A consistent winner

Last weekend, the U women’s basketball team (20-5, 10-1) completed a season sweep of Air Force, winning easily on the road as it notched another 20-win season.

Not exactly the norm at most schools, 20-win seasons have become a habit for the Utes-ever since the arrival of head coach Elaine Elliott.

With the win against Air Force, Elliott quietly recorded her 15th season at the U with 20 wins or more. An impressive accomplishment by any standard, Elliott has done so in just 21 years as the Utah head coach.

Characterized by her players as a person with an extreme commitment to winning, there is no question as to whether or not Elliott has made her mark at the U.

In her illustrious career, her teams have failed to record a winning record in just one of 21 seasons. In the 1993-94 campaign, the Utes finished the year at 12-14, but still finished conference play with a record of 9-5.

“I guess the reason I have been successful is that I am competitive, and I do hate to lose,” Elliott said. “Every loss motivates me to get better. I’m not the kind of person that sits back to let things happen to me and says ‘que sera.’ I keep trying to fix things that are broken, and I’m always looking for ways to improve.”

University of Wyoming head coach Joe Legerski, who served as an assistant to Elliott for 12 years, described her coaching style as “intense, prepared and intelligent.”

Legerski attributes Elliott’s longstanding success to her painstaking “attention to detail” while always “covering all of the bases in every aspect of the game.”

Now considered by many as the best women’s coach in the history of the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference, Elliott’s accomplishments provide plenty of examples of her intense desire and her commitment to winning.

Perhaps the finest example of Elliott’s coaching skill was seen in the coaching job she did during the 2000-2001 season.

During that campaign, Elliott directed her team to a perfect record of 14-0 in conference play, while securing a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament-the highest seeding ever obtained by a team from the state of Utah.

Elliott took advantage of the high seeding, continuing her historic run with two wins in the NCAA tourney before losing in the sweet 16 to the eventual national champions, Notre Dame.

No team from Utah had ever advanced to the third round of the NCAAs, and by finishing the year with a remarkable record of 28-4, Elliott had led her team to one of the best seasons in the history of the state.

Amy (Ewert) Jacobsen, voted MWC co-Player of the Year and MWC Defensive Player of the Year for her play under Elliott during the Utes’ historic 2000-2001 season, said that Elliott’s devotion to both the sport and her players is what makes her a special coach. Jacobsen described Elliott as a coach with the ability to maximize any situation to her advantage.

“I can’t put my finger on it, but I wanted to play well for Elaine,” Jacobsen said. “I didn’t want to let her down. She was always committed to getting the most out of each player, which gave her some really good teams over the years. Basically, I think it’s her dedication to the game that makes her a great coach.”

Well-known for her ability to prepare her teams for anything, Elliott’s coaching strategy is not only effective, but flexible as well.

According to her players, she always makes sure that her team is ready for the individual discrepancies of each different team the Utes face.

“She always makes sure we’re ready,” said senior center Carley Marshall, who has played under Elliott all four years of her collegiate career.

“She’s the ultimate competitor,” Marshall continued. “She hates losing more than she loves winning, so she is always prepared to the ultimate degree, and she has always prepared us the same way.”

Not one to take losing easily, Elliott is never fearful of telling her players what they did wrong. Regardless of whether or not her team wins, if something went wrong in a game, Elliott will be the first to notice it and always lets her players know about it.

Junior shooting guard Lana Sitterud, who has played under Elliott for three years now, said that Elliott’s mentality is such that any mistake will bother her.

“She’ll do anything to win,” Sitterud said. “When you lose, you hate it because of what Elaine will do.”

She is so competitive and it irritates her so much that even if you win, but play bad, it bugs her,” she said.

Rarely one to berate the referees from the sidelines, Elliott has defined herself as a consummate professional. She is unwavering in her commitment to coaching, and the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to a judgment of her success.

“Nothing is ever good enough for Elaine,” Sitterud said of her coach in the most positive way. “She always wants something better, and that’s what makes her a good coach.”

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