Former Missoula Sentinel star Olivia Roberts earned all-conference and all-defense honors in the Mountain West last season. (Photo courtesy: UW Media Relations)

Olivia Roberts was enjoying the best season of her college basketball career last winter.

The former Missoula Sentinel High School standout was averaging 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Wyoming Cowgirls into mid-February. But her season came to a crushing end in Wyoming’s Feb. 15 game at Colorado State.

“Liv’s the type of girl, she goes down, she gets right back up. And she didn’t get up, and I kept saying, ‘Get up, get up, get up,’” recalled Cheri Roberts, Olivia’s mom. “It was devastating. She’s not been through anything like that before.”

Olivia Roberts had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), suffering the first injury of her storied – albeit unfinished – basketball career. Roberts helped lead Sentinel to three consecutive Class AA state championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014 while entertaining collegiate offers from around the region.

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Cheri Roberts played at Montana for legendary coach Robin Selvig and is one of the best players in Lady Griz history. Instead of following in her mom’s footsteps, though, Olivia forged her own path, opting to play in the Mountain West Conference with Wyoming.

“I just went and visited the campus (at Wyoming), loved the facilities, loved the coaching staff, and I would just say it’s my home away from home,” Olivia Roberts said. “Nothing against Montana or any other school that I was deciding between, but it’s just been a phenomenal experience so far. I love being there.”

And the Cowgirls love having Roberts in the fold.

She led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, her third with the program. She played as a true freshman, appearing in 27 games, and moved into Wyoming’s starting lineup as a sophomore. Roberts averaged 10.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 2015-16, starting all 29 games.

Former Missoula Sentinel star Olivia Roberts was averaging 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Wyoming Cowgirls before tearing her ACL last season. (Photo courtesy: UW Media Relatoins)

But the 2016-17 season was her best yet. She scored double-figure points in 22 games and led the Cowgirls in scoring 17 times and rebounding 16 times. She was named the Mountain West player of the week four times and capped the season with all-conference and all-defense selections.

“After (the injury) happened, I was just like, ‘Why? Why did that have to happen now? We’re having such a great season,’” Olivia Roberts said, referencing Wyoming’s 19-6 start, which included a nine-game win streak.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from it is that I’m the biggest cheerleader for my team, and I can still lead, even if it’s from the bench,” Roberts continued. “That’s one thing I took pride in for the last six games. During the WNIT, I wanted to be out there so bad, but that’s just something that happens. I’m working to come back, and I got my team behind me and everything, so it’s going good.”

Initially, Roberts didn’t have an exact timeline for her expected return. She had surgery in April and started running again in July. The target now is to be back playing by the time Wyoming tips off its season on Nov. 3 against Chadron State.

The Cowgirls host Montana on Nov. 13 and travel to Montana State on Nov. 29.

“Everybody is saying that they’re not worried about her rehab, because she is a hard worker. … She could have come home for the summer, but she chose to stay there with her trainer and make sure she was on track,” Cheri Roberts said of her daughter. “I’m just really proud of her. She’s just kind of put it behind her and accepted it, and she’s on her way.”

While the recovery has gone well and the expectations for her senior season are as high as ever, the injury was still “frustrating” for Olivia Roberts. It brought a premature end to her stellar junior season, and the Cowgirls sputtered to a 4-4 mark down the stretch. They lost their first game at the Mountain West Conference Tournament and then lost in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

Roberts did her best to lead from the bench, but that had its challenges.

“It made me realize that I don’t want to coach,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to be a coach, but it was so frustrating (to not be able to play), and it gave me headaches and anxiety the whole entire game, so I appreciate my coach and everything that he does, because it’s hard.”

Roberts certainly didn’t enjoy her time on the bench, but her recovery has her positioned to enjoy one more year at Wyoming, perhaps even better than her impressive junior season.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. (The injury) happened for a reason. Maybe there’s a reason out there, and it makes you appreciate when you’re healthy,” Cheri Roberts said. “I think she’ll appreciate her senior year, her last year, a little more.”