The joys of playing one last game on the hardwood are easy to see in Taylor Stoeger’s smile.
Whether it is doing lay-up drills, free throws, or shooting from behind the arc, the Green River graduate is just excited to play the game one more time.
“It’s special, I think,” she said. “It’s one last game, a last chance.”
Saturday’s Wyoming Coaches Foundation Girls Basketball All-Star Game will be Stoeger’s curtain call on the court before she exits stage right to continue her soccer career at Laramie County Community College.
She garnered attention in the soccer community with her immediate impact at Green River, leading the state with 28 goals in her freshman season. Sarah Jones, a Natrona graduate who went on to play soccer at Sheridan College, was second with 17.
Stoeger was never lower than sixth in the state in goals scored and Green River made the state tournament in three of her four years. By the time she played in her last game with the Wolves she had scored 86 goals and tallied 27 assists.
She was an all-conference and all-state selection in all four of those years.
“I had so much fun throughout my high school career,” she said Wednesday at Casper College’s Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. “I had lots of good teammates and coaches that helped me push myself be the best soccer player that I could be.”
Some colleges had approached her by the start of her senior season but her mind was, essentially, made up from the start of the process.
She had known Golden Eagles head coach Jim Gardner, who also coaches the Cheyenne East girls team, for a couple of years and she heard even more from former teammates and opponents that went on to play for him at LCCC.
Then, on April 20, just nine games into her senior season, she put pen to paper and signed her letter of intent.
“It was mostly always LCCC from the beginning,” Stoeger said. “They have a good program and it was a pretty easy decision for me.”
The Golden Eagles finished ranked third in the nation last season.
Stoeger will join the team on Aug. 2, giving her almost two weeks to prepare after Saturday’s basketball game. She said she plans to spend those two weeks “just getting ready, enjoying my time left in Green River.”
But her focus for the week is solely on Saturday’s all-star game. Partly because of the teammates and partly because of the Wolves’ season-ending 50-42 loss to Evanston in the Class 4A West Regional back in March.
“It feels so good after ending our season the way we did,” she said, “it was a real bummer not making it to state, but then you’ve got this coming up which is nice.”
Her teammates throughout the week are some that she has played against before, which has helped her warm to everyone. She has even played soccer alongside some of them.
While her last high school basketball game ended in heartache, Stoeger is taking advantage of her second chance. Even though it’s still an all-star game and not nearly as competitive, it’s still a way to finish her basketball career on a much brighter note than the one she experienced in the spring.
“It’s a big game,” she said. “You know, you want to win, but it’s about having fun, too.”
She watched her teammates finish a free-throw drill and shared a laugh with the others in her group. Her passes were crisp and her shot was still smooth at the South team’s first practice on Wednesday.
With a glint in her eye the final words she said before re-joining the drills at the end of practice, “Last game,” and smiled as she jogged back to the free-throw line.