Women’s basketball preview: Nystrom, Wharry take on point-guard roles

Sam Lounsberry

Making up for the loss of four key players from last year’s regular season Mountain West Championship team is Colorado State head coach Ryun Williams’ current challenge.
The CSU women’s basketball coach lost two of the greater players in program history with the graduation of point guards Gritt Ryder and A.J. Newton, as well as a knock-down three-point shooter in Hanne Mestdagh and a lock-down defender in Victoria Wells.
Ryder led the team in minutes per game (34.8), assists (10.7 per game), assists (five per game) and steals while also serving as the primary ball-handler.
Though she missed 11 games with a knee injury, Newton played nearly as pivotal a role, averaging the second-most points per game at 9.8 while coming in third in minutes per game. Newton also shared point-guard responsibilities with Ryder, but Williams feels that the team still has enough tools to ensure that on-court decision-making will remain solid.
“We are still figuring out how we want to play and what this team will evolve into,” Williams said after practice Monday. “We do have some kids that can run, that can push and are fast with the ball. I think we’ve got some depth, so I think we can play fairly fast. But they have to show me they can play under control and value the basketball at the same time, so that’s all stuff we’re trying to figure out and learn.”
After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, redshirt sophomore Hannah Tvrdy, a transfer from Nebraska, will likely help close the gap left by Ryder and Newton with her ball-handling ability.
“Tvrdy is going to make sure we play her,” Williams said. “That kid works really, really hard. I think she can help us.”
Senior Keyora Wharry will also share some point-guard duties, though she is best known for her scoring ability. Coming into CSU as a junior out of Fresno City College last season, Wharry immediately proved to be one of the jewels of the MW with her speed, athleticism and signature spin move in the league. But Wharry struggled finishing shots, shooting 41.5 percent from the field while only attempting five three-pointers on the year to average six points per contest.
She wants that to change, though.
“This entire summer, I just laid it all out,” Wharry said. “I wanted to get better at everything. I started with my three-point shot, because to get in (the lane), you have to at least develop a little bit of a shot. And then working with Coach A. and Coach (Tim) Moser over the summer about getting in better and having better control and finishing better.”
Williams expects Wharry’s offensive polishing to pay off.
“Getting the shots isn’t the problem,” Williams said. “She put in a lot of time. I expect those things to go in this year.”
Perhaps the biggest key for CSU this season is the further development of junior Ellen Nystrom, who posted the first triple-double in program history as a freshman two years ago and has continued rising since.
Nystrom began her journey toward becoming an even more all-around player with a monster stat line in last season’s Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal with 13 points and a tournament record 20 rebounds as a sophomore. After serving as a point guard on the Swedish national team over the summer, Nystrom will likely fill more of a ball-handling role for CSU this season, in addition to trying to meet Williams’ expectation that she will increase her scoring.
“It’s no secret, Ellen has to have a good year for us to reach our potential,” Williams said. “Kids like Ellen, and Elin (Gustavsson), it’s kind of their turn to lead us in a lot of categories. Ellen will have more responsibility, and she’s ready for it. She’s looked good in practice. She’s looked more comfortable with the basketball, she has to get more comfortable in a scoring role. That will take some time, but she has the tools to do it.”
Williams sees no limit to where Nystrom can do her damage as his team pursues a third-straight conference title.
“Ellen should be everywhere,” he said. “She can really score from everywhere on the floor. She can shoot the three, she can play inside, she’s a great driver, she’s great in transition. So just recognizing when to do it is something she still needs to grow into.”
Minutes are not guaraunteed for anyone yet, though, including Nystrom. The arrival of four true freshmen – Amanda Klantzy, Kincso Kelemen, Callie Kaiser and Sofie Tryggedsson – has amped up the fight for playing time in practice.
“Everybody wants to play, everybody wants to show they should earn a spot,” Nystrom said. “Even the older players feel like, (the freshmen) come in with such energy and competitiveness, we have to keep competing too. It’s good for everybody. They’re going to be good for the team.”
CSU kicks off play at Moby Arena with an exhibition game against South Carolina-Aiken. The Rams’ season officially starts Nov. 13 against Division II Western State at Moby Arena.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.