English's departure culminates women's struggles

It seemed like the ideal situation, coming into an established program with veteran players and a winning history. All he had to do was keep the recipe for success fresh. Apparently for first-year head coach Chris Denker and the CSU women's basketball team, though, all that talk is easier said than done.

What was supposed to be a dream season for the Rams' six seniors has turned into a fight for wins on the road, and in the Mountain West Conference. As of Wednesday, the Rams (9-7) were 2-6 on the road and 0-2 in league play.

The struggles culminated last weekend with back-to-back uncompetitive losses away from Moby Arena, 71-56 to BYU and 73-50 to Utah. Then on Sunday, starting point guard Elizabeth English left the team due to philosophical differences with Denker.

So is that why the team is struggling so much this year, barely staying above .500 when it was supposed climbing the ranks in the national polls? Has Denker ruined the make-up of a successful team that was established when these seniors first got to CSU?

"The girls have been great in that regard," Denker said about his team's transition from coach to coach. "I asked them, ‘How can I make things better, how can I help you in your transition?' Because transition for anyone is difficult."

But it appears as if everyone but English was willing to let the new coach implement his system. Obviously, Denker and former Rams coach Tom Collen have different styles. In Collen's, English thrived. In Denker's, others thrived. So now she's gone, and the team must move on. That's what this week's practice has been working toward.

"It's been very spirited and there's been a lot more communication from our players," Denker said about practice without English. "They've been talking with each other and helping each other out."

Without the regular point guard, who is more often than not the leader on the floor, communication undoubtedly needs to be stepped up. The players say that will be done. They don't feel the loss of English will translate into more losses for the team.

And, they don't put blame on Denker's style of coaching for making this season a tough one.

"He's done some great things for us, and yeah, our record doesn't necessarily indicate that we're doing that well," senior forward Ashley Augspurger said. "But this team has been able to do a lot of things that other teams haven't."

One of those things might be taking on an ambitious non-conference schedule. And that slate -- which included consecutive games on the road against Colorado, Michigan and Notre Dame in a well-traveled winter break -- is what Denker attributes to the team's fortunes thus far. He pointed out that last year's team didn't play in such places as Ann Arbor and South Bend.

"Part of the problem around here is that people have somewhat been spoiled with success," Denker said. "That's great, I'm happy for everyone. But this team's going through a lot right now."

Most notably, the wrath of lofty expectations not being met.


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