Last Wednesday night there were tears shed on the floor of Moby Arena. Senior forward, and team anchor, Sam Martin clutched to teammates as tears fell down her face onto the hardwood. But for the first time in a long time, they were the result of joy instead of sadness. The Rams had just overcome a nine point deficit in the second half to run the UNLV Rebels out of the gym to the tune of a 20-point blowout. Not only was it an emotional comeback after a road loss to rival Wyoming, it clinched a share of the Mountain West regular season title.
After the Lady Rams celebrated the victory, they watched the closing minutes of the Boise State-Fresno State game to find out if they would need another victory to win the Mountain West outright. When the Bulldogs defeated Boise, the Rams officially clinched the Mountain West title.
A team that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason polls had completed a stunning one-year turnaround filled with record breaking performances en route to their first title in twelve years. The numerous records they set read much better in list form...
- Most three pointers in a game (19)
- First triple-double in Colorado State history (Ellen Nystrom)
- Largest margin of victory since 2001 (60 points vs Air Force)
- Second fewest points allowed (28 vs. Air Force)
- First victory at The Pit in 16 years
- First season with two 100-point games since 2001
- Most Mountain West victories ever (14 and counting)
- Third most free throws made (34)
- Three players with double-doubles in one game in 35 years
- Second-most assists in CSU history (14, Gritt Ryder)
- Fourth longest home winning streak (12 and counting)
... I think you get the point. All of these accolades are even more astounding when you think of where this team was just a year ago. After a disappointing tenure under Coach Kristen Holt, Ryun Williams and an all-star cast of former head coaches were brought in to restore the Rams to their former glory days.
As is typical during a coach's first year, the Rams struggled to adapt to a new coaching staff. Their struggles offensively were matched on the defensive end as they frequently lost games by double digits. But Coach Williams knew the talent was there, the Rams just needed to add some pieces; and that he did.
It's hard to say the Rams are 'led' by someone, because every player in the starting lineup plays a pivotal role on both sides of the floor. So let's just look at the starting lineup and a couple key bench players.
Sam Martin (Senior, Forward)
One of the holdovers from the Kristen Holt era, Martin is one of the most versatile players on the roster. She is the glue in the middle of the Rams 2-3 zone and pivotal on the glass. But her offensive game is what makes her so dynamic. She has a myriad of post moves at her disposal, but can also step out with an effective mid-range jumper and is a threat from the arc. She leads the team in scoring with 11.7 points a game while shooting 50% and has only missed two of 39 free throws on the season.
Elin Gustavsson (Freshman, Forward)
The tallest of a trio of Swedes, Elin Gustavsson is your typical Euro-style big. She shoots well, passes well, and runs the floor well despite her 6' 3" frame. Just like Martin, she has an adept mid-range game and should always be accounted for behind the arc. But what really makes her dangerous is her ability to catch and shoot. When she catches the ball, opponents better close out because it comes out quickly, and she makes it 47% of the time.
Ellen Nystrom (Freshman, Guard)
If Sam Martin and Elin Gustavsson are double-double machines, Ellen Nystrom could almost be considered a triple-double one. She only has one to her name, but it seems every night she is within two or three assists/rebounds of another. Another Swede, Nystrom is a matchup nightmare for other teams. Her ability to get to the rim is only eclipsed by her smooth release. She can score from just about anywhere on the floor with any number of defenders on her. And yet she is able to pass the ball like a guard and rebounds like a forward. Chances are, in her next three years as a Ram, we will see some more triple-doubles from her.
AJ Newton (Junior, Guard)
Newton, a former San Jose State Spartan, is one of the most enjoyable players to watch. At just 5' 3", she is by far the shortest player on the court, but she packs a punch. She's second on the team in scoring and 3-point field goal percentage, and always seems to make the big threes when needed. And despite her stature, she still somehow manages to get to the basket. She is the Rams leading scorer in conference play, and has broken 20 points on four occasions.
Gritt Ryder (Junior, Guard)
If you had to pick one leader on the floor, it would be Ryder. Originally from Denmark, Ryder played under assistant coach Tim Moser at Alaska-Anchorage before transferring to Western Nebraska and then Colorado State. She is the consummate point guard. She controls the flow of the game and is a master at getting her teammates open looks. She does not take a tremendous amount of shots, but she seems to always take them at the right time. Ryder truly is the definition of a floor general.
Caitlin Duffy (Sophomore, Guard)
On a team with so many multi-faceted player, Caitlin Duffy is asked to do one thing, score. She does that quite well. She is third on the team in scoring and leads the team behind the arc, making 41% of her threes. That number is also third best in the Mountain West. Another holdover from the Holt era, Duffy has thrived as the 'sixth women' and should be a shoo-in for the conference award.
With two games left in the regular season, the Rams should have plenty of time to rest up before the conference tournament. Unfortunately with the state of Mountain West women's basketball, they will likely need to win the tourney to clinch an NCAA berth. As long as the Rams can prevent teams from torching them from behind the arc, they should continue their dominance and earn their first NCAA bid since 2002.
PPG 15. Sam Martin (11.7) 18. AJ Newton (11.4)
RPG 10. Ellen Nystrom (6.3)
FG% 3. Sam Martin (50.6) 7. Elin Gustavsson (46.9) 12. Ellen Nystrom (45.5)
APG 3. Gritt Ryder (4.6) 8. Ellen Nystrom (3.6) 10. AJ Newton (3.5)
3pt% 3. Caitlin Duffy (41.3) 6. AJ Newton (39.7) 10. Gritt Ryder (36.5)
BPG 2. Sam Martin (1.5)
Assist/Turnover Ratio 3. Gritt Ryder (2.0) 4. AJ Newton (1.9) 6. Ellen Nystrom (1.7)
*All rankings in MW