Gerald Mattinson was studying practice film.
It was Oct. 8, less than a month before his University of Wyoming women’s basketball team opens the 2019-20 season. The more Mattinson dissected the tape, the more he started to think.
“‘Wow, we don’t have very many practices left until our first game,’” he said.
It had been more than 150 days since Mattinson was named coach of the Cowgirls, but everything – from putting the finishing touches on the 2019-20 recruiting class, to firming up the nonconference schedule, to mapping out preseason practices – has gone by in a jiffy for the new man in charge of a proud program.
“It’s been kind of fast-paced,” Mattinson said. “Days are flying by.”
Mattinson, 60, takes the reins following the retirement of 16-year coach Joe Legerski, who is the program’s winningest coach with an all-time record of 314-186.
The void couldn’t be bigger.
But Mattinson is no stranger to the program; he spent 16 seasons as an associate coach under Legerski. Prior to that, he stared at Casper College from 1977-78, where he played on a club that went 36-4 with a sixth-place finish at the NJCAA Tournament. After his playing days were over, Mattinson served as the Rock Springs High boys coach from 1982-87, and then moved from his high school alma mater to Western Wyoming Community College, where he served in various roles, including men’s head coach, from 1987-99.
“I just look at it is just another step,” Mattinson said of taking over the Cowgirls. “I don’t know if it’s a challenge. It doesn’t weigh on me. It’s just a step forward for me, one more thing to accomplish and try to do the best that we can.”
His fingerprints are already starting to show up on the program.
If you expected drastic changes to the Cowgirls’ foundation, Mattinson made very few. UW will feature the same motion offense and man-to-man defense it has over the last number of years. But Mattinson did say there could be a wrinkle or two on both ends of the floor.
“That’s what this team was built for when we recruited the previous classes, you know, when we recruited kids that fit a system of motion offense and playing some man-to-man defense,” he said.
Among the Cowgirls’ five newcomers are 5-foot-11 guard McKinley Bradshaw of Lyman and 6-0 forward Paige Powell of Cody.
Bradshaw helped lead Lyman to a Class 3A runner-up finish and a 22-6 record. She was first in 3A in scoring (17.5 points per game) and steals (5.3 steals per game), and third in rebounding (7.8 rebounds per game).
Powell held her own in 4A, as well. The Cody standout finished second in 4A in rebounding (11 rpg) and blocked shots (3.5 bpg). She finished the season fifth in scoring (13.4 ppg).
Both are expected to contribute right away.
“Right now, they’re playing hard in practice, and they’re trying to figure out the transition of playing at this level,” Mattinson said. “One of them told me they’re basically playing harder right now than they had to play all year as a senior against the competition they played against.”
The Cowgirls will rely on anyone and everyone to step up after losing three starters – Bailee Cotton, Marta Gomez and Clara Tapia – off last season’s roster. Two junior college transfers in juniors Jaye Johnson (Casper College) and Emily Buchanan (Eastern Wyoming) also are competing for playing time.
“It’s wide open right now,” Mattinson said of the starting lineup. “As we say every day in practice, you’re coming out to practice to compete for a spot to play or to earn some playing time, and those spots are going to be wide open.
“Somebody’s going to have to be able to fill them, and I don’t know right now who that is. Some days one player looks good, and then another day somebody else has a great day. We need to have some of our athletes step up and start to separate themselves a little bit here in the next 10 days or so, and that’ll give us a better direction of where we’re going.”
One spot, however, appears to be locked.
Senior forward Taylor Rusk is one of two returning starters for the Cowgirls. (Sophomore guard Karla Erjavec is the other.) Rusk enters the 2019-20 season just 155 points shy of becoming the 26th member of the 1,000-point club. She was one of four Cowgirls to finish with 300 or more points last season.
Rusk also will be leaned on in a variety of ways – most importantly, for leadership. It’s a new role for Rusk after having Cotton and Tapia in front of her last season. But, Mattinson said, Rusk is adjusting to the switch.
After three consecutive 20-plus win seasons, expectations remain the same, even though the Cowgirls will face a more difficult task this season with eight underclassmen fighting for playing time.
“We’re going to have to go through some growing pains,” Mattinson said.
“We’re probably going to have some days when we’re really, really up and some games where we’re going, ‘Whoa, we really got it!’” the coach said. “And sometimes, yeah, that youngness kicks in and then the next thing you know, that next game you’re going, ‘Wow, what happened?’
“My goal is to try to win a conference championship within the next couple of years and, if not, to try to lead the program, once again, as good or maybe with some players a little bit better than maybe what it was.”