Jim Turgeon began a new era of Colorado State University-Pueblo women’s basketball when he took over at the helm last season. He led the team to an unprecedented 26-win campaign, en route to a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record fifth conference title.
This year, the ThunderWolves have taken it to a whole new level.
CSU-Pueblo has yet to lose this season, sitting at 19-0. It is tied for second in Division II with 19 wins and it is one of a mere four remaining undefeated teams. The ThunderWolves haven’t simply climbed the national rankings, they have skyrocketed up the Women's Basketball Coaches Association polls, landing at No. 4 this week. That ranking is the highest their program has ever reached.
RELATED: Updated DII WBCA Coaches Poll
“We are extremely excited about how this season is going so far,” sophomore center Molly Rohrer said. “It’s hard to ignore the rankings, but I don’t think that we are narrowly focused on the records. We are trying to stay concerned about one game at a time and one team at a time and not think too far ahead.”
Rohrer — the reigning Rocky Mountain Athletic Association Freshman of the Year — is second on the ThunderWolves in scoring with 15.9 points a game, trailing only junior Tuileisu Anderson’s team-best 17.2 average. She also chips in 5.8 rebounds a night and is amongst DII’s leaders with a team-best 2.1 blocks per game. Just a sophomore, she already finds herself amongst the leaders of a team featuring no seniors in their starting lineup.
“Even though none of our seniors start, they are still a big part of our team leadership,” Rohrer said. “It wasn’t a huge concern for me that these [seniors] don’t start because we have a lot of people that are leaders on and off the court despite their age.”
Last season, Turgeon’s Pack rolled through the RMAC with an 18-4 regular season record before sweeping through the RMAC Shootout. Their magical season came to a screeching halt in the first round of the NCAA tournament, dropping a 78-60 heartbreaker against RMAC-rival Black Hills State.
“I definitely think for the returners that we have our season-ending loss last year in the back of our minds,” Rohrer said. “We had a great season, but it was disappointing to end the year that way. We are building on the previous year and trying to improve so that we can do anything to not let it happen again.”
One of the big additions to this year’s team has been junior guard Katie Cunningham. She may have been an unfamiliar face to her teammates at first, but she was no stranger to her head coach. She and Turgeon won a championship during their time together at Iowa Western Community College.
Cunningham has been a presence on the boards — leading the Pack with 9.4 rebounds a game — as well as spreading out the floor — leading the team with 4.3 assists per game.
“Katie has been a major asset to our team this year,” Rohrer said. “She is an oversized point guard and uses that to her advantage to get rebounds. Besides leading our team and the league in rebounds, I think she is such a good player for us because she is unselfish and cares a great deal about the team’s overall success. She pushes everyone to be their best by having good offensive pressure and she sets anyone on the floor up to score by finding the open player at the right time.”
Rohrer had two big games this past week. She led her team to two more wins, first scoring a team-high 20 points against Colorado Christian and then a career-high 32 points against Colorado Mines. Rohrer was everything the Pack needed in that game, as she exploded for 17 points in the final period to erase a seven-point deficit and keep the ThunderWolves undefeated. She was rewarded for her outstanding play by taking home her fifth RMAC Player of the Week Award this season.
“I think I’ve gotten my freshman nerves out of the way and have more of a feel for how the season could go,” Rohrer said. “My game is just to be a diverse player and try to help the team out wherever I can, whether that is scoring or defense depending on the game. My teammates make me more comfortable because we work hard for each other and never give up on a game.”
CSU-Pueblo has nine games remaining on its schedule before the conference tournament gets under way. It starts this weekend with a huge matchup against a Regis team that is second place in the RMAC. While running the table would be nice, their ultimate goal was to outdo themselves last year, most importantly in March. The competitive RMAC slate may just have them prepared for a big run.
“Our expectations are high for this year because we want to prove ourselves,” Rohrer said. “We have a common goal of trying to be better than we were last year. I think that our success so far has shown the mutual respect and confidence we have in each other. This season is building our confidence level overall because we have competed in close game situations and have fought to find a way to win.”