FOR WYOMING forward Hanna Zavecz, the biggest shock upon arriving in Laramie from Melbourne 3 1/2 years ago was not cultural, it was climatic. "It didn't take long before I realized the sweater I wore during the winter in Australia wasn't going to cut it here," she says.
Thanks to a big coat and the warm embrace of the local community—"The people here are really genuine and hardworking," says Zavecz—the 6-foot senior has thrived, and so have the Cowgirls. Wyoming has steadily improved each season since she enrolled, from 16 wins in 2004--05 to 21 the next season to 27 last year. This season, with Zavecz averaging 15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game through Sunday, the Cowgirls were 16--1 and ranked (No. 18) for the first time in school history.
"I believe Hanna will go down as the best player in Wyoming history," says fifth-year coach Joe Legerski, who signed Zavecz, his first international player, without ever having seen her play, even on videotape. (He brought her over on the recommendation of a club coach in Australia.) "She's a tremendous offensive player and has a great understanding of the game."
Zavecz, who also visited Idaho State and Memphis before choosing Wyoming, is majoring in dietetics, both because nutrition was so strongly emphasized at the AIS and because she was faced with so many unhealthy food choices in the United States. "At the AIS, I made the connection between food, energy and performance," she says. "We would never be allowed to get fast food on road trips there. Here, there's so much fast food available, it's ridiculous. On our first trip I thought, Wow, you're really going to let us eat this right after the game?"
Zavecz has since learned to negotiate America's cholesterol minefield by making healthy choices, and has no doubt helped the three Aussies who have followed her to Laramie—Jade Kennedy, Gemma Koehler and Rebecca Vanderjagt—do the same. On and off the court, she says, "I really like making my teammates better."