LITTLETON, Colo. — Not that long ago, the Wyoming women's basketball program was mired in mediocrity. How things have changed. Suddenly, the Cowgirls are the darlings of the Mountain West Conference, thanks to an amazing postseason run that saw them win the Women's NIT last March.

With all five starters returning from that team, Wyoming was picked to win the MWC championship Wednesday at the league's media day held at The mtn. studios.

"Who would have thought, four years ago, (Wyoming) would be picked to win it," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. The Cowgirls, who finished 27-9 last season, garnered 24 of the 30 first-place votes. The media predicted TCU to finish second, followed by BYU, New Mexico and Utah.

"What you have to remember, though, is that the last few years, the top team (in the preseason poll) hasn't won it," Judkins added. "The conference is really balanced. From one to nine, it's a good league.

"Air Force is better now than they were seven years ago. San Diego State is better. Colorado State has dropped a little bit, but they'll get it back. There are good coaches and good players in this league. Four WNBA players came out of this league last year. There's a good chance two or three might come out of this league this year. That proves what our league's about."

Wyoming, led by senior forward Hanna Zavecz, who was also named to the preseason All-MWC team, looks like the team to beat. Coach Joe Legerski, a longtime assistant at Utah before taking the job four years ago, has worked wonders in Laramie. He said it all started with his first recruiting class, which included Zavecz.

"All of them had to buy into a dream," Legerski said. "We had no history. Now they've been able to lay the groundwork that has allowed us to talk about what can be done at Wyoming."

"I think Joe's a great coach," Judkins said. "He coached 18 years at Utah. He knows the league better than I do. He got some players that fit into his system and he played them young."

Not only did the Cowgirls win the WNIT title, but, in the process, they also attracted sellout crowds at the Arena-Auditorium.

"It was a special time, that WNIT run," Legerski said. "There's always disappointment with not being selected for the NCAA Tournament. We started out to do the best we could in the WNIT. Then it grew into a special event. What our WNIT run did was, acquaint a large number of fans to women's basketball. I believe that is a positive."

In addition to Zavecz, the preseason All-MWC team featured TCU's Adrianne Ross, who was also selected as the top returning player; BYU's Mallary Gillespie-Carling; Utah's Morgan Warburton; and New Mexico's Dionne Marsh. Ute guard Leilani Mitchell, a transfer from the University of Idaho, was named the top newcomer.