A perennial champion at Missoula Sentinel, it was just a matter of time before Olivia Roberts found her rhythm at the next level.
A former Spartan great, "Liv" has grown into one of the top scorers in the Mountain West Conference and has the Cowgirls in a tie for first place atop the women's basketball standings. Recently honored by the conference for a fourth time this winter as league player of the week, the 5-foot-11 junior is averaging 15.8 points per game -- fourth-best in the Mountain West.
Even more impressive, Wyoming is 15-4. The Cowgirls have only twice lost dating back to Thanksgiving weekend.
The Missoulian caught up with Roberts this week to talk Wyoming hoops, her ties to the Lady Griz and to relive the glory days at Sentinel.
Q. What was it like to win a starting job and become a main contributor last year?
A. Last year it was awesome to have the opportunity to start. Looking back now from where I am today, I think I wasn't as mature of a player. High school is completely different from college, the game really speeds up and I didn't realize that. Being a starter my sophomore year I was in a little shock. Although I did pretty well, I don't think I did as much as I could to contribute. ... I learned a lot and I learned what I needed to train for over the summer.
Q. You're getting ahead of me. I was just going to ask about your biggest improvement. Just adapting to the speed of the game?
A. Yeah, and I think just having confidence. I didn't shoot the ball extremely well last year and it's because I was second-guessing myself and hoping the ball would go in. This year I have that same confidence I did in high school and I know it's gonna go in. To have that mentality and having started last year so I know what to expect, that's helped me to my success this year.
Q. Those high school teams you were on were so often dominant (Sentinel won State AA titles in 2012, '13 and '14) and you were pretty dominant on those teams. Making the transition to college, what was it like to suddenly have to be in a learning role?
A. It's a huge learning process. In high school you're the best, but you come to college and now everyone is the best. You're playing with players who have started their whole career in high school and were all-state and that kind of stuff. You've got to learn to compete every day at practice because what you do in practice will show what you do in games.
Q. I read that your fourth player of the week honor this season makes you the first Wyoming girl to do that in six years. Does the fourth one feel any less special than that first one?
A. (laughs) They're all pretty special. I do appreciate the honor but moreover I wish they were team awards, that Wyoming could be the best team this week. I thank my teammates every time because they're the ones passing me the ball and helping me get to where I am. We're looking more for that Mountain West championship than player of the week awards.
Q. How are you liking Laramie?
A. I love Laramie. It's this small, little town of 30,000 people and it's a great college town. I've got great friends and it's my home away from home. It's been a great experience being away from home, just branching out and doing my own thing.
Q. You got to come back to Missoula (Wyoming beat the Montana on Dec. 18) which sounds like it's a rare trip home for you. How nice was that to get to play in front of all the folks you know again?
A. It was really nice. The thing with me not going to Montana is my family doesn't get to watch me play as much. My grandparents are very sad about that, but they understand why I came here. It was awesome being able to go see (fellow former Spartan) Maddie (Keast) and Kenzie (Johnston) off of the Lady Griz. I still watch them play every game that I can. It's awesome to play in front of my brothers as well. They watch me on the computer, but it's not the same as it is in person. And (Sentinel coach) Karen Deden was in the crowd. She said she was cheering for maybe Wyoming that game.
Q. Do you ever think about what it'd been like if you stayed?
A. Yeah, I think about that all the time. How could I have affected that (Lady Griz) team and what would my role have been on that team? It would have been a blast to play with Kayleigh Valley and my high school friends, but since we are doing so well (at Wyoming) it's a blessing to be here. ... But there are times I think about being back home. I'd probably be getting way more home-cooked meals (laughs).
Q. Well poor Shannon Schweyen's team could probably have used you this year with all those injuries.
A. No kidding. They'll get it figured out.
Q. Do you have a go-to Missoula experience when you're back? Maybe a restaurant you have to hit up every time?
A. Definitely Taco del Sol. That's my go-to, the Cuban Supreme.
Q. As I'm sure you've seen, the Sentinel girls' basketball team is on another tear. With Schweyen's kids on there now, who do you think would win between them and your old teams?
A. Oh gosh (laughs). I don't know. I would want to say we would because I just think me and Maddie have that attitude that we're not gonna lose. We hate to lose. I think you could see that when we lost to Capital our senior year midway through the season (before winning state). I would like to think us, but I watched them at state one time when I came back and I was like, 'Wow, they might be better than us.' I think it would be a close game.
Q. I feel like Deden could coach just about anybody to a winning record.
A. Oh yeah, she's awesome. She's great.
Q. You're already on Year 3 over there. What are you studying in school now?
A. I'm in elementary education so after this next semester I'll be student teaching all through my senior year. I don't student teach during basketball, which will be nice, but for a month in the preseason and the months after our season. Then after that I'll probably go on to be a teacher.