Deb Murray enters her 28th year as head girls basketball coach at NCHS and knows that repeating last season’s 22-5 record may be difficult. There are eight letterwinners back but three are dealing with injuries as the season gets underway. “There’s some decent experience coming back, it’s a nice mix of size and speed,” said Murray. When healthy this team will be tough to beat come tournament time.
“I think we’ve done a good job of taking these younger girls under our wing, and shown them what it takes,” said senior Ashley Christianson. “They’re listening and learning and like to go hard on the court.” She enters her third year of varsity, along with classmates Kianna Blackburn, Sadie Sturman and Mackenzie Lyons. Julianne Graham steps into a bigger role and Peyton Kottwitz is back after missing a couple years. Kottwitz will likely fit into a JV role as the season begins, but the rest have high expectations. “We have three key players that have injuries right now,” said Sturman. “But it will help our other young players get ready for when they are all healthy,” added Lyons.
The three that Murray and the girls refer to is senior Taylor Gaukel-a two-time All Conference player and sophomores Courtney Rowley and Riley Shaw. While Gaukel is dealing with an injured foot, Rowley (knee) and Shaw (leg/shoulder) are slowly coming along after July surgeries. “It’s not going to be one of those years where the same five are going to start every game,” said Murray. While Gaukel is optimistic to play in the Tiger Jamboree, the sophs are not likely to see the floor until 2019. “We aren’t going to rush any of them back before they are ready,” Murray added.
Lucy Ceaglske is the lone junior and will be fighting for time with sophomores Anna Richardson, Bryn Bruch and Joz Potter after playing key roles on the JV last season. Murray and her husband Rich (3rd asst) have 20 girls out and enough for a C squad schedule.
The seniors feel they are good enough to get to Casper-despite Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Big Horn and Wright returning strong teams. “We’ve been there, and we don’t want to be satisfied with just showing up,” said Gaukel. Murray counters with the difficulty of surviving Regionals. “Is it possible, yes. Will it be easy, not on our side of the state.” Among the West teams worth mentioning are Greybull and Wyoming Indian but after that the depth is in the East.
The Lady Tigers tip off the season at the Coal Miner’s Classic in Wright this weekend. On Friday they open with the home team at 9:30 a.m. before facing Greybull at 3:30 p.m. On Saturday Lusk finishes with Big Horn at 9:30 a.m. All four received votes in the Wyopreps Preseason Poll-yet what happens in December may be much different in February.