Chris Elsberry: It's Cizynski's time to be Fairfield's leader
Updated 11:54 pm, Thursday, January 24, 2013
FAIRFIELD -- She didn't just timidly peek her head around the office door and ask if she could come in. No, Katie Cizynski simply knocked on the door, pushed it open and went and sat down in front of Joe Frager's desk.
And Frager, sitting there working, looked up and thought, "Well, this is something." As they sat and talked about the upcoming season, Cizynski offered her likes and dislikes on several topics, even adding specifics about her role on the team.
Almost since the day she first arrived at Fairfield, Frager, the head coach of the Stags, had been waiting for this breakout moment from his 6-foot-2 forward from Southbury, who played high school ball at Pomperaug. As a freshman and a sophomore, Cizynski played her part, deferring to leaders Taryn Johnson and Desiree Pina. But now, with those two graduated, who would be the new leader of the Stags?
Well, why not Cizynski?
"Katie came in here and we had a little sit-down," Frager said. "She came in and talked to me and I could tell when she sat down, it was like, `Coach, this is what I want to do and how I want to do it.' You could tell she had a totally different attitude. Before, she'd kind of tip-toe in here, a little bit unsure of herself. Now, she walked into the office, like `Hey, we're in this together.' It was one of those meetings where I went, `Wow.'"
And on the heels of eight straight double-figure scoring games and four double-doubles this season, it seems as though it's been Cizynski who's stating her claim as the next leader of the Stags.
"I'm a lot more confident on the floor," said the junior, who's averaging 12.8 points and 8.5 rebounds for the 11-6 Stags, who are riding a four-game winning streak. "Coach told me that this was going to be a really big year for me, so I'm a lot more confident. I know our offense a lot better, I know the girls that I'm playing with a lot more, so that makes it a lot easier."
That new confidence was evident right off the bat as Cizynski scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the second game of the season against Brown. Double-doubles have followed against St. Bonaventure (16-10), Niagara (14-14) and Iona (17-16). And this season, she's established or tied career-highs in rebounds, assists, blocks, field goals made, free throws made and minutes played.
"She's just so much more self-assured than she was," Frager said. "She always showed sparks that she could do it and we always believed in her. I kept telling her that I thought she was a going to develop into a really good player here. And I think this year, she's really starting to believe that. She's a different kid."
Like many incoming freshmen, it took time for Cizynski to become accustomed to the speed and physical nature of the college game. That, and the fact that there were experienced players ahead of her in the pecking order, left her deferring to the team leaders.
"I totally attribute her freshman year to the transition from high school to college," Frager said. "Last year, it was a combination of having a dominant personality and a dominant player like Taryn; you just naturally want to defer. But I think during the off-season, Katie totally committed herself to getting into tremendous shape, and I just think she's matured so much. I don't know if it's a matter of a light bulb going on or she's just thinking, `Now's my time.'"
"There was a lot to learn," Cizynski said. "The speed's different. Everyone's a lot stronger. But like I said, I'm a lot more confident now. I definitely think that I've picked up my rebounding as well as my scoring. I'm most comfortable with my back to the basket and I think my defense has gotten better."
And she's tougher. Cizynski has battled through several injuries this season, including ankle sprains, but keeps on fighting.
"She's fought through a lot this year," Frager said. "Oh man, there have been ankle issues. She's been banged up constantly. But she's got a lot of physical resolve. I couldn't be any more proud of her growth. She's standing on her own two feet."