Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography and Nolan Schmidt
Tyrah Spencer eyes a strong campaign from a cohesive women’s basketball team.
Youth is what makes up the NDSU women’s basketball team. With only one senior in Marina Fernandez in 2018-19, the Bison have relied on juniors and sophomores for leadership on the floor. Junior guard Tyrah Spencer was named a team captain in her sophomore season, along with fellow sophomore Sarah Jacobson. Being thrust into action early in her Bison career has helped the lady Bison move the needle towards success on the hardwood.
The Spencer File
- Oakdale, Minnesota
- Major: Psychology
- Played in 29 games her true freshman season for the Bison, averaging 3.5 points and 2.3 assists per game. Of her 29 games played, she started 16 of them.
- Competed in 28 games her sophomore season, averaging 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
- In her two full seasons with the Bison, Spencer has shot 34 percent from the field, 30 percent from three and 74 percent from the free throw line.
- Was an All-Conference performer her senior season at Bloomington Kennedy High School.
“I definitely think we embrace it,” said Spencer on the team’s youth and leadership capabilities. “With me and Sarah being captains last year and having to be leaders, we’re kind of used to it. We kind of embrace it and we have to take it to another level this year.”
Taking it to another level for the Bison may prove challenging at times in their non-conference schedule. With match-ups against Power Five schools and a few Holiday tournaments on the docket, it could prove to be a tall task. However, this year’s women’s team is ready to embrace those challenges and face them head-on. “We will probably get up more for those games. Those are tough opponents, so we really have to get ready,” Spencer said.
The team’s chemistry is something that has been cultivated and shaped over the course of the last two seasons. With four juniors, four sophomores and one senior on the roster, this team is familiar with one another. The juniors, in particular, have seen plenty of floor time with one another in their previous two seasons in Fargo.
Each of the three juniors has played in at least 26 games in each of the last two seasons respectively. It looks as though that number will hold true this season as the four embark on their final Bison campaign next year. For Spencer, having that chemistry will lead to consistent improvement as this season and next wears on. “It’s been really nice,” she said. “Us juniors get along really well and I think having us as a core really helps the rest of the team kind of hop along.”
One thing the women’s basketball program has done in comparison to other Bison athletic programs is the focus on bringing in European products. Right now, coach Maren Walseth has five international products on her roster. All of them are either freshman or sophomores, outside of senior Marina Fernandez. A common misnomer about European basketball is that they play a vastly different style of basketball compared to American hoops. While it is true in some cases, Spencer is quick to point out that she has not seen a significant difference in style from NDSU’s European products.
“I can definitely tell they play a little bit differently like Marina has a little bit more finesse to her,” she said. “Other than that, not too much, they fit in really well actually. It wasn’t too hard to get them used to things.”
It could also become difficult for American players if they need to acclimate their European teammates to America and Fargo too. Luckily, most of Walseth’s international players had spent time in the United States, either in high school or at a different college. For Spencer and the Bison leaders, it took a possible weight off of their backs in the offseason. “Michelle (Gaislerova) was already here for high school, Marina was here at a JuCo, Sofija (Zivaljevic) was here at a different school as well. So the only person that really came here right away was Cirkeline (Rimdal), but other than that they were pretty good already, we didn’t have to do much to get them acclimated.”
Spencer also admires her coach as she employs a different coaching strategy, one where her players are held more accountable. “I would say she does a lot of making us think. So, I think she trusts us to make good decisions because, at the end of the day when we’re on the floor, she can’t make the decisions for us,” she said. “In practice, she does a lot of ‘well, what do you think you should’ve done in this situation?’ and I think that helps us mature and get smarter, better IQ.”
It is with this coaching style that Walseth and her players become smarter. Spencer says it correctly, Walseth is not the one that will be making the plays at the end of the day. The fact that Walseth trusts her team that much, clearly shows that she sees something special in each one of these girls.
Trust goes a long way in the game of basketball. With Tyrah Spencer and the other core girls on this Bison team, they have the base for success. Now, it comes down to execution on the floor each night, regardless of opponent. Given the talent across the roster, Bison women’s basketball looks poised to break out soon.