Zahlmann: Season defined by untapped ceiling for CSU women’s basketball

Luke Zahlmann

Colorado State women’s basketball never truly reached a lowered ceiling due to the loss of two stars to graduation as they scrapped their way into the conference tournament.

From the first game of the year, coach Ryun Williams played cat and mouse with the true potential of his team, swapping lineups and affording multiple players the chance to step foot on the floor in meaningful minutes. The shuffling left the Rams without a cement starting lineup, but one that could play to the given matchups.

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the team huddles during a timeout
Head coach Ryun Williams rallies the team during a timeout in the last quarter of the Border War at Moby Arena on Jan. 13. The Rams fell to the Cowgirls 53-49. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

In women’s basketball, the Mountain West Conference was a virtual dog fight from the first whistle of the schedule, placing several teams over .500 in the standings. The Rams weathered the storm through their leader, senior Hannah Tvrdy, but the final product left them middling in the standings.

The lone remaining stalwart from last year’s team, Tvrdy made her presence felt this season with averages of 11.6 points and 6.4 boards per game as a guard, with the two figures both being team-highs. Tvrdy also shouldered the load during many of the Rams’ winning streaks, allowing those around her to mesh with her driving mentality.

The offensive game plan equated to an explosive, yet inconsistent force that hit lulls several times during the season. With several games totaling under 50 points, the Rams were often times held back by the unit that carried them so far in previous years. With Tvrdy being the only Ram to average double-digit points, most nights were feast or famine in the scoring department.

Starring in past years, sharpshooters Stine Austgulen and Sofie Tryggedsson broke even in a rollercoaster season.
In one of the truly masterful performances from outside this season, Austgulen finished the year having hit nearly half of her attempts from deep. The dominance came in the middle of a slow start and identical finish.

A reversal of course, Tryggedsson started her year hot, failing to continue her lofty standards as the year wore on. A reliable force gave way to a down year as she only mustered a .286 mark from outside, dropping her scoring average to under a half-dozen per game (5.8).

The inconsistency between the two left the Rams clawing their way back from deficits in many of their conference games on the year.

The other end of the floor was not only a different story, but a whole different world as the Rams stood as a dominating force on defense. Sitting pretty at No. 5 in the nation in opponent field-goal percentage, Williams made a point of defensive prowess from the first practice. The Rams also ranked second in the conference in opposing points per game.

A trend passed on to each recruit under his tutelage, Williams preaches defense from the start. The lessons rubbed off through graduating classes as the sixth season of his tenure may have been his best yet in game planning for opposing scorers.   

Without the lockdown defense the Rams possessed on most nights, their end-of-season results would have painted a much different picture, likely placing them under the .500 mark.

A catalyst for the juxtaposition in success of the two units was the lack of diversity of the Rams’ offense. On a team full of snipers from outside the arch and driving guards, the offensive cold streaks snowballed into full-fledged blizzards.

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Often out-sized down low, the Rams became dependent on the outside shot in several contests, with the majority sinking their chances of winning. Averaging in the 50s for much of the season, the Rams concluded the year with a per-game scoring average of 61.5, a far cry from the 80.5 per game put up by the University of New Mexico. Though the Lobos played the most games in the conference, the Rams still averaged nearly two dozen points less.

The Lobos serve as a true indicator of the prowess of the Rams defense as the latter finished behind CSU in the standings, despite their wide lead in scoring. This also reveals how much room the Rams had between the results and their ceiling.

Though a winning season can never be taken for granted, the loss of their stars appeared to have made its impact felt on the young squad. The lack of experience reared its head in the form of inconsistency.

If Williams can find the formula for mixing a dynamic offense with the pre-existing excellence in defense, the Rams’ tournament chances will grow.

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