Photos by Paul Flessland
Taylor Thunstedt’s first two seasons in a Bison uniform has been nothing short of remarkable. From coming off the bench and playing out of position to becoming one of the top scoring threats on the team, Bison Nation will be dreaming of a brighter future with Thunstedt at the helm.
The first thing head coach Maren Walseth did to Taylor Thunstedt when she joined the Bison women’s basketball team was put her out of her comfort zone. Walseth moved her away from the point guard position and moved her to the off-ball guard or the “two” position.
In her first year as the starting point guard, Taylor Thunstedt is averaging 16.4 points per game and is dishing out assists at a rate of 3.3 a game.
Thunstedt had been a standout guard for New London-Spicer High School and had been receiving attention from colleges across the region since she was a freshman. She averaged nearly 30 points a game her senior year from the point guard position and now she was being moved completely off the ball.
Senior point guard Brooke LeMar was the leading scorer last year and was rarely taken off the court. To prevent Thunstedt from getting lost in the shuffle, Walseth moved her to the only spot on the court where she could make an impact.
In some instances, that impact came from not knowing what was going on within the offense.
“We always laughed because if Taylor didn’t know what we were doing, she’ll just shoot it,” assistant coach Kachine Alexander said. “A lot of the times it goes in, and she was shooting like 47 percent so we weren’t mad.”
Alexander was right. Thunstedt experienced a high-level of success last year for a true freshman. She shot 43 percent from the field and averaged 8.6 points in nearly 29 minutes per game. Thunstedt made the Summit League All-Newcomer team and was NDSU’s Female Rookie of the Year at the inaugural Green & Gold Gala.
By taking Thunstedt out of the point guard position, it relieved a lot of pressure that comes with running the offensive system, Alexander said. Thunstedt was able to worry about one thing, not about facilitating and knowing where everybody needs to be on the court.
“Coach really helped me start at the two position and work my way to the (point) guard, and honestly, coming into the point guard position at the college level, probably would’ve been really difficult,” Thunstedt said. “I could’ve done it, but it made me a lot more comfortable at the two position to get the plays down and get more talkative that way.”
Thunstedt entered the Bison program at a tumultuous time. She wasn’t recruited by the current coaching staff and committed before former head coach Carlyn DeHoff resigned after the 2013-14 season.
Originally pegged on the recruiting trail by DeHoff’s staff when she was a freshman in high school, Thunstedt didn’t have to come to NDSU after officially signing the fall of her senior year at New London-Spicer. After DeHoff left, she remained loyal to her commitment and decided no matter who was heading up the women’s basketball program, NDSU was the place for her.
“I knew Emily Spier before I came here,” Thunstedt said. “She was a year older than me and played on the Metro Stars (AAU team) also, so I knew her. I came up here to help with camps, so that was before I came here to even start playing. I was up here for a while before that and met with the team.”
The three-sport star at New London-Spicer saw the tradition at NDSU and the fan support the program had in the past. It also helped that her aunt, uncle and three cousins lived in Moorhead and would never miss a game.
The new coaching staff proved they could turn around the program by how they handled Thunstedt’s first year. After becoming their weapon off the bench last season, and with LeMar graduating, Thunstedt has made a smooth transition to the point guard position this season.
“As she would definitely attest to, it was a good thing that she started at the two last year because it was one thing. She didn’t have to worry about everybody else on the court as a freshman. All she had to worry about was her position and to put the ball in the hole and that’s what she was good at,” Alexander said. “This year, she’s back to her position of being a one and she’s definitely grown into that.”
Thunstedt and senior Marena Whittle have been the top scorers for the Bison this season. Both players are in the top five in the Summit League in scoring. Thunstedt has been in the Top 10 for three-point percentage and assists, too.
She’s also been able to create scoring opportunities in front of the three-point line. Last year, 73 percent of Thunstedt’s shots were three-pointers. This season, that number has dropped to 54 percent.
“The first thing I looked at was to shoot the ball from the three-point line,” Thunstedt said. “Now, for me, it’s going to be a big thing to get more versatile to drive to the basket and pulling up. That’s going to be a lot harder for them to guard me, just because they’re so used to me popping and shooting, and if I get that mid-range game, that drive-game down, it’s going to be great.”
A possible move back to the two-guard isn’t out of the question, either. True freshman Megan Gamble has been making strides in her game and, as Thunstedt explained, she’s more of a drive-and-kick type of guard. Gamble has struggled to stay on the floor this season, but when healthy, her, Thunstedt and even sophomore Brooke Yaggie will be a formidable backcourt for the next two seasons.
NDSU is near the bottom of the Summit League again this season. But both Thunstedt and Alexander believe that Thunstedt will play a significant role in the rebuilding process Walseth and her staff are going through.
“Me and coach always have a conversation about me being a leader, being talkative and being that person on the floor that we can go to,” Thunstedt said. “That’s something I’m really trying to work on right now.”
Alexander believes Thunstedt’s goals can be as high as she wants them to be. She also mentioned she will continue to be one of the top scorers for the next couple of years.
“I think that with her, the sky is the limit,” Alexander said. “She’s only a sophomore, which tells you that if she’s top in our conference in scoring right now, or close to it, that’s just a testament to how high she can go.”