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CASPER COLLEGE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Casper College women's basketball team hosts Pizza Hut Classic this weekend

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Casper College Women's Basketball

Casper College's Joseana Vaz drives to the basket in the T-Birds' game against Central Wyoming College last season at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.

Success, especially in recent years, has come at a price for the Casper College women’s basketball team. After spending the opening two weeks on the road, the 15th-ranked Thunderbirds (3-1) finally play their home opener Thursday when they host Northeastern Junior College in the Pizza Hut Classic.

The T-Birds’ busy weekend also includes games against Snow College on Friday and the Wyoming All-Stars — a team comprised primarily of former Casper College players — on Saturday.

The following week the T-Birds host Western Nebraska Community College and Lake Region State College in the Thanksgiving Classic. After that, though, the T-Birds spend the month of December on the road.

“Scheduling has really been a challenge this year,” Casper College head coach Dwight Gunnare said. “I don’t know if the last few years have anything to do with it, but teams just don’t want to come here and play us. We’ve had to go a long ways to get a schedule.”

It’s understandable that teams aren’t banging down the door to face Casper College at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. Since the 2017-18 season the T-Birds are 112-16 overall and 58-3 at The Swede.

They’re looking to boost those percentages this season behind returning sophomores Joseana Vaz, Kate Robertson, Belen Morales Lopez and Rosalinda Gonzalez and a talented group of freshmen.

“The freshmen are fitting in right in,” Gunnare said. “The sophomores have done a really good job of getting them acclimated to our system.”

Vaz averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds for last year’s team that won its first 22 games before losing to Otero Junior College in the Region IX championship game and Three Rivers College in the first round of the NJCAA Division I Championships. The 6-foot wing is averaging a team-best 15.0 points per game heading into the weekend.

The 6-0 Robertson (Natrona County) averages 12.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while Gonzalez (8.0) and Morales Lopez (5.0) average a combined 13.0 ppg.

Freshmen Sandra Frau and Julia Paloma average 8.5 points apiece, with Joslin Igo (Douglas) pitching in 7.5 ppg and Dejaan Schuler 7.0.

“We’ve got three freshmen who can play the point guard position in Sandra, Julia and Joslin, so that’s a luxury,” Gunnare stated. “And we’ve got a post player from Austria (Flora Goed), who is a legitimate 6-2 and Celina Arnlund from Sweden is a nice 3-4 combo.”

Frau leads the team with 4.0 assists per game, but was injured in the T-Birds’ loss to College of Southern Idaho two weeks ago, and her status for this weekend is questionable.

“If we get Sandra back our transition game is as good as we’ve had in a long time,” Gunnare said. “We don’t shoot the ball from 3 as well as we did the last couple of years, but I think if we get her back we have a chance to be solid and have a good season.”

With Gunnare at the helm, chances are always good the T-Birds will be solid. Now in his 14th year leading the program, Gunnare has compiled a record of 343-84 (80.3%) and guided Casper College to four Region IX championships and five berths in the NJCAA Championships.

And after the pandemic wreaked havoc with the 2020-21 season — the T-Birds didn’t play their first game until Jan. 22 — Gunnare is more than happy to return to a normal schedule.

“Last year the preseason was so long and it was such a grind for these kids,” he said. “So it’s nice to have a sense of normalcy again.”

Even if it means spending December playing in tournaments in Texas and Nevada.

“I think we only have 9-10 home games all year so that’s going to be brutal,” Gunnare said, before smiling. “But at least we’re playing.”

Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN

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Sports editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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