Surging CSU women back in the hunt for conference title

Christian Hedrick

Winners of five in a row, the Colorado State women’s basketball team is the hottest squad in the Mountain West. Everyone around the conference has taken note of the Rams’ sudden surge except, of course, those donning the green and gold.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even know we had a win streak,” senior guard Stine Austgulen said.

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“My friend asked me last night what our record was and I literally didn’t know,” senior guard Hannah Tvrdy said. “I know we’ve lost four games, but I don’t keep track like, ‘Oh, we’ve won five.’”

Brady dribbles
Junior Annie Brady attempts to get to the net while being defended by San Diego. (Julia Bailey | Collegian)

CSU’s seniors may not realize it, but a five game win streak has turned the prospect of a fifth consecutive MW title from a pipe dream into a reality.

Coming into the season boasting one of the nation’s youngest rosters and without the help of perennial all-conference stars Elin Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom, the Rams weren’t expected to make much noise in the Mountain West.

Despite winning four consecutive regular season league titles, league coaches and select media picked the young Rams to finish third in the preseason. A third place finish would have been ideal following the Rams’ 4-4 start to the conference slate, but now CSU can set its eyes on a much larger prize.

What exactly is different about these Rams versus the team that lagged out of the gates?

“I think the effort,” Tvrdy said. “These past five games, especially, there’s been a few games where our intensity and effort has been different than it has before. That doesn’t show up in a box score, but it’s something that’s noticeable.”

Effort may not be a stat that shows up in the box score, but its ramifications have certainly bolstered the box score and Tvrdy’s stat line. Since being shutout offensively at UNLV on Jan. 20, Tvrdy has averaged over 19 points and eight rebounds in the five games since. That offensive output led the Rams to five wins and the Seward, Neb. native’s first Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors.

While Tvrdy’s torrid pace has put the league on notice, she can’t lead the Rams to another title by herself. Fortunately for Tvrdy and CSU, many of the younger Rams have stepped up in the latter half of the season with valuable experience under their belt.

“I feel like the young kids are growing into their roles more and we need that,” Austgulen said. “We need everyone to score and play defense for us to win, so I think that’s been a huge part of it.”

In their most recent outing versus Air Force, freshmen played key roles in downing the Falcons. Only Sofie Tryggedsson saw the floor more than freshmen Lore Devos and Jordyn Edwards. CSU head coach Ryun Williams is as demanding as any on defense and wouldn’t have allowed as many minutes to such inexperienced players if they weren’t pulling their weight on both ends of the court.

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Of course, defense has been a point of emphasis all year for CSU, but it’s been as determined as ever during the Rams’ recent run.

“Defensively, we’ve been good all year,” Austgulen said. “Last night and in the last few games, we’ve been really aware of who’s on the court. We call it paint, like being in the very deep gaps helps a lot.”

The Rams’ hard-nosed defending has paid dividends in the win column, but it has come with some bumps and bruises as the schedule stacks up. Through 13 league games, only Fresno State has seen the floor as many times as CSU this season.

“We haven’t had a bye week yet,” Williams said following Wednesday’s win over Air Force. “We need a bye week. You can tell our kids are getting a little tired. We’ve been a little wounded. We’re kind of just taped together here. We just need to heal up and get healthy for this final stretch.”

The Rams will receive that much-needed bye week after Saturday’s game in San Jose. With fresh legs, CSU could have a shot at another conference title, but they need some help from UNLV before they can sharpen their net-cutting scissors.

The Rams and Rebels are tied at nine wins, but with two games in hand, UNLV controls its own destiny. If the Rebels win out, they are conference champions for the first time in program history.

The Rebels do not have an easy schedule ahead and if the Rams keep rolling, there’s no reason to believe CSU can’t slide into that familiar first-place spot, whether or not they realize their winning ways. 

The Rams will look to make it six in a row in San Jose at 3 p.m. MT on Saturday afternoon.

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