Times Staff Writer
Western Women’s Basketball — A team buying into what a coach is preaching can be the difference between producing a successful season and posting a losing record.
The Western Colorado University women’s basketball team can relate after finishing the season with a 16-11 overall record — significantly better than last season, in which they finished 9-19. That was despite an injury-plagued season that left multiple key players on the sidelines.
“It really falls on our student-athletes,” said head coach Lora Westling. “They bought in. Everything we have asked them to do, they have done their best to follow through with and embrace.”
From early on in the 2018-19 campaign, it was clear that Western was destined for something special.
At the Colorado Mesa University Holiday INN-Airport Thanksgiving Classic, Western went 2-0 before suffering their first loss of the season against Mesa, ranked No. 1 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC).
Western responded against Colorado School of Mines, defeating the Orediggers 64-36 before suffering their second loss in seven days to University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS).
After losing 65-59 to UCCS, Western finished out 2018 on a positive note.
Western went on a four-game winning streak — each win coming by 14 points or more — and ended the month of December with a 5-2 record.
Going into winter break, Western held a 7-2 record — which was an improvement from last season, in which they were 5-8.
Western continued to dominate after the break — winning five of six games. However, they suffered a setback against Colorado State University-Pueblo.
With 6:41 left to play, starter Katie Dalton suffered a left leg injury that ended her season. Still, Western went on to win that game 71-62.
Dalton was a key piece to Western’s offense, averaging 10.4 points per game, and led the team in blocks with 11 — which was still the most at the season’s end.
“You never know how this team would have done if we didn’t have injuries,” said Westling. “They certainly were impactful injuries, but on the flip side I thought our players stepped up and did the best they could with picking up the slack and continuing to push us to postseason play. It would have been nice to have (injured players), but I'm extremely proud of the players that were on the floor.”
The month of January ended on a sour note for Western. They lost the final two games of the month — and another starter, Taytem Coleman.
Additionally, Western also lost Katie Najver in a prior game against Fort Lewis and Jomekia Morine — a transfer from University of Montevallo — four games into the season.
While Western did everything they could to pick up the slack, the month of February proved rough.
Western went 4-4 and suffered their first road loss of the season against Dixie State University — ending their 10-game streak of road wins.
Despite struggles at the end of the season, the Mountaineers did just enough to make it to the RMAC tournament — something that hadn’t happened for Western women since the 2011-12 season.
“The competitive side of me says that we left some things unsettled,” said Westling. “But I think if you ask me a few weeks from now, we’ll be very excited about continuing to move the program forward.”
While Western made the RMAC tournament, they lost to Westminster College 59-45.
“Competitively, our goal since we’ve been here is to be on the top of this league and get into the national tournament,” said Westling. “Those will continue to be our goals and we’ll keep trying to improve to be in that conversation.”
Western will look slightly different next season. They say goodbye to Tammarrah Gothard, Savannah Cox, Katie Najvar and Chandler Willis.
Gothard started all 27 games for Western while leading the team in steals with 69 — the next highest was 35 — and averaging 8.4 points per game with 227 total points on the season.
Her defensive efforts earned her RMAC Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m really grateful for the senior leadership we had this year,” said Westling. “Not just for what they have done for the program, but for they have done for Western as a whole and the Gunnison community.”
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)