SHERIDAN — Not many Division 1 programs can take the whole team back to a player’s hometown for a game.
The University of Wyoming is doing that for four of its players at once.
In a state where the distance from the only four-year university and Division 1 athletic programs is for many up to a five-hour drive, the opportunity Cowgirl fans have in November is unique.
Sheridan College will be the host site of the University of Wyoming women’s basketball team’s first regular season game in the 2013-14 season, a Friday, Nov. 8 non-conference matchup with Montana State-Northern to be played at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome.
“We are excited to showcase our basketball program in Sheridan during the upcoming season,” head coach Joe Legerski told the Press Thursday morning. “We have tremendous fans in northern Wyoming and this is an opportunity for them to connect with the Cowgirl team.”
That fan base the longtime Cowgirls coach referred to has been rejuvenated by a new recruiting pipeline to the northeastern part of the state in the past few years.
ounty will suit up for Wyoming in 2013-14, led by star shooter Kayla Woodward.
“Kayla (Woodward) and Fallon (Lewis) are standouts for Wyoming and to have a chance to play in front of their home fans is exciting,” Legerski continued. “Hailey (Ligocki) and Jasmine (Davis) will experience their first game in a great environment as they wear the brown and gold.”
Ligocki joins Wyoming after completing her senior year at Sheridan High School this spring, and Davis transfers to the Cowgirls off a successful conference championship 2012-13 campaign with the Sheridan College Lady Generals.
Davis played with Lewis during the 2011-12 season at Sheridan College, just one of the many hometown storylines that will converge on Sheridan in November.
The four have all played in the Dome at one point or another, most recently when Ligocki played for the Wyoming All-Stars in early June when she told the Press before the game: “I don’t approach it as my last opportunity to play in Sheridan, just another opportunity,” perhaps hinting at something to come for Cowgirls fans in Sheridan.
Davis, a native of Australia, was the last to commit to Laramie in March, and her strength at the point guard position builds what has potential to be a Sheridan County backcourt for the next couple years at the Arena Auditorium.
The game will kick off a preseason slate that has the Cowgirls playing the likes of Montana, Montana State and Colorado. Wyoming is coming off a 24-win season — their sixth 20-win mark in the past eight seasons under Legerski, lately finishing right around the top of the Mountain West Conference.
That’s what makes the Sheridan connection all the better: Wyoming is good. And that has a lot to do with Woodward; she averaged 14.1 points per game in her sophomore season, a pure shooter who developed a knack for clutch shots down the stretch this spring.
Off the floor, Lewis and Woodward embraced their roles as in-state ambassadors of the game, numerous times visiting schools in their time off back home. They’re two super-local players on the Cowgirls team that, because of small population, doesn’t always see high numbers of Wyoming players from Wyoming.
Whether it was Woodward and Ligocki on All-Star teams, or Lewis and Davis for the Lady Generals, they’ve all been coached by Sheridan College Lady Generals head man, Frank McCarthy. He said Thursday the Cowgirls visit is great for girls basketball in general.
“Kayla Woodward was here during the All-Stars weekend, and she talked about how hard she works in the offseason to the players,” he said. “It’s good for younger players in the community.
“I think here, everything kind of filters to the University of Wyoming, and there haven’t been a lot of players in our region going to the University of Wyoming in the past couple years before this, but to have two down there now is quite an accomplishment and we’re proud of that,” he said.
McCarthy of course referred to his transfers Davis and Lewis.
“We hope we’re getting our players ready for that next level,” he added.
The Golden Dome, with a capacity of 1,500-2,000, will likely fill quickly with the opportunity to see the Cowgirls north of Laramie, and Sheridan College Athletic Director Steve Smiley said they are still lining out the details.
Wyoming has reached out to showcase their basketball product in the past, holding preseason bouts in Casper and once in Rock Springs two years ago. McCarthy was on the bench in Sheridan as an assistant coach for Montana State when they met the Cowgirls in Sheridan for games, but that was more than 10 years ago.
Besides bringing the fans what they want, while just one game, the event serves as the ultimate opportunity for girls basketball development. Winter in Wyoming isn’t always kind to traveling fans, especially those with kids in the middle of their own basketball seasons.
“It’s a really good recruiting tool too,” McCarthy said. “And it’s a really great story. We tell our players that hard work doesn’t always guarantee success, but it does increase your chances. It’s really exciting when people work hard for a goal and get it. That’s why this is a good chance for young players here to see that first hand.”
“Some girls don’t get offers right out of high school, and it’s nice when we can be a vehicle to get to that next level,” he added.