Injuries can be tough, but for Utah women's basketball forward Taryn Wicijowski, they’re just another obstacle to tackle. The sixth-year senior has come back stronger than ever, is a dominate presence in the paint, and is one of the best players in the Pac-12 this season. The 6-3 Canadian leads the Utes, averaging 15.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, despite having suffered her second major knee injury in four years. The injury caused her to miss her second full season of basketball in 2013-2014.
Her most impressive stat might be her conference-leading 36.3 minutes played per game, which she attributes to experience recovering from potentially devastating injuries.
"I think that coming back this year, I definitely worked harder at my condition than coming back from my first ACL tear," Wicijowski said. "I learned how to pace myself during a game, so I can catch my breath."
Helping the Utes on both sides of the court, Wicijowski is moving her way up several of Utah’s all-time lists. The two-time All Pac-12 forward already holds the school record for offensive rebounds (369) and is on several top ten career lists, including seventh in points (1,762), fifth in total rebounds (971), and fifth in career shooting percentage (.527).
She’s also the sixth player in school history to record 1,700 career points and 900 career rebounds.
Wicijowski’s success isn’t just on the hardwood. She holds degrees in psychology and biology, with an emphasis on cellular and molecular biology, as well as minors in chemistry and nutrition, all while maintaining an almost unthinkable 3.95 GPA, which she said were brought down by a couple of A minuses. Her aim? Medical school.
"I want to be a doctor," Wicijowski said. "Both of my majors are applicable to medicine."
Wicijowski’s injury allowed her to schedule classes and labs at times she wouldn’t previously have been able to due to practice and games. Although she said she changes her mind on a regular basis on what she wants to pursue in the medical field, the goal for now is make a career in orthopedic medicine in order to help athletes that have been in her position.
"Right now I’m really interested in orthopedics," Wicijowski said. "I would get to work with athletes, so that’s where I’m kind of leaning now."
"I’ve been on the other side of it, so I know that part of it. Obviously, those surgeons have really helped me out, so I think that’s had some influence on me."
Utah women's head coach Anthony Levrets, who’s coached at Utah since 2007 and spent the last four seasons as head coach, praises Wicijowski as one of the more unique people he's coached in his career.
"She’s a very special human being," Levrets said. "The thing that’s crazy about Taryn is she’s not only one of the most brilliant people I’ve met, but one of the best players I’ve coached and one of the most normal I’ve ever met. She’s a very special human being, and we’re going to miss having her around."
Levrets said Wicijowksi’s hand-eye coordination, which may be a result of her pedigree (her father Tim Wicijowski played hockey for the Regina Pats in the late 1970s, and her mother Laurice played basketball at Regina Univeristy) is among the best he’s seen at the college level. But to Levrets, her definable attribute is her intensity and drive.
"It’s her competitive will and attitude about how she approaches everything," Levrets said. "She’s a lot like Morgan. They just have this will to never give in in everything they do. Whether it’s on the track or the weight room… there’s just this will to never let anyone beat you or outwork you."
"Her competitive nature separates her from the rest. We can’t measure what she means to us in wins or losses. We would be in dire straits without her."
That competitive drive helped against Washington State Jan. 23 when the Utes were only able to dress eight players. The short-handed team caused Wicijowski to play all 40 minutes of the 63-54 loss. Spending the entire game on the court doesn’t bother her though. Wicijowski would rather have it that way.
"Last year, I kind of went a little bit crazy on the bench," she said. "I can’t even explain it [how it feels to play again]. It feels so good to be back."
Right now, the women's team is last in the Pac-12 (7-15, 1-10), as a result of injuries to a number of key contributors. Next on their schedule is a road game against UCLA at 2 p.m. MT tomorrow afternoon.
<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iHDgsCukrN0?feature=player_detailpage" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>