Photos by Erin Mross
Video by Olivia Landis, CTV11
As senior Sam Martin left the court on Wednesday night’s game, she was met on the sideline with a bear hug from head coach Ryun Williams. CSU had just become regular season conference champions for the first time since 2002.
In their 84-64 victory over the UNLV Rebels, the Rams sealed their spot as the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament and solidified what has been dubbed the most successful season the program has seen in over a decade.
“I dont think there’s any words to describe that experience” Martin said. “We just got going on the court and I started smiling. I knew we were going to go out there and get it in the end.”
The Rams closed out the UNLV Rebels on Wednesday night, and doing so with a mark of triumph. Each player climbed the ladder that stood on Moby’s floor and cut down a piece of the net at a time, reigniting a tradition the team has desperately wanted.
As Williams cut the final strings of the net down, he was cheered on by the crowd and his players – ultimately holding the net above his head with a smile plastered across his face.
“That feels good,” Williams said. “I’m really happy for our kids. I’m just so proud of them and happy for them. They’ve worked their tails off and these kids have gone through a lot of ups and downs.”
After the Rams’ previous game resulted in a loss to conference rivals University of Wyoming, CSU wasted no time proving to themselves and to the CSU fans that they are better than the two losses that stand on their conference record.
From the second the ball was tipped in Moby, the Rams went hard on every single play. They were diving for loose balls, competing for rebounds, stealing the ball, and playing constant aggressive defense. Although the Rebels came out strong on Wednesday night, CSU stole back the lead midway through the second half.
Down by 3 points with nine minutes to go, guard Caitlin Duffy sunk a 3-point shot that tied the game. As UNLV took the ball down the court in an attempt to respond to Duffy’s shot, CSU forced a turnover that resulted in an additional two points for the Rams and the beginning of a momentum change.
After that point, the game was controlled by the Rams. CSU went on a 30-4 run, scoring 19 unanswered before UNLV could snap the streak. The Rams racked up 52 points in the second frame with the help from their leading scorer, AJ Newton, who ended the game with 21.
“We just knew that we needed to do something,” Newton said. “We were down and we were a little antsy to be league champs. We just needed to step up and make some shots and make it happen.”
As Williams said in his press conference, to best sum up the change in momentum for the night, “AJ happened.”
With two games left in the regular season, the Rams can breathe a small sigh of relief. Their standing going into the tournament is set and their primary goal has been accomplished.
“I love this team and I knew we were going to be good but I didn’t expect us to win like this our first year,” Martin said. “It’s a great way to go out. It’s my senior year and it’s what I’ve always dreamt of. I have these girls as my teammates and I love them. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”