One last perfect ending for Aggies?

Two of the foothills’ all-time greats are keys for UC Davis, which is seeking a return to the NCAA Tournament
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Kasey Riecks and Lauren Juric are hoping there is another chapter to the fairytale ending that transpired last spring at UC Davis. The two former foothill stars were key juniors last season when the Aggies made a surprise run to the NCAA Tournament — a first for the program and the perfect finale for coach Sandy Simpson, who retired after the season. Riecks is now a steady senior forward and Juric is giving the Aggies a spark after her inspiring comeback from injury as Davis looks to catch fire again, and give rookie coach Jennifer Gross a great foundation. “Last year was just an exciting experience,” said Riecks, who needs just 18 points to pass 1,000 for her career at Davis. “To win the (Big West) tournament and go to the NCAAs, that was a great feeling and we want to achieve that again. We know what it takes, but at the same time, the team changes every year, so we have some work to do to get there.” The Aggies are 1-2 in the Big West Conference heading into a three-game homestand that begins tonight against Cal State Northridge. Riecks has been a steady contributor since her arrival in Davis after graduating from Placer High in 2008. She’s started nearly every game in her career and is the model of consistency for the Aggies. Riecks is second on the team in scoring this season with 10.5 points per game. Juric’s journey at Davis hasn’t been quite as smooth, but the 2007 Bear River grad said it’s been a gratifying one. “I’ve had a great experience,” said Juric, who returned to action just last week after having surgery in September to repair a torn labrum in her hip. “There have been a lot of changes, but it’s all been for the best. Last year we went to the NCAAs and this year we have a new coach and we want to get there with her too.” Bear River coach Jeff Bickmore said Juric is the toughest player he’s ever seen. Even in high school she played through excruciating pain in her hip and back. It wasn’t until last summer when a trainer at UC Davis suggested she get an MRI, that the cause of the pain was discovered. The labrum, cartilage that surrounds the bones in the hip joint, was severely damaged, causing bones to grind and making for one uncomfortable basketball player. After nearly two months on crutches, Juric was able to return to work on her fitness. She wasn’t able to play basketball again until late last month. Her return was timely for the Aggies. “We just started conference play, so it worked out that I came back at just the right time,” she said. At 6-2, Juric is the tallest player on the team. She’s also the only post player with significant experience. Juric red-shirted her freshman year at Davis, but once she got on the court, she was a difference maker. She was the Big West Freshman of the Year in 2008-09. The nagging injuries held her back the last two seasons, but she’s now feeling refreshed and ready to go for the final two months, or so, of her career. “The pain has gone away,” said Juric, who will earn her degree in exercise biology in May and is considering medical school. “It’s really a good feeling to be back. I’m not really 100 percent, but the team has missed a big presence in the post. We also have four senior captains and we’re all on the court now, so that should help us.” Juric’s toughness and persistence rubs off on her teammates, according to Riecks. “It takes a lot to get back after a surgery like that and play competitive basketball,” Riecks said. “We admire all the work she’s put in. She helps us so much when she’s out there.” Riecks, who will graduate with a degree in managerial economics this spring, went head-to-head with Juric in high school. She said they talked about the rivalry once in a while as freshmen and sophomores, but not so much anymore. “As time progressed we moved on,” Riecks said. “Now we’re just teammates.”