LUSK – Eight seniors will suit up for their final season as a Niobrara County High School Lady Tiger.
Most of this group has been playing basketball together since fourth grade and back-to-back semifinal losses at state still sting.
“It’s exciting, but in a way it’s also kind of sad to know that this is it,” said Bryn Bruch. “We’ve played together for so long.”
Back-to-back fourth place finishes at the Wyoming Class 2A State Tournament have fueled high expectations amongst the seniors. With Bruch, Riley Shaw, Jozalyn Potter, Anna Richardson, Danni Larson, Abby Kottwitz and Courtney Rowley returning, head coach Deb Murray has almost the entire team back, and for the first time in a while, should be considered one of the favorites.
“I think the mindset is a bit different than it was a couple years ago,” said Murray. “This particular group of girls has always had the attitude to compete strongly against anybody.”
Despite the anticipation and expectations, NCHS will begin their season without last year’s conference player of the year and all-stater Courtney Rowley. She injured her left knee early in the volleyball season and has been faithfully going to rehab sessions in hopes of a return in late January.
“It will be a big adjustment for the team initially, as she plays such a big role for us,” added Murray. “Luck and health are big parts of that, and if we have those things, with that our chances go up.”
Shaw, Potter and Richardson are returning all-conference players while Bruch, Kottwitz and Larson have plenty of experience and diversity in their games for NCHS to still be very good. Senior Renae Marker, junior Jaden Stauffer and sophomore Lily Krueger could also fit into the mix during Rowley’s absence.
“We do deserve the recognition, but we have to go out and prove it,” Shaw said. “Every day in practice, every game and every opponent no matter what.”
Murray is back for her 30th season as head coach, and Rich Murray is in his fifth year as an assistant. Cora Fitzgerald joins the staff and will coach the C squad, while senior Marina Sherwood returns as student assistant in charge of 21 players this season.
As the two-time defending state champ Wyoming Indian Lady Chiefs season is still up in the air, Murray and the seniors expect Pine Bluffs, Sundance, Moorcroft and Big Horn to be among the best in the East Conference.
The Lady Tigers open the season at Kaycee, with games against the Lady Bucs and Tongue River on Friday. Varsity starts against the home team at 10 a.m., followed by the junior varsity at Kaycee, junior versus Tongue River and varsity faces the Lady Eagles.