LARAMIE — Before a single player came out onto the court for Wednesday’s practice or for the annual University of Wyoming Media Day, women’s basketball coach Joe Legerski faced cameras among the empty Arena-Auditorium.
He needed to address the elephant in the room.
There are a few questions regarding this season’s Cowgirls team, but at the top of the list is the health of standout senior Liv Roberts. Roberts was an all-conference selection last season despite tearing her ACL in a late-season loss to rival Colorado State.
“Liv is doing very well,” Legerski said in a blanket statement. “One of the things we have done is taken the approach from our doctors and our trainers, and Liv is right on progress.”
As for Roberts’ return to the court, her progress through rehabilitation will determine that. She is currently practicing with her teammates in a non-contact capacity. The team has not set a return date for her.
Roberts had already scored a team-high 20 points by the fourth quarter of that loss to Colorado State.
The fiery competitor had a problem sitting on the bench for any length of time, let alone the rest of the season.
“I had my mom, Bailee (Cotton), people from the conference, the Big Sky (Conference), who were all supportive and have gone through it, that I had to to lean on through the summer, and then also our trainers,” Roberts said. “There were days that were tough and I was like, ‘This is never going to end.’ But definitely the people and the coaches around me helped me through my situation.”
Cotton was a helpful source through the tough times because she has been there too.
Cotton started in 10 games as a true freshman before suffering a season-ending knee injury. She encountered another knee injury a year later and received a medical redshirt.
Now a junior, Cotton remembers adding in any wisdom she learned through sitting on the bench with a wrapped knee.
“Trust the process, trust (Associate Athletic Trainer) Megan (Jensen),” Cotton told her teammate. “And she definitely did. Liv’s stronger than any of us so I know she’ll be good.”
Through her time on the bench, Roberts has learned a lot about patience. She continued her leadership throughout the season but as a more vocal sideline leader instead of her usual lead-by-example mentality.
Roberts even told her head coach that she marveled at his composure on the sidelines.
“I remember Liv telling me she found out how difficult it is to be a coach,” Legerski said, “and try to have very little control of what’s going out on the floor. And as I said to her, I’ll be anxious for her to get back on the court.”
While the team had hopes of making a run in the conference tournament with Roberts on the court, they salvaged the remaining season and earned a WNIT bid with their all-conference swing guard on the bench.
At first it was as if the air had been let out of the Cowgirls’ balloon but, after a brief moment of reflection, they regrouped.
“It was difficult for this team to be able to see their leader go down on the floor” Legerski said. “The thing that we talked about is that everyone needed to step up and this team refused to give in.
“More importantly, not only did the team step up, Liv stepped up as a leader on the bench. She did not just fade away. She became a big part of what we were doing.”
She’s remained a focal point of the Cowgirls even when on the bench. While she’s still out of full practice for the time being, the time table for her return may just as well serve as a countdown clock for opponents to prepare.
“We know we’re good enough to win the conference and compete with San Diego State,” Roberts said. “We want to beat CSU, we want to be undefeated in conference play and I think that’s something that’s driving us and motivating us through the season.”