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The CSU Women are 18-1, 8-0. Who woulda thunk?

January 31, 2016

I know one person who thunk it right from the get go.

Not me.

I thought the team would be solid this season because there was enough quality returning from the previous season. A 20-win season and a Top 3 finish in the MWC was in the cards.  But I couldn’t see any more than that. After all, they had lost All-MWC backcourt duo Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton.  Ryder had shared the MWC Player of the Year in 2014-15 as both she and Newton fought through injuries to lead the team.  I figured the loss of their skill and their leadership would set the Rams back a little in the 2015-16 season.

At the start of the season, I chatted some with Gritt Ryder.

I expressed my concerns to her and she told me that this year’s team would be better than the previous two teams.  She explained that the returning players had gotten better and that there was a lot more depth than in previous years with the new players.  Gritt had been given the position of Graduate Assistant and I figured it was just wishful thinking on her part because of her new position.  

And now with half of the MWC season and 2/3 of the entire regular season I can now say how wrong I was.

And the correct answer to “Who woulda thunk it?” Is Gritt Ryder.

And here’s how they’ve done it to date.

The core of the returning team was the two fabulous Swedes and all-conference players, Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson.  Starters since day one, they are now juniors who have played about 80 games together for CSU.  And they both continue to get better.  I joked with somebody about how I wish that Eustachy’s team had three-year players like Ellen and Elie and he fired back “Players like that end up at Gonzaga.”  That’s how good these young ladies are.

Nystrom pretty much does it all on the court. She can score inside and out, she can defend, rebound, handle the ball, pass the ball, dictate tempo.  Her shooting was a little off last season but she has been far more consistent in 2015-16.

Gustavsson has expanded her game to become a much better interior defender and rebounder.  She always had the skills to score inside and out.  She has gotten stronger and is now a very versatile 94′ player.

Keyora Wharry and Jamie Patrick joined the Rams last season from the JuCo ranks and played very important roles on the 2014-15 team.  Wharry with energy and athleticism going to the basket and Patrick as the perimeter sharpshooter.  Bu they were just role players.

And that’s no longer true in 2015-16.

Wharry has maintained the high level of energy but she is much more effective in terms of how it translates in a team game.  She has become a lockdown defender.  And offensively, she plays much more within the confines of the team. A wild drive to the basket in transition last year has become a much more intelligent parry that pulls the ball out when an easy basket isn’t there.  She is crazy good late in the shot clock and her improved free throw shooting has helped her expand her game.

Patrick has expanded her game as well.  She still shoots and makes three’s but does more scoring in the paint these days.  She’s a better rebounder too.   She currently leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio; she’s not a primary ballhandler but she’s a smart and willing passer.   The biggest leap has come on the defensive end where she relishes drawing the toughest assignment on that end of the floor.  She has completely locked down leading scorers such as Brooke Pahukoa of Boise State.

Now add in Emile Hesseldal, the other starting forward.  She injured her elbow last season early on and was never 100% even after she came back.  She is an incredibly gifted player who is all about team.  She brings the ball up court and initiates the offense lots. She can shoot but chooses to see screens, pass, rebound and defend.  No one was shocked that she made the winning jumper against San Jose State earlier this week.  

That’s five players who start.

But the real strength of the team is that the team doesn’t skip a beat when people come off of the bench.  Ellen Nystrom described after the Wyoming game that there are times that the Rams actually get better because the bench players ratchet up the energy level on the floor.

Alana Arias is the Rams’ best post player.  She has a variety of moves both left and right and possesses a deft touch.  She also got better around the basket on both ends of the floor.  She is a much stronger and better rebounder than last year and a better defender as well.  Arias comes off the bench but she is good enough to have won the MWC Player of the Week a couple of weeks ago from off the bench.

Hannah Tvrdy is a transfer guard from the University of Nebraska where she played one season.  It took her a good number of games to shake off the rust after playing limited inured in her freshman season in Lincoln and sitting out last season because of transfer rules.  She plays great on-the-ball defense, shoots well from the perimeter, and is expanding her offensive game to include scoring in the paint.

Callie Kaiser is one of four freshmen in a solid 2015 recruiting class.  She is a hard-nosed, athletic wing player who can tough it up with anyone.  She might make a freshman mistake here or there but she knows how to get tough rebounds, anticipates well defensively to create steals, and scores well at the basket.  She offers a lot of what Pierce Hornung offered the men while on the court at CSU.  Unmeasurables that result in winning plays.

Veronica Mirkovic is a defensive specialist who can guard several positions, get tough rebounds and deliver physical play that helps wear opponents down.  A valuable bench player in a grind it out game.

That was the nine who played most yesterday.

But it’s not always the same nine.

Freshmen Sofie Tryggedsson and Amanda Kantzy have made important contributions off the bench. Sofie can really shoot and Amanda is a young big who is probably a little more comfortable on the perimter but is learning how to mix it up inside.  Stine Austgulen is another perimeter sharpshooter who’s come off the bench to deliver double figures and also play solid defense.

Now we’re up to 12.  That’s way more than a team needs to be successful in any given season but bodes well for the program to continue to grow.

And while the depth is certainly there, it takes a great set of coaches to continue to develop the players and to use them properly in game situations.   

I remember speaking earlier in the season to Coach Ryun Williams about the talent-laden freshmen and he was agonizing over red-shirting them.  He knew he had players who could help this year but he wanted to make sure that he didn’t waste a season of eligibility for a minute here or there.  

It takes a special coach and staff to balance out this many players.  And it takes a special group of players to sacrifice some of their individual desires for the good of the team.  Williams loves having this many good players in his tool box.  And he is highly appreciate that they all continue to work hard to improve and come ready to play every game when their name is called.

So…

After yesterday’s game against Wyoming, I grabbed Gritt Ryder again and told her I thought she got it right when she said this team would be better than the last two.  Then she jokingly said that she hoped that they didn’t do so well that people would forget about what she and AJ had accomplished in their two years at CSU.  I told her there was no chance of that.  She and AJ had provided the path and these girls on the current squad were running down it on their way to something even bigger and better.

The CSU Women are now 38-6 in MWC games over the last two plus seasons.   I know it’s hard to believe they can improve on that.  But they are and they can.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Justin Williams permalink
    February 1, 2016 6:01 pm

    Can Williams coach the men too?

    On Sun, Jan 31, 2016 at 1:13 PM, crackerscollegehoops wrote:

    > swollcracker posted: “I know one person who thunk it right from the get > go. Not me. I thought the team would be solid this season because there was > enough quality returning from the previous season. A 20-win season and a > Top 3 finish in the MWC was in the cards. But I ” >

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