2005 — That was the last time the Colorado State women’s basketball had a winning record.
2002 — That was the last time the Colorado State women’s basketball team won a Mountain West conference championship, and it also happens to be the last time they made it to the NCAA Tournament.
But as Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a-changin’.”
Off to their best start since 2001-02, the Rams (14-4, 6-1 MW) are the odds-on favorite to win the conference title after beating New Mexico on the road for the first time in 16 years. And while second-year head coach Ryun Williams definitely had some expectations of this team, he wasn’t sure they’d be this good, this fast.
“I’m a little surprised just because we honestly didn’t know what to expect with having so many new players on this team,” Williams said. “We knew that we had recruited very competitive, good players who wanted to win but I’m very happy with how quickly they’ve put it all together.”
Those new faces are seven first-year players including four starters: guard Gritt Ryder, guard AJ Newton, and Swedish forwards Ellen Nystrom and Elin Gustavsson. Those four along with senior Sam Martin and key role players Alicia Nichols and Caitlin Duffy have Ram fans thinking about a conference title, something not talked about in more than a decade around this program.
But you won’t get players or coaches to look past anyone but their next opponent, fifth-place Nevada on Wednesday night at Moby Arena.
“It’s so much fun to be a part of this turnaround,” Ryder said. “But every one of us came in here expecting to win and we won’t settle for anything less. With that said, we know we have to keep winning. Just because we’re in first right now doesn’t mean we can let off the gas and expect to be in first at the end of the year.”
But after seven consecutive losing seasons and three different head coaches, the goals of winning a Mountain West regular season title and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament are within reach for a team with just three seniors on their roster. The most notable is Martin, a 6-2 forward from Parker who has seen the program go through its fair share of ups and downs in three and a half years as a Ram. While Martin is loving every minute of the success this year’s team is having, she wasn’t sure the program would get to this point during her time as a Lady Ram.
“Two years, I honestly didn’t think we’d be here,” Martin said. “But the reason I came to CSU was to help turn this program around. It’s been such a fun year and we aren’t done yet.”
And as the Rams head into Wednesday’s night matchup with a half-game lead over second-place Fresno State, they can’t help but be a little excited about just how far they’ve come.
“(Last Saturday’s) win at New Mexico is one of my favorite memories here,” Martin said. “When we got into the locker room after the game we started chanting, ‘I said, I’m proud to be a CSU Ram,’ and the coaches came in and started celebrating with us. It was just one of those things that we were incredibly excited about and as a senior, what we’re doing is pretty awesome.”
CSU Women’s Basketball by the Numbers:
0: Losses this year by the Lady Rams when one or more players records a double-double.
1: Triple-double in CSU basketball history, recorded by Ellen Nystrom on Jan. 8th, 2014 against San Jose State.
2: Points-Assists double-doubles by Gritt Ryder this season, tying former Ram Becky Hammon who had two in her entire career.
3: Players who recorded double-doubles against Utah State. The first time in 35 years that feat has been accomplished by a Lady Ram team.
9: Years since CSU recorded a winning season, going 15-13 during the 2004-05 campaign.
12: Years since the Rams won the Mountain West regular season title. Also the same number of years since the Lady Rams made the NCAA Tournament.
14: Wins for the Lady Rams this season as of Jan. 27th. Two more than the program had from 2006-2008.
57.6: Field-goal percentage for the Lady Rams against Drake this season. Their best single-game shooting performance since December 21st, 2004.
101: Points the Lady Rams scored vs. San Jose State. The first time a Lady Ram team has scored 100+ points in a conference game since 1999.
4,335: Days since the CSU women’s basketball team has played in NCAA Tournament game (March 16th, 2002).
Collegian Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @kpopecollegian.