The Northwest College women’s basketball team had its best season in recent memory in 2017-18, finishing with a 25-8 record and coming up just short of the Region IX title game.
Head coach Janis Beal stepped down following the season-ending tournament, taking over the reins at the College of Idaho. Eight sophomores were also lost to graduation, representing the core of the 2017-18 team.
With just four players back from last year’s squad and under the watchful eye of a new head coach, the 2018-19 Lady Trappers are set to open the season with a host of new players and a new style of play.
“Last year’s team, that was something special,” said Camden Levett, the Lady Trappers’ new coach. “I’ve seen a lot of teams, and I haven’t seen a group get along as well with each other as that team. Coach Beal did a great job with that team.”
“But now we have a new coach, a lot of new freshmen and some talented returners,” Levett said.
The team heads to the Snow College Classic this weekend in Utah to kick things off.
“Overall, we’re looking quick, we’re looking fast, we’re a physical team,” Levett said. “A little undersized, maybe, but there are ways to hide that. We get after it. I think we’ll find out what we’re made of this weekend; I know the girls are ready to screen somebody else and bounce somebody else out.”
With just under a month of practice and a handful of scrimmages and jamborees under their belts, Levett said he likes what he sees out of his young team. The biggest obstacle heading into the season opener so far is coping with a rash of early injuries.
“Our biggest challenge so far has been just getting everybody healthy,” Levett said.
Sophomore Sam McCrorey tore her ACL a couple weeks ago, he said, leaving the team without a post player. Kaylee Brown, another returner, has been out a few weeks with a concussion and is just starting to get back into the mix and freshman Tess Henry has been sidelined with foot problems.
Brown, a sophomore from Ririe, Idaho, said the pressure will be on to prove last season wasn’t a fluke.
“There’s definitely a new feeling going into this sophomore season,” Brown said. “We definitely feel like there’s a lot to prove. I’m excited for this year, and I am just grateful for the chance to put on a NWC Trapper uniform for one more year.”
Lovell sharpshooter Shelby Wardell and Tayla Sayer of Paul, Idaho, are the team’s other returners, and are being counted on to provide leadership to the nine incoming freshmen who will make up this season’s team.
“The sophomores I do have, they’ve been great,” Levett said. “They set the tone, because they had a lot of success last year, on and off the court. I rely a lot on my sophomores to keep us going. They’ve embraced the change. We’ve looked good on the court and out in the community, and that starts with our sophomores.”
Levett was forced to hit the ground running last summer, with a truncated recruiting season to fill a number of vacancies. The result, however, was a talented mix of Wyoming and out-of-state players, as well as one international player, all ready to make their mark on the program.
“For all freshmen, the biggest thing is realizing you’re playing at a different level,” Levett said. “These kids are on the basketball court for a reason — the skill set is a little higher, the pace of the game is a little quicker, the physicality is stronger. The freshmen have been fitting in well. I think we’re all ready to go.”
“There are a lot of new faces, but with new faces comes a lot of new strengths and dynamics,” she said. “I expect us to be a real scrappy team that has a lot of potential. We still have a lot of hard work to do, but I think that we will be very competitive.”
Heading into the opener at Snow College, Levett said the players to watch will be the sophomores, who’ve had a “great preseason.” The entire freshmen class will also be ready when their number is called. That includes players like Selena Cudney from Rock Springs, last year’s 4A state champion in the long jump, and Juliana Ribeiro, a 6’3 guard from Brazil.
Ribeiro, who goes by Ju-Ju, “is kind of a coach’s dream,” Levett said. “She can do a lot of things for you. She’s healthy, jumping out of the gym — she’s a kid that can score inside and out.”
Cudney, meanwhile, “is just a great athlete,” the coach said. “She’s going to go 100 miles an hour, no matter what quarter it is.”
Lovell’s Mikell McIntosh has also impressed early, and Levett calls her “probably our most consistent shooter.” Fellow freshman Berkley Larsen is also making an impact, and is excited to get the season underway.
“I feel like every day we are getting better as a team,” Larsen said. “We are starting to gel and understand how each person plays. ... I am excited to see our hard work pay off in a game and I’m ready to put on a jersey.”
Asked how his first preseason as a head coach has gone, Levett said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Levett said of his first head-coaching opportunity. “The city of Powell has been great to me, [new athletic director and former men’s coach] Brian Erickson has always been there to help me out. Everybody’s been very supportive. I’m ready for a Thursday trip to Utah.”