Without a standout player in the lineup for the first time in years, the Colorado State women’s basketball team will rely on a balanced scoring attack heading into the 2017-18 season.
From Gritt Ryder to Ellen Nystrom, the Rams have taken home the last three Mountain West Player of the Year honors. Without the help of Ryder, Nystrom or their all-conference teammate Elin Gustavsson, CSU will need to work hard as a team to be productive on offense and compete for a fifth consecutive Mountain West title.
“Do we have a player of the year? No. Do we have a freshman of the year? No. Do we have a newcomer of the year? No,” Head coach Ryun Williams said. “So who do we want to be? We better be tough. We better compete. We better do this together and so that has to be our approach.”
Although entering the season without a former player of the year is something new for this program in recent years, it’s not unique for Williams and his staff. Now in his sixth season as head coach of the women’s basketball team, Williams has had success using a balanced scoring attack in the past and believes it can work with this group too.
“In our second year here, we had four kids that were voted on the second-team All-Conference team and we were really hard to beat,” Williams said. “I think our leading scorer was like 10.1 points a game, so I see us being like that – very balanced. On different nights it’s going to be different kids.”
To see what a successful balance on offense looks like, Williams suggests tuning in to watch the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The Rams are nowhere close to the Warriors’ ability, but their balanced scoring attack and the freedom with which they orchestrate it is something CSU is trying to emulate.
“We are the farthest thing from the Warriors, but when you watch the Warriors play, they’re all shooting it. The ball is moving,” Williams said. “I know they’re all stars, but there’s no thought in their mind like, ‘Is this a good shot, or is this a bad shot.’ There’s just a freedom to it. The ball doesn’t stick to anybody’s hands and I think that’s what we need to evolve into.”
Although a more balanced scoring front is a departure from the offensive identity that guided the Rams to their most recent Mountain West titles, redshirt senior Hannah Tvrdy thinks this new-look offense will be even harder for the opposition to defend.
“We’re not needing one person to do it (score) and I think that’s better for us honestly because one team can’t just take away our one player,” Tvrdy said. “We have all of us. If they take away one person, we have someone else who can step up.”
Tvrdy and the Rams got a chance to show off their balanced offense for the first time in an exhibition game last Wednesday against UCCS at Moby Arena. The Rams’ starters found themselves in a 23-15 hole after the first quarter, but production throughout the lineup eventually lifted CSU to a convincing 78-60 win. Williams said he was pleased with the team’s overall performance in the exhibition, but the highlight of the night for him was watching the freshmen flourish.
“Man, that group just went out there and played,” Williams said. “They weren’t intimidated by anything that was on the scoreboard. They just went and played. That was cool to see.”
Freshman Lena Svanholm set the pace for Rams with a team-high 14 points, followed by ten points from Lore Devos in her first action as a Ram. Newcomers may have stolen the show in the exhibition, but a 10-point, 12-rebound outing from CSU’s most experienced returner, Tvrdy, balanced out the debut performance.
If not for last Wednesday’s game being an exhibition, Tvrdy’s 10 rebounds would have broken her personal record for most boards in a single game. Even though her numbers in the exhibition won’t count, production off the glass may be a trend for Tvrdy this season, as the Rams try to fill the void from the departure of Nystrom and Gustavsson.
“I think a big part that we lost last year was rebounding with Ellen (Nystrom) and Elin (Gustavsson),” Tvrdy said. “(Williams is) really encouraging us guards to go in and get those rebounds and that’s something I love to do.”
Beyond her consistency on both ends of the court, Tvrdy’s relentless competitiveness gives the Rams, who are the 18th youngest team in the nation, a blueprint for how to compete at the collegiate level.
“If you’re a young player on our team and you want to understand how hard it is to play in a college basketball game, you just have to watch one-zero,” Williams said. “Just watch that kid ’cause that kid will show just how to compete at this level.”
Along with learning plenty of new faces and a more balanced offense, being the underdog will be another adjustment for Tvrdy as she heads into her final season as a Ram.
“We’re not so much the upper-dog anymore, we’re kind of the underdog with a lot of teams,” Tvrdy said. “It’s kind of a different role that we haven’t really had in past years, but I think it will be cool to see how we respond to that.”
Despite four consecutive conference titles, the Rams may find themselves in the underdog role for the season opener against Idaho.
“It’s a really tough opener. I think it’s probably the toughest opener we’ve had in our time here to be honest with you,” Williams said.
Williams said Idaho’s prolific numbers from beyond the arc, coupled with their ability to score on the floor make them a tough matchup for the Rams. Winning the home opener would be a positive start to the year, but Williams is more concerned with how his team competes through the early stages of the season.
“I want to see if these kids got that fire in their belly,” Williams said. “Regardless of who walks in here, regardless of what’s on their resume, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to fight you and that’s what I want to see.”
The Rams tip off the 2017-2018 season from Moby arena at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.