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The first time I saw Juliann Laney this past summer I wasn't quite sure who she was. She looked different. Faster, sleeker, fitter…and a year older. Juliann was running outside Martin Centre. It wasn't hard to recognize that she was an athlete, but was it Juliann? If she had an ounce of fat on her, it didn't show.
While Laney kept running, warming up, we headed inside to watch the mens basketball team scrimmage. The guys had been playing a while and we watched them for fifteen minutes before they took a break for food, snacks and water.
During this time, Lady Zag after Lady Zag filed into The Kennel and began shooting around the edges of the court. When the guys departed, the gals took the court. And there was Juliann, running the court like a deer and popping shots from inside and outside, playing tough defense and looking like a true difference-maker out there.
"Is that girl in the red top Juliann Laney?"
"Yes it is."
Eventually the guys returned and patiently waited for the women to finish. But the lasting impression of a student-athlete who had transformed herself from "promising" to "prominent" stuck.
Three weeks later, while talking to a Lady Zag assistant coach, we asked about Laney and her remarkable offseason improvement. Sometimes you don't always hear what you expect. We caught up with Juliann in her dorm and she explained.
ZH: First, describe as best you can what it felt like when you tore your ACL. What were you doing that caused it to tear and what was going
through your mind?
JL: When I tore my ACL I wasn't doing anything differently than I do any other day playing basketball. I was driving to the basket on the right side of the key and was just about at the block when it happened. I was going up for a layin and pushed off with my right leg and it just buckled on me. Right away I knew that it had to be my ACL because I had never felt a pain like that ever before. Plus, I have never been injured and an ACL tear was, and always has been, my biggest fear. So of course when it happened, I immediately thought the worst.
ZH: The doctors and trainers have told you it will take six to eight months to recover. That must feel like forever. What will your workout
regimen consist of now?
JL: Basically, the first thing I have to work on is my range of motion. It is extremely important that I am able to fully straighten and bend my leg. Then I will slowly get back to strengthening my leg. I will still do the same upper body workout with my team but on days that they left legs I will be with trainers. We are hoping that by January, if not Christmas, I will be able to do some running and then at the end of the school year, start adding the lateral movement. The plan is that by summer I will be able to go all-out and that way I can get in a great summer workout and be ready to go 110% by next season.
ZH: While this year you'll be forced to redshirt, you can't help but foresee a bright, bright future. How do you see the Lady Zags this year and in future years with the quality of recruits that Coach Graves is bringing in?
JL: I am so excited for our future her. Not only is Coach Graves bringing in some great athletes but we all get along so well. We have a ton of fun together and that makes it much easier to mesh as a team. I think the Lady Zags are going to do awesome this year. I think you are going to see some great improvement in our sophomore class and we have brought in some bigger girls who I think can really battle down low. It is going to be really exciting. The way I see it, this injury could kind of be a blessing. Because by the time my classmates are seniors, they are not going to want to leave but they will have to and I will still have another year to play ball here.
ZH: Enough about your injury. Tell us what it's like to grow up in a small town like Sprague, Washington, and how a big time student-athlete like yourself gets noticed as opposed to kids who are in Seattle or Spokane. Did playing high school ball at Gonzaga Prep help with
exposure, and what made you choose G-Prep instead of going to Sprague-Harrington?
JL: I think playing up here in Spokane helped a lot with exposure. Not only do you get more media coverage but we traveled around and the GSL is a tough league and I think coaches recognize that. At Prep I received a ton of support and was just surrounded by a great group of people: coaches, teammates, and everyone. My parents were awesome too. They are the ones who sacrificed the most so that I could play ball up here. I chose to go to Prep instead of stay in Sprague mostly because of basketball reasons but also because my dad and his brothers went through Prep and so did my sister. Prep just offers more opportunities because it is bigger and it had the Catholic education that my parents wanted me to receive.
ZH: For Zag fans who haven't seen you play, describe Juliann Laney's game. What is your favorite offensive play and defensive play?
JL: I have always been the type of player who likes to create. That does not mean that I always score, either. In fact, to Coach Graves' disgust he doesn't think I score enough. I love to make nice passes to my teammates or drives to the basket that open other people up for the shot. I think one of my strengths is that I see the floor well. I have to honestly say that since I have played a year for Coach Graves I have come to like defense much better. We emphasize defense so much in our type of game that I finally realized how important it was but also how much fun it can be. It may not seem like it and in practice it really sucks going over defense again and again but I would love to be known as the defensive stopper on my team rather than the number one scorer.
ZH: What is your GPA and your major at Gonzaga? Do you know what you'd like to be doing after you graduate?
JL: I think my cumulative GPA is somewhere around a 3.7 but I am not positive. I haven't decided what I am majoring in yet. I am thinking education but I am not sure. So I guess maybe it is a good thing that I am going to be here five years because I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life [laughs].
ZH: Give us some insight into dorm life these days at Gonzaga. What dorm are you in and are you looking forward to moving into a house or
apartment next year?
JL: I am staying in Madonna this year. I have to say that I actually like the dorm life. I like the social aspect of it. However, I wont lie when I say that I am definitely looking forward to more space and my own kitchen living in an apartment next year. But being in the dorms is all part of the college experience.