The CSU-Pueblo women’s basketball team is back, after a successful season winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history.
Last year, the ThunderWlves went 21-10 and won their fourth Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship.
Coach Kip Drown was very satisfied with last year’s teamdespite losing their leadscorer Rachel Espinoza in the first minuteof the first playoff game.
“We had to have some people step up and do some things, and they had to take on a bigger role than what they had to earlier in the year,” Drown said. “It was very satisfyingto accomplish what we accomplished while losing Rach and everything.”
Drown also said that the win in the NCAA tournament was a huge boost for the program because it put the ThunderWolves in a different level mentally in terms that they can go back to an NCAA and win games.
Despite going down with a torn ACL injury last year, Espinoza will be back for her senior year.
“Rachel got released somewhere about a month ago now, and she’s been practicing with us,” Drown said. “She’s been going, looks great and the knee looks really strong.”
Drown said a positive outlook on the situation the timing Espinoza’s injury occurred. She was able to use the whole summer to rehab ilitate, and was able to do it in her hometown of Pueblo.
Aside from Espinozas return, the ThunderWolves will have two other two other starters in senior forward Amanda Bartlett, and junior guard Kendall Babler.
“Amanda Bartlett is our second senior and this will be her third year starting, and she’s had a real nice career and I think this will be her best year yet,” Drown said. “Babler actually took Rachel’s spot at the point last year when Rachel got hurt, with Babs and Rach, we have as good of a guard pair as there is in the RMAC.”
The ThunderWolves will also have several new additions to the team.
One addition is junior Katie Tomlinson, who played junior college out of Mesa, Arizona. Drown said Tomlinson is a post-player, and he expects a big year out of her.
Junior Alexa Ward is another junior college player new to the team. Ward comes from Nebraska and plays the wing, Drown said.
There are also several freshmen that are new to the team this year, which includes: Taylor Castillo from Kiowa, Alex Evans from Montrose, Paige Ramm from Prescott Ariz, , Taylor Fox from Santa Cruz Calif, , and Caiti Forrester a redshirt freshman from Boulder City, Nev.
“We’reyoung, but were talented,” Drown said. “It’s just a matter of these young kids growing up, and learning the system, and adapting to college basketball and I think we’re a talented group.”
This year, the ThunderWolves will have some tough competition among their RMAC opponents. Drown mentioned that Fort Lewis, Mesa State and Mines would be the teams they would consider their biggest challengers.
“Fort Lewis lost a ton, but that does not mean they will be bad by any means, but I just think they came back to the pack,” Drown said. “Mesa State has had a really good recruiting year, and Mines brings back a lot of kids.”
Drown believes he has a really good teamand expects a huge year from them.
“I think this team is capable of playing with anybody in the country, I think were that talented,” Drown said. “We have to stay injury free which, knock on wood, is what everybody deals with. I think we can compete for an RMAC title, I think we can compete to get an NCAA tournament bid and I think we can go to the NCAA tournament and win games. How far that takes us, I don’t know.”
The ThunderWolves first game of the season will be Nov. 20 on the road at Oklahome Panhandle State.