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Utah Utes women's basketball: Sawyer uses strengths to bolster team

SALT LAKE CITY — As the leading rebounder and shot-blocker for the University of Utah women's basketball team, Halie Sawyer knows she made the right choice of where to go to college.

But she almost didn't make it to Salt Lake City from her home town of Panguitch.

"I had a lot of offers from all the small schools in Utah," she said, "and an offer to play volleyball from UNLV. But going from 1,500 (population of Panguitch) to Vegas was a little much.

"It was a pretty big jump just to come to Salt Lake City."

Her father, as a former high school basketball coach, also exerted a major influence on her to play basketball.

"I'm a daddy's girl," she said. "And he is really big on basketball.

"It was an opportunity to play for a successful coach like Elaine Elliot and the record she has and a program that has had a lot of success."

A success that she has helped bring this season.

While averaging a robust 7.3 points and 7.1 rebounds, the 6-foot-1 senior leads the team in blocks and is second in steals.

"(She has) a nose for the ball," Elliot said.

"You have to learn to use your strengths," Sawyer said. "You come here and you find roles that fit your style of play. I try to perfect what I can do best to help our team.

"There is nothing better than sitting in film (session) and the coach says, 'Look what Halie does. She is using her length and speed to get around this girl. She knows she is not stronger than her.'

"Once you realize what your strengths are and learn how to use them, it makes the game more fun."

She views her basketball role as "a full-time job," citing the travel and the practices along with all the requirements of going to school.

She is accustomed to the big city how, too.

"The more and more I'm here, I like it," she said. "And when I go back to Panguitch, I have to adapt there now."

But at heart, Sawyer is a small-town girl.

"I love small towns and Panguitch," she said. "If I ever meet Mr. Right, I would like to raise a family in Panguitch. It's a great place to raise a family."

And then, of course, there is deer hunting.

"I have killed a buck!" she said. "Elaine (Elliot) gives me a hard time about that, but it's not the killing. I just like the atmosphere of the outdoors and bonding with my dad. We go four-wheeling, we do everything together."

Fishing is a favorite pastime of hers, too.

"We go fishing every chance we get," she said, explaining that they go ice fishing during winter breaks in the school year, as well going fishing as often as possible during the summertime.

Sawyer is well-rounded in her activities, having taken ballet, gymnastics, dance classes, violin — "everything," she said.

"My parents worked their hardest to let me do what I wanted."

But in the end, competitive sports is what she is most drawn to.

"And I get that from my dad, too," Sawyer said.

That competitiveness is what spurring her to try to use her fifth year of eligibility as a volleyball player for the Utes. She is working on a degree in journalism and will graduate in December.