More resolve than ever
Gunnare's young Thunderbirds pin hopes on young front line, improved perimeter
Over the past three seasons Casper College has averaged 25 wins per year in women’s basketball.
That is a lofty benchmark considering all the parity in junior college basketball and considering an always-tough nonconference schedule. To win 20-plus games is cause for celebration in most programs. It is in Casper, too. Still there is an undercurrent of urgency on this year’s team. To the player, these T-Birds want to be a part of the next run, part of the next white banner hanging from the rafters.
Region IX championships have always been tough to come by. Region IX is one of the few regions left that require a team to win four games in four nights to advance to the national tournament (most regions have gone to a Final Eight instead of a 16-team bracket). Today, nearly every team in the region can beat you on a given night.
“The parity is unbelievable,” Coach Dwight Gunnare acknowledges. “It used to be that a 1-2 seed could pretty much count on the semi-finals of the regional tournament. Now there is no guarantee that any team will get past the second round.”
Gunnare says there are a couple of factors that have elevated women’s programs: more and better players and more and better commitment on the part of colleges.
With that set of challenges as the backdrop, Gunnare and this year’s T-Bird flock are determined to fight their way back to Kansas and the national tournament. Gunnare thinks he has the right pieces in camp.
“We have a great blend of sophomores and incoming freshmen,” he says. “We have good position depth, four deep at every position except at the post, and that’s what it takes to be competitive in this region. The question mark will be how quickly our posts develop. At first blush they are off to a great start.”
Great teams need great leaders. Gunnare’s sophomores include Kassidy Scott, who earned post-season honors last year after finishing second on the team in points and rebounds. Scott has been “tremendous” in preseason, according to her coach, talking, leading and motivating. Her toughness is something her coach hopes will rub off on the younger players.
Returnees Sikayla Davenport, Cierra Levias and Lindsay Porter have all improved over a year ago, and along with Nika Zyryanova, they give Gunnare plenty of options at the guard positions. Zyryanova is coming off a hardship season following a knee injury last year. Shanda Post is also expected to defend and score from the two guard spot.
Elissa Johnson is the other returnee. If she can stay healthy, she gives Gunnare that slasher who can run the floor.
The key for this year’s team, according to Gunnare, will be to score the ball. The T-Birds lost All American Kendyl Nunn to transfer (Illinois State). Nunn was the leading scorer on a team that last year struggled to put points on the scoreboard.
Gunnare hopes some of his newcomers can help fill that scoring void.
Gabby Johnson, who helped lead Casper Natrona to a state championship a year ago, will join forces with 6-3 Grace Weeks (Rapid City, S.D.) to anchor the middle. Josie Sewell (Glenrock, Wyoming) will also be a force inside. Jordan Smith, is an international player with size. Johnson has the ability to slide outside. That inside strength will hopefully result in some rebounds and result in second chance points and better looks off the break.
Ada Yalcin (Turkey) and Alysa Big Man (Crow Agency, Montana) give Gunnare great depth on the perimeter.
The road is long and the regional tournament a four-night challenge. But these T-Birds like their chances.
“We should be able to increase the tempo a bit this year,” Gunnare says. Hopefully, he adds, that will mean more scoring.
One thing is for certain – this team will be entertaining for the fans. That usually translates into good things come March
BASKETBALL TICKET PRICES
Single Game Adult: 18 and Over $6
Single Game Seniors: 60 & Over $4
Single Game Students: 6 – 17 $3
Single Game Children: Under 6 Free
Single Game CC Students/Staff w/current ID: Free
Season Pass Reserved: $90
Season Pass General Admission: $70