Having a player that emerges as a leader on the basketball court is common.
What’s uncommon for Utah Valley’s men’s and women’s teams is that they both have bona fide leaders who have been leaders since their freshman seasons.
Juniors Ryan Toolson and Robyn Fairbanks have starred on the court for a few seasons now, with Toolson’s LDS mission intervening between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Fairbanks’ play, in particular, has stood out, as she was third in scoring nationally by averaging 23.7 points per game.
Sometimes that means being the focus of the offense or using the fact that opponents will try to double or triple-team her to find the open player.
"I’ll just do whatever I can to help the team get better," Fairbanks said.
Playing down low in the post, especially against tougher defenses this season, Fairbanks will need to lean on her teammates even more.
With Toolson, his job is a little different. He’s a shooter first, but his main weapon is the accuracy from the free-throw line.
Toolson’s 97 percent mark from the charity stripe led the country, helping him lead the team in scoring last year with 15.5 ppg.
That’s why men’s coach Dick Hunsaker wants him to use his free-throw shooting as a weapon.
"He (Hunsaker) really wants me to get to the free-throw line," Toolson said. "He’s really emphasizing me jumping into players to get the foul."
Toolson wants to be more than just a one-dimensional player and said that he needs to work hard on both sides of the court.
"I really think this year I have to work on the defense," Toolson said. "I’ve always been an offensive player my whole life, so that’s always come easy. But defense, for me, is a struggle and the opponents know it. So they’re going to be coming at me thinking I can’t defend, so I really have to step up."
The success that both teams have had in recent years gives Fairbanks and Toolson a chance to showcase Utah Valley basketball, despite the tough schedules.
"I see it as a great opportunity for the program to grow and get recognized in other places," Fairbanks said.
A trip to Duke in December will see how Fairbanks and the other women stack up against the nation’s best.
The men’s schedule isn’t much easier, and Utah Valley can’t sneak up on other teams this season.
"This year is going to be a very fun, yet very interesting season," Toolson said. "I really think that we can beat some of the top teams in the country; but on the other hand, we lose to some of the worst teams in the country."
For those who have missed seeing Fairbanks and Toolson in action, which is a lot, looking at attendance figures, fans will have plenty of chances to see what could be two of the best players Utah Valley’s had playing during the same years.