For the past three seasons, Taylor Rusk has had others to lean on.

Last season, she had seniors Bailee Cotton, Marta Gomez and Clara Tapia to go to for advice.

This season will be different. For the first time in her career, Rusk will help take over the leadership reins for the University of Wyoming women’s basketball team.

“This being my last year, (I’ve) just got to step up,” Rusk said. “I’ve learned a lot from them and past seniors, and to just know what’s expected of you and setting the tone and just being able to step up (is huge).”

The 5-foot-11 Rusk is one of only two returning starters and is just one of three seniors on the Cowgirls’ roster for the 2019-20 season. The other returning starter is 5-10 sophomore guard Karla Erjavec.

“With having six seniors last year, it was a lot easier and with me being a returner, too, I think there was less newcomers, and now it’s probably more newcomers,” Rusk said. “And just being able to have that same intensity in practice and showing up every day and just doing the little things (is key).”

UW has five newcomers this season. That group includes three freshmen – two of which are from Wyoming – and two junior college transfers. Rusk has done her best to take them under her wing, so to speak, to help get them acclimated to Division I basketball.

“They’re doing a great job,” Rusk said. “I think every freshman has the (feeling of) it’s a lot to handle the first couple of weeks. And motion, it always takes people a while to get it, but I think all three of our freshmen are doing a good job. They’ve definitely had their freshman moments, but that’s to be expected. And they’re picking it up and they work really hard every day and just try their best.”

Rusk could end up with quite the career in a Cowgirls uniform. She enters the 2019-20 season just 155 points shy of becoming the 26th member of the 1,000-point club. Last season, Marta Gomez joined the club and finished her career with 1,402 points.

The career milestone isn’t necessarily something Rusk thinks much about.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to play since my freshman year, and moving forward, I’m just going to do what coaches expect of me,” she said. “If that comes with it, then it does. Scoring is an important part of my game, but so is defense and everything like that. Just taking it all in and knowing it’s not all about me.”

But the Cowgirls’ standout did say when it does happen, she will take the time to soak in the moment.

“I’ve worked hard these last couple years for that,” she added.

Rusk was one of four Cowgirls to register 300 or more points last season. She averaged 9.1 points per game and was second on the team with 108 assists.

First-year Cowgirls coach Gerald Mattinson said Rusk is one those rare players you lean on all the time.

“Nothing really shakes her too much,” the coach said. “She is just consistent … she is just that player that you can count on day in and day out.”

As the season inches closer, Rusk is preparing herself to take on more responsibilities than she has had in the past. Mattinson and his coaching staff will turn to her for leadership. Rusk’s teammates, especially the underclassmen, will follow her lead.

“Right now, she is adjusting to that role,” Mattinson said. “That’s a new role for her. You know, last year we had Bailee (Cotton) and Clara (Tapia) as senior leaders, and Taylor was right there with them, but didn’t have to be the main leader, where now she is going to have to step up and adjust to that role and take it on. And, so far, she’s been doing it.”

Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at tposlosky@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.

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