losses. “It was frustrating because none of the losses were ever for a lack of effort,” says Elliott.

Not ready to pack it in for the season, the Utes picked it up in the second half of conference play, winning five of their last six games. The team showed incredible heart by winning its last two conference games on the road against San Diego State and Nevada-Las Vegas. Those two wins moved the Utes into the number five seed for the Mountain West Conference Tournament, setting up a rubber match game with UNLV, as the Rebels had defeated the Utes at the Huntsman Center in the teams’ first meeting. Of course, that also meant the Rebels were playing on their home court at the Las Vegas conference tournament site. The Utes left their shooting eye at home, going 28 percent from the field, and the Rebels handed the Utes a 57-38 loss, ending any hopes of a 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament. (As a post-tournament note, the Rebels will lose home-court advantage for the conference tournament in 2004 when it moves to a neutral site in Denver.)

This year’s squad was led by its seniors. Center Lauren Beckman averaged 14 points and two blocks per game and topped the team in rebounds with an average of seven per game. Her consistent play landed her postseason honors as a 2001-02 Mountain West Conference first team member, the second year in a row she has been selected as a top five player. Lindsay Herbert finished a stellar Ute career by gaining All-Conference second team honors and leading the team in scoring with a 14.7 per game average. Forward Erin Gibbons was one of the team’s most consistent performers. She was the team’s long-distance specialist, making 49 percent of her three-point attempts, and garnered All-Conference Honorable Mention accolades. Katherine McColl stepped into the starting lineup for the first time as a senior and was a consistent performer who often led the team in rebounding. “We’re a close-knit team, but I feel a special bond with the seniors because of the great times we have had over our careers,” says Gibbons.

Returning for next season will be sophomore point guard Kelsy Stireman, who was steady handling the ball and dishing off to her teammates. Pegged to be one of the top guards in the conference next year, the Bonneville High School standout averaged 3.7 assists per game and totaled 87 steals to lead the team.

The players off the bench were all freshmen or sophomores; as the season progressed, so did their minutes and confidence. “We’ve had to take a different approach to all aspects of this team as compared to last year,” says Elliott. “We refocused on fundamentals because we’ve wanted to bring our younger players up slowly to build their confidence.”

Second-year player Carley Marshall was a key backup at the power forward and center positions. Rather than being the first person off the bench, as she was this season, she will likely find herself in a starting position next season. Marshall scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds against UNLV in the conference tournament.

A trio of guards rotated off the bench in 2001-02 and will provide a bright future for seasons to come. Utah natives Lana Sitterud (Lone Peak High School) and Sharee Hendrix (Highland High School) each had moments where they shined on the floor. Sitterud displayed flashes of her long-distance shooting ability throughout the year, and Hendrix, blessed with quality basketball genes from her father, former Ute stalwart Manny Hendrix BS’94, will be a solid player for the Utes. Oregon native and sophomore Sarah Wobbe provided minutes as the backup point guard and displayed a knack for finding open teammates.

This season brought Coach Elliott’s career to the brink of the 400-win plateau as head coach at the University of Utah. Her 389-162 career record is the best in school history, and it would take ten minutes to recite the list of coaching honors she has amassed over the last 18 seasons. “I’ve never had a career goal to win a certain amount of games. If you are consistent each year and in this business long enough, the wins just happen,” says a humble Elliott.

What a difference a big rebound, a key shot, or a friendly bounce would have made this season. But as they say, sometimes the ball goes in, and…well, you know the rest.

—JD Davis BS’86 is a frequent contributor to Continuum and a college basketball junkie, and has coached many perfect games from his couch in front of his television.