Hannah Tvrdy’s journey from the bench to bright lights rooted in hard work

Christian Hedrick

From riding the bench as a member of the “blue squad,” to taking last-second shots with the game on the line, guard Hannah Tvrdy has developed into an invaluable piece for a Colorado State women’s basketball team approaching the conference championship.

Redshirt Senior Guard Hannah Tvrdy moves the ball up the court during the fourth quarter of play against the Colorado State Buffaloes on Dec. 6. The Rams fell in a hard fought battle 70-67 in Moby Arena. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

The CSU senior leads the Rams in a number of offensive categories. Unlike most leading scorers, though, when peers bring up her name, it’s not her jump shot or finishing touch that comes up first; it’s her unparalleled work ethic and competitive spirit.

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“She is our most fit and most fierce competitor,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said without a hint of hesitation in his voice.

“She proves that hard work pays off,” fellow guard Sofie Tryggedsson added. “Really, all she does is work hard and it pays off for her.”

Hard work wasn’t a choice for Tvrdy as a transfer from Nebraska, it was her only option to earn playing time. Along with fellow seniors Stine Austgulen and Veronika Mirkovic, Tvrdy spent much of her first year in green and gold as a member of the blue squad, otherwise known as the practice squad.

“Those three seniors, trust me, they sat plenty of minutes on that bench and that’s hard to do,” Williams said. “Once they got their chance, they’re making the most of it, so I have a ton of respect for that.”

Before breaking free from the blue squad, the Seward, Neb. native got her first taste of collegiate action at Nebraska. Tvrdy saw the floor 21 times off the bench for the Cornhuskers, a Big Ten tournament-winning team in her freshman season. Despite the success in her native state, Tvrdy made the quick switch to play for a familiar face across the border.

“I knew coach Williams a little bit from growing up in club ball and through previous coaches I knew him,” Tvrdy said. “So I sent my release to CSU, Wyoming and Drake and took a weekend visit to Wyoming and CSU.”

Down to two rival schools vying for her services, the choice for which side of the Border War she would compete for revealed itself upon visiting the CSU campus.

“I went to Wyoming first and wasn’t feeling it totally,” Tvrdy said. “Then I came to CSU and I didn’t have time to do a whole lot, but I met with the coaches and the team and right away I could tell all the girls were so genuine and all the coaches cared about the players and it felt like a family atmosphere right away.”

After spending no more than eight hours on the CSU campus, Tvrdy made her decision to drop the scarlet and cream for the green and gold. Because of NCAA transfer rules, though, Tvrdy sat out her sophomore season. Once eligible to play her redshirt sophomore year, the new Ram averaged nearly 16 minutes a night in a reserve role.

Hannah Tvrdy (10) rushes against San Jose State University on Dec. 30. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

“There was obstacles my first couple years – not really playing, that was frustrating, but I was sticking with it,” Tvrdy said.

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A reserve role may have defined a frustrating couple of years of collegiate action, but since stepping off the floor in the final game of the 2015-16 season, sticking with it has paid off for Tvrdy as she heard her name in the starting lineup in each of the 62 games since.

No one, not even former all-conference players Elin Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom, saw more minutes in conference play than Tvrdy last year and into this year.

“Playing her all those minutes has never really been a concern,” Williams said. “Because she is so fierce and competitive on every single possession, she doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and she’s just a player that as a coach, you know the more she’s on the floor, the better the team is going to be.”

For Tvrdy, focusing on little things like defense and effort was a key contributor to staying in a starting five that featured stars like Gustavsson and Nystrom. However, coming into her senior season without an all-conference scoring threat, Tvrdy took it upon herself to embrace an offensive role.

“(My) confidence really picked up halfway through the season,” Tvrdy said. “Being a senior I was like, ‘Okay, someone needs to step up,’ and my mindset has changed of not being scared to take shots, obviously not bad shots, but whenever I’m open and being aggressive and looking to score more.”

With a more offensive-minded approach, Tvrdy has the Rams believing that she can make every shot she takes.

“She’s just very consistent, very confident and she believes in herself and we all believe in her,” Tryggedsson said. “She works on her game harder than anybody else and when she takes it to the hoop we all believe it’s going to go in.”

Tvrdy solidified the Rams and the entire Mountain West as believers after draining a game-winning triple with less than a minute remaining in overtime against New Mexico. Tvrdy’s last-second dagger capped off a week in which she averaged over 20 points and nine rebounds per game, earning the senior her first ever Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors on Jan. 29.

The Nebraska native’s award-winning week did not just serve as a flash-in-the-pan. Through 28 games, Tvrdy is the only Ram to crack the 20-point threshold three times and her 11.3 points per game is nearly a full three points better than second-place Austgulen.

Seniors Hannah Tvrdy (middle), Stine Austgulen (left) and Veronika Mirkovic (right) pose together and embrace one another as family and friends gather around on Senior Day. (Joshua Contreras | Collegian)

Though Tvrdy admits sinking the game-winning shot over rival New Mexico ranks as one of her most memorable moments as a Ram, finishing the season as Mountain West Tournament champions would be hard to top. With one game remaining and a date set with Fresno State in the first round of the tournament, Tvrdy is poised to finish her final year strong.

“I’m just so ready for this tournament,” Tvrdy said. “I’m so ready to just kind of just show people what we can do.”

This won’t be Tvrdy’s first conference tournament, but it will be her first without the top seed. The Rams are embracing their role as the underdog this year and winning it all would be a suiting finish to Tvrdy’s career, a career in which Tvrdy began as an underdog riding the bench with the blue squad.

“We’re going to take that Philadelphia Eagles (underdog) role on,” Williams said. “We’re going to jump on that plane with dog masks on and embrace this underdog role. Let somebody else go in there with everybody saying all the pressure comments. We’re just going to go in there and do our thing.” 

Tvrdy and the Rams wrap up the regular season Tuesday night in New Mexico at 7 p.m. before taking on Fresno State on Tuesday, March 6 at 2:30 p.m. PT in Las Vegas in the first round of the Mountain West Championship.  

Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.