The Casper College women’s basketball team took care of business in January, winning its first seven Region IX North sub-region games, six of which were on the road.
The 13th-ranked Thunderbirds (28-2) carried that momentum into February as they went 7-0 to complete an unblemished conference season. As a result, the T-Birds earned the right to host this year’s Region IX Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins Thursday at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.
“It is definitely nice to have the tournament here,” Casper College head coach Dwight Gunnare said. “We don’t have to worry about travel, we can stick with our routine and we can all sleep in our own beds.”
Casper College brings an 18-game winning streak into Thursday’s quarterfinal game against Lamar Community College, which beat Northeastern Junior College last week in a first-round game. The T-Birds, on the other hand, haven’t played since a 95-55 victory over Gillette College back on Feb. 24.
“There is some concern with the layoff,” Gunnare said. “I have spent a lot of time watching film the past couple of weeks, but I would love to be watching film for a few more weeks.”
Three more victories at The Swede and that will become a reality. Casper College is 15-1 at home this season, with its only loss a 59-51 setback to Snow College on Nov. 24.
The T-Birds defeated Lamar 77-45 early in the season, but Gunnare isn’t taking much from that game.
“Lamar was without two starters so we can’t really look at that,” he said. “I know they’re a very perimeter-oriented team with some great 3-point shooters, and that includes their post players. Our posts are going to have to defend on the perimeter.”
Thankfully for the T-Birds, they have the option of throwing three different post defenders at the Runnin’ Lopes in 6-foot-2 sophomore Emily Robertson (Natrona County) and 6-0 freshmen Nerea Baena and Mya Jones.
It’s a versatility that permeates the T-Birds’ lineup. Casper College has nine players averaging between 4.9 and 12.0 points per game and 12 averaging double-digit minutes.
Freshman Lucie Hoskova leads the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game, followed by Robertson at 10.4 and sophomore Paula Orenes Sanchez at 10.3. The T-Birds also have received timely contributions from sophomores Ashlie Larson, Natalia Panufnik, Bruna Vila Artigues, Rose Altunbulak and Caroline Rivera and freshmen Jaye Johnson (Natrona County) and Maggie Justinak (Rock Springs). In other words, it’s been a total team effort this season.
“I like that we have a lot of options offensively,” Gunnare said. “And we have enough different-type of players that we can adjust to situations.”
If the T-Birds win, they would face the winner between Miles Community College and Eastern Wyoming College, teams Casper College is a combined 4-0 against this season. The T-Birds are seeking their first trip to the NJCAA Division I Championships since 2011.