They were supposed to claim their first conference tournament title since 2001. They were supposed to showcase their moves at the big dance for the first time in 12 years.
This year was supposed to be different than the rest. This squad was supposed to rewrite the book on Colorado State women’s basketball.
Sure, the last two games of the Rams’ season ended in a way that not many of us were expecting. A nine-point loss to Fresno State in the Mountain West title game followed by a first-round exit from the WNIT, however, isn’t enough to overshadow what the 2013-14 team did for the CSU women’s basketball program.
Senior forward Sam Martin and junior guard AJ Newton were both distraught in the postgame press conference following their 71-56 loss to Southern Utah on Thursday night. They kept beating themselves up, commenting on the fact that they should have won both games.
Their leader, head coach Ryun Williams, took the same spot a few minutes later with a completely different take on the whole situation.
“We have to look at what we just accomplished, and how this group breathed life back into Colorado State women’s basketball,” Williams said.
And he’s absolutely right.
What the Rams accomplished this season means more than a trophy when you look at the big picture. Just ask any proud parent who saves the red ribbon for a second place finish — winning doesn’t mean everything.
What does is beating the odds. The Rams were projected to finish seventh out of 11 teams in a preseason conference poll, which likely now has those voters feeling a bit silly after they were proven wrong when CSU entered the postseason with the top seed.
There’s no doubt that Williams is one hell of a coach. Just let his Mountain West Coach of the Year award speak for itself.
The Gillette, Wyo. native has made the best of the sticky situation he walked into — and then some. Williams took over a team that was essentially someone else’s mess and has been repairing the broken links, which has now transformed into a high-performing machine.
In previous years, the women’s basketball team had been almost irrelevant when it came to getting interest and support from the rest of campus. But that was before Williams started working his magic. The Rams tallied only 11 victories last season, some of which came from weak non-conference opponents.
Fast forward to today, as the Rams have recently put the finishing touches on their best season in over a decade.
CSU was the team that other Mountain West rivals feared playing. The Rams were the ones the rest of the conference remained chasing all season long, continuing their dominance through a 10-game winning streak that kept the rest in their rear-view mirror. Now you can find students wanting to know how the women’s basketball team did over the weekend, how big their winning streak had grown, if anybody would find a way to beat them.
That alone is more of a success than an impressive 25-8 record.
“They were a really good basketball team, really all season. We are proud of them for that,” Williams said. “What they’ve done for this program, and how they’ve helped turn this thing and start this momentum, this will always be a very, very, very special group.”
The best part? They’re just getting started.
Heading into 2014-2015, the Rams are losing only one of their consistent starters. Newton and Gritt Ryder will be back next year to fill Martin’s leadership role. And three more years of NCAA eligibility remain for the dynamic Swedish duo in Elin Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom.
Williams and his team have given many people a reason to care about CSU women’s basketball – myself included.
And that victory is second to none.
Collegian Sports Editor Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @QSickafoose.