Katarina Zec leaves an impact at UTEP

Senior+forward+Katarina+Zec+pushes+the+ball+up+court+in+win+versus+Florida+Atlantic+Jan.+4+at+the+Don+Haskins+Center.

Senior forward Katarina Zec pushes the ball up court in win versus Florida Atlantic Jan. 4 at the Don Haskins Center.

Isaiah Ramirez, Reporter

Leadership is not an intangible that can be developed in a short period when it comes to the sport of basketball. In Katarina Zecs UTEP basketball career, she emerged as a leader and a player that is not only etched in the record book but the minds of Miner Nation. 

After her Miner career, which spanned from 2016-2020, Zec piled up 1,1128 points, 3,371 minutes played, and 136 3-point field goals made, placing her eighth, fifth and sixthbest in program history, respectively. 

The Belgrade, Serbia native made her way to the city of El Paso with quality international basketball experience playing with the under 20 Serbian National Team in the 2016 European Championships averaging six points and three rebounds in the event 

At the conclusion of Zecs first-year season in which she played in 25 games and averaged five points a contest former Miner head coach and 2016 Conference-USA(C-USA) Coach of the Year Keitha Adams resigned from the program.  

There were some really tough challenges, I had a knee injury just games before conference play and losing Coach Adams my freshman year kind of threw me off and made me start over with Coach Baker, Zec said. 

Kevin Baker was hired as the new head coach April 24, 2017, and has since accumulated the most wins by any Miner coach in the first three seasons of their tenure with 42.  

In Zecs sophomore season and the first under Baker, she started all 31 games while averaging 9.2 points per contest and led the team in 3- pointers made with 39. 

Immediately what you learn about Kat as soon as you meet her is she is a very driven young lady and she wanted to be really good and we knew she was willing to put in the extra work to be good, Baker said.  

 The Miners 2018-2019 season and Zecs junior year was derailed with injuriesZec felt this was one of the toughest obstacles she faced in her Miner career. 

 At one point in the season, the squad had seven active players on the roster and Zec played four games with over 40 minutes 

My junior year was my toughest season ever, mentally and physically, because not only we had to keep going through adversity but I played 40 minutes game after game and practicing and studying full time, Zec said. 

Zecs final season was her career coming full-circle as she was relied on as a leader being one of the only two seniors on the team and a player that could be counted on not only on the court but off the court.  

I felt her career all came full-circle because she finally put everything all together from being a player to be a leader and she put it together to have a great senior year, Baker said. 

The Miners surpassed the previous seasons win total by seven games and conference wins by three while earning a win in the Conference-USA tournament as the seventh seed. 

careerhigh in points, rebounds, and minutes per game for Zec (12 ppg, 5 rpg, 31.8 mpg) also included an All-Conference-USA second team selection  

Finally, everything paid off during my senior season and I was genuinely happy and enjoying my time with my teammates,” Zec said. I already miss them, and Ill be forever grateful for those moments. 

Kat is probably the senior I looked up to the most because we play the same position and shes a great leader on and off the court, freshman guard Avery Crouse said following the Miners 80-72 win on Senior Day. 

The talented freshman core of Katia Gallegos, Avery Crouse and Ariona Khlopkova has a lot of Miner fans excited for the future of the program after a standout debut season with Zec as a mentor to the group. 

Avery got the most out of it, especially because we have the same major and I was taking the same classes in my freshman year, Zec said. On the basketball court they just do what they do and I cannot tell them how to play but I can advise them what options to look for and how to read the situation and I am happy how Katia grew in that segment. 

Zec accumulated 21 double-digit scoring performances in her senior season and tied a careerhigh in points with a 22-point outing versus Old Dominion Feb. 8, 2020. 

Her first couple of years she was good player and she did well but this last year she became our leader and the glue that held our team together, Baker said. That was the biggest show of growth and she made a huge impact on the team and program on her ability to lead.  

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the C-USA tournament which was held in Frisco, Texas was canceled as the Miners were coming off a dominant 95-67 win in the quarterfinal round versus Florida Atlantic.  

UTEP was slated to take on Old Dominion in the next round with momentum brewing in the Miners arsenal. 

I didnt really process the situation at first.” Zec said “Moments later I cried a little. I have to admit I was reflecting on the game against Florida Atlantic and the whole season to be honest, Zec said. It didnt really hit me in Dallas but once we got to El Paso and I came to realization that my career is really over thats when I started missing it. 

three-time C-USA Commissioner’s Academic medalist and Honor Roll selection Zec will graduate with a major in biochemistry. A talented all-around game that has evolved throughout her career may propel her to a professional career. 

As of now the plan is to play professionally, Zec said. However, I am not sure how this situation with the coronavirus is going to unfold because there is a huge economic crisis around the world. 

Zec has returned to her hometown to prepare for her future and stay ready for her next steps in her basketball career 

Currently I am in Serbia working out just staying active and preparing for whatever comes next and I will update everyone on my next destination over my social media accounts, Zec said. 

Thereabsolutely no doubt that her game will translate to the professional ranks, Baker said.” “I really think her best basketball is still in front of her and she can still improve and elevate her game and she has the work ethic to do so. 

The UTEP basketball career of Katarina Zec will be remembered as a guideline for what it takes to succeed as a Miner on and off the court and Miner fans will remember just how much of an impact she had during her four years on the program. 

Miner Nation you will forever be part of me, Thank You,” Zec said. 

Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected]