RIVERTON – Despite a basketball season that did not end the way the Central Wyoming College (CWC) Lady Rustlers’ basketball team had hoped, there are still silver linings all around the program, starting with their sophomore guard Ivana Bijic.
Bijic averaged nine points per game this past season for her new Head Coach Layton Westmoreland in his first season at the helm for the Lady Rustlers. The guard moved outside to the perimeter from her typical role in the post last season, leading to “every statistical category [being] doubled” during her sophomore season, according to Coach Westmoreland.
The Lady Rustlers’ third-leading scorer signed her letter of intent to play at a NCAA Division II team this past Thursday when she put pen to paper to go and play at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C. The Lady Crusaders will be inheriting a smart player, originally from Sabac, Serbia, who will bring versatility to the wing as well as some knowledge under the post.
“I think she’s going to give them a lot of length and versatility at the wing,” Coach Westmoreland said about his sophomore guard. “Her shooting ability and her quickness and her length, just her size on the perimeter in general will be helpful to them.”
Surrounded by her coach, her teammates and the countless friends she made in her two years in Wyoming she signed the letter before the tears started and she received hugs from all over the student lounge at CWC. Afterward she explained why she decided to go to the other side of the map and play for the Lady Crusaders in North Carolina.
“When I was talking with other coaches and looking at where I was going to go next year, I was first looking at the program and what [they] wanted from me,” Bijic explained. “So if I see I can be more successful there then yeah sure, I’m going to take that chance. But, if I see they want to put me in a position where I don’t see myself, then I thought ‘OK, you probably don’t see what I can do or what I can be’ … so I really wanted to go somewhere where I can help but also where they can help me so I can grow as a player.”
The Serbian guard was one of only three sophomores on the Lady Rustlers’ team this year, bringing some experience to a roster full of transfers and freshmen, but she admits that the experience helped her learn some life lessons before she packs up and moves to the East Coast.
“I learned a lot,” Bijic said with a smile. “First, my confidence grew a lot. The second thing … We didn’t have a lot of sophomores this year and I had a little more freedom to make a mistake and I wasn’t afraid to make a mistake, because if I show my teammates I’m making a mistake and it’s still fine, then they also can feel free to make a mistake. That’s such a big part of any sport — you can’t learn if you don’t make a mistake.”
Her teammates may not have known that that’s what Bijic took from this past season under Coach Westmoreland, but her teammates will remember her for their own reasons.
“My favorite part about playing with Ivana was she wasn’t scared about telling anybody how to improve,” CWC freshman Criselle Mendoza said about her teammate. “She brought everybody up by telling everybody how they can improve and she wasn’t afraid to get mad at us whenever we played.”
“She was really nice to me; we were roommates in the first semester,” freshman forward Kamya Jones said about Bijic. “It was nice to get to know her.”
“Sharing special bonds on the court and really going through this whole process together was nice,” Australian transfer Kalista Niu said about her roommate-turned-teammate.
Even though Bijic was bound to leave for bigger, better things, it’s still a little bittersweet for the Lady Rustlers’ coach who just got to know her this past season.
“I’ll miss her determination,” Coach Westmoreland said. “She’s not somebody who’s going to be super loud, super physical, [but] she’s aggressive from a leadership standpoint [and] she’s going to come out every single day, she’s going to work hard, she’s going to be consistent and she wants to compete … Overall, what I’m going to miss the most is she’s just a good person. Having her on the team and having her in the program has been a blessing.”
But, Coach Westmoreland isn’t the only one that’s going to be missing a piece of themselves after this semester.
“It’s not just the place, it’s the people around me,” Bijic said after hugging a few friends. “I’m going to miss a lot of people around here. If I could bring them all with me that would be great … I’m also going to miss the program — I think they’re going to get even better than they were this year.”