Carly Cator has gone from seldom-used Division II backup to potential Division I starter.
And all she did in between was come all the way back from a torn ACL.
“She’s been a pleasant surprise,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Chance Lindley said. “Because if you go off her past history, she hasn’t played much — for anybody.”
Cator started the Mavericks’ exhibition game against the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and could be in the lineup for UNO’s season opener Monday against North Carolina A&T at Sapp Fieldhouse.
Cator, a 5-foot-9 senior from Lakewood, Colo., led the state in assists twice in high school and opened her college career at San Francisco State. After a redshirt season there, she started seven games while playing in 27, averaging 2.3 points.
She then transferred to UNO, where a family friend had a tie to former coach Patty Patton Shearer. Cator averaged 2.4 points while appearing in 20 games in 2010-11, playing a total of 263 minutes.
After the Mavs’ coaching change and jump to Division I, Lindley put Cator on a full scholarship. Then she tore the ACL in her right knee last October.
So how did Cator, like the Six Million Dollar Man, come back better than she was before?
“It has a lot to do with the program,” Cator said. “I love where I’m at. I love our coaching staff. And I love my teammates. When you fit in with a system that works for you and you work for it, it allows you to flourish.”
Lindley hadn’t seen much of Cator before this fall, when she was back at full strength.
“Based on that, we probably didn’t expect tons out of her,” he said. “But she’s a girl who comes in here every day, tried to learn the system, does whatever you ask of her, is very coachable, and has bought into our style of play and what we want to get accomplished.
“And she’s not afraid to be that role player — whether it’s getting rebounds, playing defense, (potentially) not scoring at all … you need a player like that and she fills holes for us on both offense and defense.”
Cator, who had two points and three rebounds against UNK, has found a fit with the Mavs’ 1-1-3 matchup zone.
“I think the girls know by now that we’re going to play kids based off defense first,” Lindley said. “And the five who started made the most sense defensively.
“It’s not always about the most talented or the best five … it’s the best five who are playing well together or who are playing defense the best. And it helps that the returners understand the defense we run.”
Cator expects to have to continue working for her minutes.
“It was very exciting,” she said of starting. “It’s liable to go either way any game. Everybody contributes every single day. Everybody works hard, and it’s a fight. That makes it fun, too.”
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