After a return to form in 2016-17, the MSU Denver women’s basketball team is looking to turn a corner going into the new season.
When the Roadrunners’ season began on Nov. 10, it launched a “prove it” campaign for the team. Even after starting the season 0-2, the largely upperclassmen-built team is optimistic, with a roster nearly identical to last year’s. After putting up a winning record for the first time in four years, the next step for the program is to prove their legitimacy and take the next step forward. Head coach Tanya Haave has high expectations for the season.
“I think the NCAA Tournament. Those first three years that I was here, that was our benchmark,” Haave said. “That needs to be it every year. That we’re in that tournament every single year.”
After arriving in 2010, Haave led the Roadrunners to their best three-year stretch in program history. They went 78-17 and visited the NCAA Tournament twice. However, the next three years did not go as smoothly, as their best season was a 13-13 run in 2014-15. Last year, the team put together their first winning season since 2012-13. This resulted in a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament berth, but they exited quickly after a 66-62 loss to University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in their first game. With that, their season was over, leaving an eagerness all summer and fall.
“Being that close, and making it to that first round after we hadn’t in two years is a motivator for us,” said senior guard J’Nae Squires-Horton. “We want to go farther. I think we can see ourselves winning an RMAC championship, so that’s a motivator for us too.”
Squires-Horton is one piece of a mostly returning core from last season. Five players started more than 20 games, a third of the schedule, in that campaign. The only non-returnee is Luisa Tago, whom the team lost to graduation. Nine of the 12 players on this year’s roster are upperclassmen, and seven of them were Roadrunners last season.
The team will be anchored by a trio of all-RMAC players: Squires-Horton and guard Jaelynn Smith, who were both named second team, and first team forward Georgia Ohrdorf. Last year’s team utilized a strong defense, which averaged the fewest points allowed per game in the RMAC, paired with this trio to find success. Ohrdorf, Squires-Horton and Smith ranked fourth, 12th and 15th in the conference in points per game, respectively. Ohrdorf is the team’s lone fourth-year player, and last year’s accreditation was her first tangible recognition. With her personal triumphs recognized, she’s ready for team success to follow.
“I’m not huge on personal goals,” Ohrdorf said. “Whatever comes, comes. I just want to see us win a championship. I’ve been here four years and we haven’t really gotten to tournament play.”
The loss to UCCS was the program’s first postseason play since 2014. The Roadrunners haven’t advanced through the RMAC playoffs to an NCAA regional since 2013.
To get there once again, they will have to go through tough conference competition, featuring nationally ranked No. 5 Colorado State University-Pueblo and No. 22 Fort Lewis College. The Roadrunners were chosen to finish fifth in the RMAC in the preseason coaches poll. Smith and Ohrdorf were selected to the preseason all-conference team.
MSU Denver dropped their first two games of the season in Commerce, Texas, against Texas A&M University-Commerce and Lubbock Christian University, who fell just outside the top 25 in the preseason national coaches poll. The Roadrunners return to Colorado to play in Golden against two more non-RMAC teams before starting their home schedule Nov. 24 in the Holiday Inn Cherry Creek Classic. They begin conference play Dec. 1 at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, beginning a three-month-long battle for a place in the RMAC Tournament at the end of February.