LARAMIE — A lot has changed for Wyoming’s women’s basketball program in the last two weeks.
Joe Legerski’s retirement late last month began a search for a new head coach, something the program hasn’t had to do in 16 years. Athletic director Tom Burman ultimately decided to promote associate head coach Gerald Mattinson to the position.
Mattinson in turn promoted assistant Heather Ezell to his old position while former Wyoming player Fallon Lewis, who spent last season as the assistant director of player development, was promoted to be one of Mattinson’s full-time assistants. Mattinson said fellow assistant Bojan Jankovic is still deciding whether he wants to return to the program next season.
That leaves open the possibility of further change, but Mattinson said the alterations in the Cowgirls’ program will be kept to a minimum moving forward.
“There are definitely some things that have gone very well for us,” Mattinson said. “I don’t think there will be great changes.”
It’s the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality from Mattinson, who was on Legerski’s staff throughout the duration of his tenure and spent the last 12 years as the associate head coach. They helped elevate the program with the most successful era of women’s basketball the school has ever seen.
Wyoming had just 391 wins all-time before Legerski took over after the 2002-03 season. With Mattinson on his staff, the Cowgirls won 314 during his tenure while posting a winning percentage of 62.8.
Wyoming has made all but two of its 11 postseason appearances in the last 16 years. Legerski and Mattinson helped lead the Cowgirls to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship in 2007 — the program’s only postseason title — and the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever the following season. Wyoming played in its third straight WNIT this past season, marking the first time the Cowgirls have ever played in the postseason three straight seasons.
“When Joe and I came here 16 years ago, we set out some goals that we wanted to reach while we were here,” Mattinson said. “Obviously Joe ran a great program, and we’ve reached a lot of goals.”
Using a stifling defense and a methodical, efficient offense that routinely milked most of the shot clock to get the look it wanted, Wyoming posted the second-most wins in school history (25) this season. The Cowgirls led the Mountain West in points allowed per game (57.7) while finishing second nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage (38.7) and 22nd in field-goal percentage (45.2).
Like any coach, Mattinson will add his own flavor on both ends of the floor, but the Cowgirls won’t be reinventing the wheel in a system that’s familiar for both players and coaches.
“There are some things we might try to do defensively,” Mattinson said. “We might run a few more set plays than maybe motion. But there’s not going to be a lot of change. We’re making subtle changes. We’re going to experiment with things going forward and see how it works.”
Exactly how much Mattinson ends up changing next season will largely depend on the personnel he has to work with. Leading scorer Marta Gomez and Bailee Cotton, the MW’s Defensive Player of the Year, are both out of eligibility as is point guard Clara Tapia. That leaves junior guard Taylor Rusk and freshman guard Karla Erjavec as the lone starters back next season given there’s no attrition other than the six departing seniors.
Mattinson isn’t expecting any more, though he said he was scheduled to start meeting with underclassmen individually Wednesday. He said the Cowgirls’ four signees in the 2019 recruiting class are “on board” with his promotion.
“If something does change, we just have to adapt and move forward,” Mattinson said.
Whoever’s on the roster next season will be counted on to help Wyoming continue working toward a conference championship, a goal of Legerski’s and Mattinson’s that still hasn’t been attained. The Cowgirls have come close recently, finishing no worse than third in the MW regular-season standings each of the last three years and reaching the conference tournament title game last season for the first time in program history before falling to Boise State.
The plan to get there isn’t changing much, either.
“We have to continue to recruit good athletes,” Mattinson said. “I think we’ve always been a program that’s done a lot of coaching and been able to get some wins by coaching some kids, but I think it’s going to take a combination of just keep grinding, finding the best kids that fit our system, finding kids that want to be here and putting a system together for them so that we can win.
“I don’t think the plan is a magical plan. You’ve just got to get the right combination together and get it over the top.”