Jan 232005
 
Authors: Stephanie Lindberg

Talk about homegrown talent: Out of the 15 women's basketball players at CSU, eight are from Colorado and four, before the departure of senior guard Ashley Venekamp because of injuries, are from Fort Collins.

Freshman Sara Hunter, junior Justin Square and senior Msur Tor-Agbidye join Venekamp as prior Fort Collins residents. Junior Vanessa Espinoza hails from Highlands Ranch, sophomore Kylee O'Dwyer journeyed from Limon, sophomore Marilyn Moulton used to call Longmont home and sophomore Sydney Price is from Denver.

Just what makes the depth of Colorado natives on the women's bench may be hard to pinpoint, but area high school coaches attribute it to the good basketball programs in the state.

Kyle Tregoning, in his third year as head coach at Fort Collins High School, has seen two of his players go on to play collegiate basketball at CSU in Venekamp and Tor-Agibidye.

"The competition is getting better in the state of Colorado," Tregoning said. "There are good pro players here in Fort Collins. There's been some good girl athletes from this town that get a good look."

One player from FCHS has already verbally committed to Dartmouth for next year.

CSU head coach Chris Denker said he and his staff definitely try to recruit in the Fort Collins area, although they are expanding to other states as well. This is a testament to the quality of players in the area, he said.

When players play on club teams, in addition to their high school teams, it gives coaches another chance to evaluate their talent.

"We want the best players from Colorado. (The level of play in Colorado) is really good. There's 160 to 200 club teams and they're from everywhere and Colorado teams compete at the highest level," Denker said. "They're in the final four and the final 10. It speaks to the high school coaches. You always have the years where it's down, but there are states where six is a bumper crop. This state, for it's population, has powerful high school players."

Being in a college town definitely hasn't hurt getting high school players noticed, Tregoning said. Rocky Mountain High School head coach Terri Keyworth agreed.

"I definitely think they've given my athletes a good look," said Keyworth, who helped CSU freshman Sara Hunter during her recruiting process. "I've been pretty pleased with both coach Denker and (assistant coach Jeff) Dow."

O'Dwyer, a sophomore guard, garnered recruiting attention by playing club basketball and said that the level of basketball in Colorado is definitely high.

"I think it's pretty good," O'Dwyer said. "The club basketball world is growing and it was getting really big (in Colorado) for a while."

While the college-type talent is there, that's just the beginning of the process. Nationally, just 3.1 percent of female high school basketball players advance on to collegiate play, according to www.ncaasports.com. High school coaches help the students and the colleges by playing the part of liaison, Keyworth said, although it varies how much of a role she plays.

"I help the athlete out if it's a little overwhelming," Keyworth said. "If they are interested, then my job is to get them out there and find a school that fits that kid. We get a variety of (recruiters). Some are very involved and promote the school."

The liaison plays a special roll when it comes to the NCAA guidelines for recruiting high school athletes. A lengthy list of no-contact dates helps keep everyone in check. During these quiet periods, collegiate coaches might take the time to talk to the high school coaches to get a better idea of where the athlete stands. While Aug. 1-Sept. 8 is a quiet period, universities have a small-contact period from Sept. 8-29.

During the evaluation period from Oct. 8-Feb. 28, schools can select 40 evaluation days, but no more than one a week. In March, 18 personal days are selected before the dead period resumes on April 1.

But recruiters are also looking for something deeper than if the athlete can make a shot from half-court or has perfect layup form.

"It's much deeper than basketball," Tregoning said. "They want to recruit good people, too."

Denker said there are three main things he and his assistants look for in a recruit.

"CSU has high academic standards and we want them to succeed academically," Denker said. "(The basketball program has) a 100 percent graduation rate."

The second thing he looks for is the basketball side of things, such as size at every position and versatile players. He also looks for a 3-point shooting threat at every position.

"The final thing is character," Denker said. "We want good people. People who will mold well with our team. People who want to be Rams."

Hunter, a starting guard, narrowed her decisions down to mostly local schools such as Wyoming, Denver and CSU before choosing to stay in Fort Collins.

For O'Dwyer, who was also recruited by New Mexico, Oklahoma State and Northwestern, staying close to home was also a deciding factor.

"I wanted to be somewhere where my parents could be very involved," O'Dwyer said. "They come to every game. And I'm from a small town so I wanted to be somewhere smaller."

On the road to the final decision, O'Dwyer said one of the highlights was her visit to campus.

"It was really fun," she said. "We hung out with the team at the coach's house. It was good to see how you fit in."

From the class of 2006, who are juniors in high school this year, CSU started with as many as 300 names on a list of potential recruits, many of whom Denker and his assistants had seen play live or on film. By September, the list was down to 50. In April, 30 will make the cut, and in July it will go down to 15. This year four scholarships are available.

Denker said while the university is only allowed to bring in recruits for official visits, the team encourages potential student-athletes to have at least one unofficial visit, at their own expense. As many as 12 recruits will actually come on official visits, a time that includes a lot of meals.

"We always joke it's a lot of eating," he said. "They'll meet an adviser in the field they are interested in. We often bring more than one recruit at a time. We'll take them on a tour of campus and drive them through Old Town."

The recruits will also meet with the trainers and players and will attend some sort of event, often a football game. The recruit and her family will usually finish the whirlwind 48 hours with a Sunday breakfast before they head home.

Hunter said that so far it seems like she made the correct choice in coming to CSU.

"My classes have gone well and basketball has, too," Hunter said. "It's been a good transition."

O'Dwyer, with one year under her belt, is glad to be here.

"I love CSU," she said. "I couldn't ask for a better coaching staff and teammates to surround me."

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