Seniors stepping up down the stretch for CSU women’s hoops

Christian Hedrick

As the clock winds down on the regular season and their collegiate careers, the trio of seniors on Colorado State women’s basketball are stepping up their game for their finale.

“You’ve just seen an aggressiveness, a little more fight mentality in those kids, urgency,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said. “They want to make the most of what little time they have left here.”

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teammates yell and high five in celebration
Teammates celebrate Hannah Tvrdy’s game-winning 3-point shot during the State Pride game against the University of New Mexico on Saturday, Jan. 27. The Rams beat the Lobos 74-71 in overtime. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Throughout the season, seniors Stine Austgulen, Hannah Tvrdy and Veronika Mirkovic have provided priceless leadership to this young Rams’ team. But since the Jan. 24 game versus San Diego State, their leadership has transferred from the intangibles into the box score.

“Before the San Diego game we all just had a talk, us three, and were like, ‘We only have so many games left, so let’s just go out and do our thing,’’’ Mirkovic said. “I think that kind of translated into the rest of the team.”

Since that meeting of the veteran minds, the Rams are the hottest team in the Mountain West with three straight wins, while lighting up the scoreboard for over 200 points. The senior trio is stealing the show.

Against SDSU, Mirkovic posted a career-high 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, only to be outdone by Tvrdy’s 28-point, 10-rebound double-double. Austgulen rounded out the Rams’ double-digit scoring with 10 points in CSU’s 29-point thrashing of the Aztecs.

Before the senior slugfest could be written off as a flash-in-the-pan against a weak defense, Mirkovic shattered the high-watermark she set versus SDSU with her first ever 15-point, 10-board double-double against New Mexico. Though a career night for Mirkovic, Tvrdy stole the show with a 10-point second half, highlighted by a game winning 3-pointer in overtime.

After the game, Tvrdy said she and the team had taken on a more aggressive, confident mindset. That new mindset earned her Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors, a remarkable achievement considering the redshirt senior was shutout offensively at UNLV exactly one week prior to the nomination.

Away from the friendly confines of Moby Arena, Tvrdy turned her torrid pace into a trilogy with a 25-point outing at rival Wyoming. While Tvrdy handled the scoring, Austgulen and Mirkovic led a relentless effort off the glass, keeping the Cowgirls out of contention down the stretch.

Boasting one of the youngest lineups in the nation, the senior surge is paying dividends throughout the roster.

“It’s huge for those seniors and it’s huge for those other kids to watch those kids kind of lead by example and play good basketball,” Williams said.

The CSU seniors are not just playing good basketball. For Tvrdy, it’s the best stretch of ball in her career.

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Veronica Mirkovic goes up for a shot against Wyoming during the Border War game at Moby Arena on Jan. 13 (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

“I definitely feel like it is (the best basketball of my career),” Tvrdy said. “The confidence I have now, I haven’t had probably in a long time, maybe since high school. I think it’s just a whole other level I’ve found.”

Though Tvrdy’s confidence is a key contributor to her career run, Williams sees Tvrdy day-in and day-out in practice and views the hot streak as a number of factors coming together at the correct time.

“I think it’s a couple things,” Williams said. “She works extremely hard on improving her game. Second of all, she knows her time is coming to an end. She’s going to make the most of her minutes on the floor and I think she knows she’s a senior and she’s learning to accept the role of more responsibility.”  

Tvrdy and the seniors’ red-hot run is not unprecedented. Throughout his career, Williams has seen seniors step up as their final season winds down and this year is no different.

“I think their experience here has been so good, it’s so fun, Moby’s so fun,” Williams said. “Competing is so fun. And they want to go out playing well. They have a lot of respect for our program and they want to go out on a good note.”

The CSU seniors will be in action seven more times, beginning with Nevada at 3 p.m. MT on Saturday.

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