Making it big time
Green Bay's Wojta helping put the Phoenix on the map
After ESPN unveiled the 64-team championship bracket on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Selection Show on Monday night, basketball analysts also highlighted some of the best players in the nation.
Announcers mentioned the usual suspects -- Baylor’s Britney Griner, Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne, Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins – in the segment, but they also talked about another player basketball fans should get to know – Green Bay’s Julie Wojta.
Watching the selection show with her entire team, it never occurred to the unassuming Wojta she would be pointed to as one of the players to watch, but it did to her teammates. Katie Bushman and Hannah Quilling kept leaning over to the Horizon League Player of the Year and telling Wojta that the announcers would be talking about her next.
“She kept telling us to be quiet,” Quilling said. “After her name popped up on the show, and all the hoots and hollers died down, she leaned over and asked, ‘how did you know I was going to be on there?’ We just said, ‘Julie, you’re pretty good at this basketball thing.’”
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Wojta said. “It was neat to see our program get that recognition.”
Wojta not only leads the Phoenix in scoring (19.8 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg), but also tops the team in assists (110), steals (111) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.4).
“She’s the most humble player I’ve ever played with … and she is also the most talented,” Quilling said. “She’s getting a lot of looks now that a lot of mid-major kids don’t always get and I think that’s huge for our program.”
The senior grew up in Francis Creek, Wis., a small town of 700 residents about 30 miles from Green Bay. Wojta was a three-sport athlete at Mishicot High School, earning conference player of the year honors twice, but she was not highly recruited and Green Bay head coach Matt Bollant was the only one to offer her a Division I scholarship.
Wojta redshirted her first season, and averaged just 8.2 minutes per game in her second year. Then, she came into her own. As a full-time starter, she averaged about 14 points per game as both a sophomore and junior, and with the graduation of Celeste Hoewisch and Kayla Tetschlag – the 2011 Horizon League Co-Player of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year – Wojta’s now in the spotlight.
“It has been a fun to see her develop,” Bollant said. “When she first came here, we thought, ‘what a great athlete.’ And, now, she is a complete basketball player.
“We switch screens, so she guards their point guard, but also starts games defending the other team’s five even though she is only six-feet. Offensively, she can score every which way. She slashes really well, she gets to the rim, she can hit 3s and she can score on the block and post you up as well.”
Wojta’s versatile play has been an integral part of Green Bay’s stellar season. She leads the Horizon League in both scoring and rebounding, and is coming off a 29-point performance in the conference’s championship game in which the Phoenix avenged their lone loss of the season to Detroit.
“She’s probably been the most consistent player I’ve ever coached,” Bollant said. “Good players play well most of the time, but they always have some ups and downs and bad games. She has been remarkably consistent – and dominant -- in every game.”
While scoring usually comes easy for Wojta, she really enjoys passing the basketball. Bollant says her skip passes to the weak side may be the best in the country, and it is something the Phoenix frequently takes advantage of.
“In high school, I got yelled at to shoot more and quit passing the ball,” Wojta said. “It was the same thing in college. I think it is just more fun to play on a team that moves the ball around more. It’s a team game. You’re best player is your open player is a saying we have here.”
The Packers may have first billing in the headlines in Titletown, but Green Bay’s gaudy record has earned the team respect from both fans and media as a serious contender. This year, the program reached its’ highest national ranking at No. 10, and the Phoenix are definitely considered a threat after their run to the Sweet Sixteen last season.
“Our national coverage has been phenomenal, and it has made a huge difference in our recruiting,” Bollant said. “Everybody now knows about Green Bay. When we’re talking to recruits, we’re not saying we’re a mid-major. We’re saying that we’ve been a top-20 program for three years in a row.”
“We dream big,” Quilling said. “We fight hard and we want more. We’re fighting and clawing to get recognized to put Green Bay on the map for women’s basketball. You always hear about the Baylor’s, the Connecticut’s, the Tennessee’s … we want to be a name that gets in that mix. I think we’re making some noise.”
Seventh-seeded Green Bay will face No. 10 Iowa State in first-round action at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.