Zahlmann: Key to a title for CSU women’s hoops is through leadership of the seniors

Luke Zahlmann

LAS VEGAS – A pair of talks, both midseason and leading up to postseason, lit a fire for the trio of Colorado State women’s players that are facing the end of their careers and staring down an elusive postseason title.

From the beginning of their 71-55 victory over Fresno State in the first round of the Mountain West Championships, the energy around the Rams was one that failed to present itself for much of the season. A maximum-effort style on both ends of the floor with constant cutting on offense and a healthy dose of defensive dominance led the way.

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Best evidenced in the turning point of the matchup, back-to-back blocks by redshirt freshman Grace Colaivalu, the Rams were hungry to correct the wrongs of their final weeks of the regular season. Coming into the tournament with a lone win in their final four games, the Rams utilized a week of practice to rejuvenate themselves and get back to previous years’ offensive ways.

“We had a good week of preparation,” coach Ryun Williams said. “The kids were really locked in to what we needed to get done… It’s the tournament, right, so you don’t want it to be your last game, so there’s always a little more purpose, energy.”

Experience among the seniors allowed a level of intra-squad leadership ever present during Williams’ tenure with CSU.

A one-and-done format places more emphasis on execution each game, as it could be the last for the team that falls. A game full of anomalies for the Rams, four separate players found their way over the decade mark in scoring, including two-thirds of the senior class in Hannah Tvrdy and Stine Austgulen.

The week leading up to the first game of the conference tournament featured a constant open dialogue by the seniors and a trust in each other to give every ounce of effort. The results of the sentiments shared was a senior group leading the way for a pair of star first-year players in Colaivalu and Lore Devos.

The mixture of experience and youth among the club brought an aspect not faced by many teams under Williams and created a new challenge, one that CSU exceeded in the first postseason game of the year.

“We didn’t want to end the way we did in conference,” Austgulen said. “We felt we were a better team than that so being able to come here and have another opportunity is good.”

A monumental aspect for the Rams in past years, the team has long relied on leadership from within. Following the lead of their fellow players, along with the lessons taught by Williams, has long been the reason for the Rams’ success.

“This whole past week, Stine and I have talked a lot together about what we want to do in this tournament,” Tvrdy said. “And what we want to do just to end our senior year. We kind of talked to the team about that too and like coach said, practice this whole week was focus, a lot of effort…We’re not ready to be done.”

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After a disappointing season compared to past years under Williams, the Rams found their voices in their three seniors at the end of the season. Following their tutelage is a catalyst for a run to place them in the NCAA Tournament.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.