EDINBURG — As the lights inside the UTRGV Fieldhouse are turned off and the women’s basketball team is about to take the floor, the song “You Can’t Stop Me” is blasted through the speakers. The video board inside the fieldhouse illuminates the gym with a pregame hype video featuring each player on the UTRGV roster.

The video ends with UTRGV graduate student Desirea Buerge rocking her game-face as she flexes her bicep for the camera.

While each player on a collegiate roster brings something different to the table, Buerge’s strength doesn’t just help her out on the hardwood as a 6-foot post. It’s also the reason she was a three-time All-American in track and field as a thrower in the discus and shot put at Missouri Southern State University, a DII school.

“I take a lot of pride in the weight room. It’s kind of like a safe space for me,” Buerge said. “It helps relieve some stress that I have from classes or basketball or track, and then also be able to maneuver my way around the court, and in track, it helps to be stronger.”

Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Desirea Buerge (21) snags a rebound in front of Utah’ Eve Braslis (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, on Saturday, Jan.18, 2020 in Edinburg, Texas. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor dlopez@themonitor.com

After a year away from basketball due to redshirting her senior year at MSSU while competing in track and field, UTRGV head coach Lane Lord, who recruited Buerge out of high school to Pittsburg State in Kansas, was able to draw her attention to UTRGV with the opportunity to compete in both basketball and track and field at the DI level.

Buerge, a native of Webb City, Missouri, said she jumped at the opportunity.

“I think the biggest attribute that Des has is that she’s a competitor. Any time you can be in a sport that’s not a team sport, and be able to compete at the highest level, it shows you have a lot of mental toughness as a three-time All-American in track,” Lord said. “She competed at the highest level and competed very well, so that mental toughness is something she brings to the team every day.”

Mental toughness and physical toughness, Buerge brings them both to this year’s UTRGV women’s basketball team.

Pronounced like Fergie, the singer, as noted in UTRGV’s press game notes, Buerge has come on strong since the Vaqueros (8-10, 3-2 WAC) have started Western Athletic Conference action.

As the first big off the bench for the Vaqueros, she’s averaging 12 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting .500 from 3 and 82% from the free-throw line in UTRGV’s five WAC games.

Described as the team mom, according to Lord, Buerge’s always the first to greet her teammates to the bench with high-fives and first in line to shake hands with the opposing team once the game is over.

But for the 40 minutes up on the game clock during UTRGV basketball games, Buerge’s intensity and physicality take over as a force to be reckoned with in her first year playing at the DI level.

She can be found battling down low against opposing posts, fighting for loose balls, doing anything to give her team extra possessions. But she can also hurt defenses from long-range and drive past defenders when pressed.

“I take a lot of pride in how strong I am because it does help on the court, especially when I am a little undersized, so my strength kind of helps me bully my way in underneath,” she said.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Desirea Buerge (21) attempts a basket against Seattle University during a Western Athletic Conference game at the UTRGV Fieldhouse on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

During UTRGV’s WAC game against Seattle last Thursday, Buerge scored 27 points to lead the Vaqueros to an 85-81 overtime victory. Two days later, Buerge scored 13 more in a tough loss to against Utah Valley, the top team in the WAC.

“She really got us back in the game against Utah Valley, we went right to her and she scored three or four baskets in a row. Against Seattle she hits back-to-back 3s,” Lord said. “Just that mental toughness knowing she can get the job done, I think it helped our team get that comeback against Seattle and come back against Utah Valley, I think a lot of that had to do with Des and her ability to rally the troops.”

Buerge admitted it’s been a struggle finding her groove since getting back on the court, but her game is elevating with each passing day.

“I feel like after adjusting and getting back into the gym and getting back into the game, it’s helped. You have to build it back up to get back to where you were, and I finally feel like I have gotten back to where I was,” Buerge said. “But I love the DI flow. I feel like it’s just a little faster than DII, athletes are a little better, so it’s a lot more fun to play against better competition.”

Once UTRGV’s season on the basketball court is over, Buerge will compete in the outdoor season throwing the discus and shotput for the Vaqueros track & field team. She spent most days during the summer and fall, practicing basketball in the morning and track and in the afternoon.

At the moment, however, Buerge and the UTRGV women’s basketball team are focused on battling through WAC play before competing for their ultimate goal.

“My goals are definitely try to be an all-conference athlete and for us to win conference all together, so that’s our big goal, win conference and make it to the big (NCAA) tournament,” she said.

UTRGV’s road to the WAC tournament is set to continue tonight as Buerge and the Vaqueros square off against New Mexico State (6-12, 3-2 WAC) at 7 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The game can be seen on the WACDigitalNetwork.com.

bramos@themonitor.com