Following a successful junior college career at Utah State University Eastern, former Lady Devils hardwood standout Emmery Wagstaff will continue her college hoops career next season at Western Colorado University.
Wagstaff — who averaged 10.1 points and 2.7 rebounds for the Lady Eagles last season — said the decision to make the move to Gunnison wasn’t easy, especially in the era of COVID-19-mandated social distancing.
“It was pretty hard, because I wasn’t able to go on any visits — visits are a big part of the decision, because you get to see everything the school has to offer,” Wagstaff said. “But I did a Zoom call with some of the members of the team. They were all super-friendly. And just seemed super-fun.”
Wagstaff was also impressed with the coaches and the culture of the Lady Mountaineers program.
“The coach talked about the chemistry of the team, and how that’s a big part of the program,” she said. “They don’t like drama — they don’t deal with it. And the mentality of the team is they’re all go-getters. They have big hopes and dreams and are looking to make some history there. All of it got me super-excited. It just felt right.”
WCU head coach and Casper native Lora Westling said the Lady Mountaineers have “a pretty good pipeline going with Wyoming players right now,” and she is looking forward to adding Wagstaff to the mix.
“I got to see Emmery play in the Wyoming state tournament her senior year,” Westling said. “She’s been on our radar for a while. She decided to go the juco route, which I think was a great decision — she got a lot of in-game experience. We kept tabs on her, and we needed a versatile guard this season with a couple of our graduates, so the timing fit.”
The Lady Mountaineers had a season for the books, posting a 20-7 record and qualifying for the NCAA DII National Tournament for the first time in program history. The COVID-19 pandemic halted a potential Cinderella run through the tournament before it began, though Western Colorado is poised to repeat that success — Westling said she’s excited about the versatility Wagstaff can bring to the program.
“She can shoot it, she can drive it, she can pass it,” Westling said of her newest recruit. “And more than anything, she’s a heck of a competitor. We really like her versatility — she has the ability to change speed, change height, she has some swagger to her game. She can really play the game with her head up, and if you can do that, you’re playing positionless basketball, which we really like...she’s a dynamite sign for us.”
A standout at Utah State University Eastern
Wagstaff fielded numerous college offers following her senior season, but knew almost immediately USUE was where she wanted to be.
“I chose USUE as soon as I went on my visit,” she said. “The coaches are awesome — they’re two sisters [head coach Chelsey Warburton and assistant coach Morgan Warburton-Nelson] who had successful basketball careers. And I liked Price — it felt like a lot like Evanston, a lot like home. I really enjoyed my time there. There’s no doubt that’s where I was supposed to go. I’ve grown so much as a player and a person.”
Wagstaff led the Lady Eagles in scoring as a freshman, averaging 13.5 points a game, while shooting at a 43% clip from the floor.
“Emmery is a very skilled player who brought hard work and determination to the program as a student and athlete.” said USUE head coach Chelsey Warburton. “She understood the direction we wanted to go as a team and was willing to do the work, she also knows the importance of individual and team goals and what it takes to accomplish them. Emmery’s focus as a student-athlete allows her to be successful both on and off the court.”
Asked the biggest difference between high school and college hoops, Wagstaff said the answer is easy.
“Probably the speed — the game is sped up so much more,” Wagstaff explained. “It’s more intense. You add the shot clock, the quarters are longer — I really enjoyed the transition, the speed and intensity of everything.”
The 2019-20 season was also a historic one for USUE women’s basketball — the Lady Eagles posted their best season record (24-6) in program history and were crowned Scenic West Athletic Conference co-champions, also a first.
“My sophomore season was awesome,” Wagstaff said. “I was able to be part of a history-making year and team. We finished as co-conference champs, and that program has never done that before. And we broke the record for number of wins in a season, which was awesome.”
The magical season was cut short in the first round of the Region 18 Tournament, as the Lady Eagles lost a heartbreaker to the College of Southern Idaho 70-68. Wagstaff finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in the contest, and was named second-team All-Conference; despite the loss, she was proud of what the team accomplished.
“The team chemistry was awesome — we had no drama all season,” she said. “It did kind of suck — we were hoping to win the region and go to the National Tournament. But we still had a great year and accomplished a lot of our goals. I’m very happy with how it turned out.”
A memorable career at EHS
Wagstaff had a storied career as an Evanston Lady Devil — the 2018 EHS graduate was a three-time All-Conference and All-State basketball selection during her prep career, and earned All-State honors in volleyball, as well. As a senior, she averaged 19 points per game on the hardwood, leading the Lady Devils to a 4A West Regional title.
Lady Devils head coach Jeremy Fessler said Wagstaff’s performance in that Regional championship game — a 53-51 win over Kelly Walsh — is one he’ll always remember.
“The Kelly Walsh game up in Jackson — I think she [Wagstaff] finished with 26 points,” Fessler said. “But it was a quiet 26. She just hit big basket after big basket, kept us in the game. She pulled us through that win. Every time Kelly Walsh would get close, she’d hit a 3-pointer, or get an And-1. They were just timely scores that she had.”
Fessler took over the Lady Devils program during Wagstaff’s sophomore year, and said the young player was already a prolific scorer and rebounder. What really impressed him, however, were the strides Wagstaff made in becoming a team leader and communicator, as well as a tenacious defender.
“Emmery continued to evolve in all facets of the game,” Fessler explained. “By her senior year, she really brought those girls together and made them a team. That’s what was special about her — she was good in every facet. The other thing we also worked on during her sophomore and junior year was her defensive presence — putting forth max effort on that side of the ball, as well.”
Fessler also praised Wagtaff’s work ethic, a trait she carried over into USUE and will soon take with her to Western Colorado.
“She [Wagstaff] did not miss one open gym, she did not miss one weight session — sometimes when players are doing a bunch of other stuff, they’re too busy for their teammates,” Fessler said.
“Not Emmery. She made sure she was with her team the entire time, and I’m very proud of her for that — putting her teammates and her school and the program first above her own needs.”
As she prepares to start the next chapter in her college career, Wagstaff said she’s excited for what the future holds at Western Colorado. That said, there’s plenty she’ll miss from her time at USUE, especially the coaching staff.
“I’ll miss the coaches a ton — I feel like I got really close with them, we had a great relationship,” she said. “They both taught me so much. I’m looking forward to my new coaches, but I see every coach I’ve ever had as a forever coach. They’ll always be my coaches.”
For her part, coach Warburton said the feeling is mutual.
“We will miss Emmery’s ability to score and her athleticism,” she said. “She was a solid player in our system, a coachable athlete and a joy to be around. We are thankful for the opportunity we had to coach Emmery and are proud of all her accomplishments. [We are] Looking forward to following her success at Western Colorado.”