Mustang Men’s Basketball will wrap up a reasonably successful non-conference schedule this Friday night at 7 p.m. versus Impact Academy, in the team’s final game before the start of Region IX North conference play. The Mustangs head into this weekend’s action with a 10-5 record.
Region IX play begins at home for the Mustangs on Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m. versus Miles Community College, followed by another home game Saturday, Jan. 14, at 3 p.m. versus Little Big Horn College. Admission is free to all Mustang regular-season home contests.
“We try to break our season into segments so that the players don’t get overwhelmed with how long it is,” Head Coach Ryan Orton said this week. “So Friday we’ll finish one segment, with non-conference play, and we’ll start a new segment on Saturday when we get back to practice. But on Saturday, everyone is 0-0. Despite what we’ve done in the non-conference, everybody is 0-0. It’s kind of exciting.
“The biggest thing they’ve shown me up to this point in the season is that they’re very willing to be coached, they’re a coachable group,” Orton said of his players. “They really try to do what we ask, and I think a lot of that is because we have a really solid sophomore class that’s really bought into what we’re doing, and it’s really trickled down to the freshmen. We’ve got a long way to go with improvements and things on both sides of the ball, but they’re coachable, and so they’re listening and taking that to heart.”
The Mustangs will wrap up January play with road games against conference rivals Casper College, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7:30 p.m., and Gillette College, on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 5 p.m., followed by home games versus Northwest College on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sheridan College on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 4 p.m. Western heads into Region IX play at full roster strength and with no injuries.
Orton said talent in the Region IX North is as equitable as he’s ever seen it. Gillette is currently ranked #15 in the nation, and Central Wyoming College defeated fourth-ranked Salt Lake Community College, the defending NJCAA Division I national champion, in a game just before the holiday. Casper, at 10-4 this season, is expected to be as tough as usual. There are no easy wins anywhere in the Mustangs’ conference schedule, Orton said.
“I think anybody can beat anybody on any given night, home or away,” he said. “So it’s going to be important that we take care of business in conference with our home games. And then we’ve got to do the job with just being tougher mentally, to play on the road in a hostile environment. I think we had a taste of that a few times in the non-conference schedule; playing at Laramie and getting beat up pretty good was a good lesson for us. And then going to Northeastern before Christmas, we dropped that one by two, but we definitely were a lot tougher with a true road game, versus when we played Laramie about three weeks before. I think that we’re getting there, so hopefully, now it starts to come together when we get into the conference.”
Mustang Women’s Basketball will take an 11-4 non-conference record into their first conference games, at home against Miles Community College on Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m. and against Little Big Horn College on Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. The women will play the same road and home schedule as the men for the remainder of January, with home contests against Northwest at 5:30 p.m. and against Sheridan at 2 p.m. on Jan. 26 and 28, respectively.
“Starting off at home is good for our girls, especially after a long layoff,” said Head Coach Garett Sherman, whose squad will have been idle for almost one month when his players take the court Jan. 12. “I’ve seen (a long break) be good for teams and I’ve seen it be bad for teams. We won’t know until we get back in the swing of things. I am hoping that it gives everybody time to rest mentally and physically. It could be a great thing, or it could be something we struggle our first couple of games with.“
Sherman said his squad’s impressive play so far has earned the Mustangs some notice around Region IX, with other coaches telling him they see Western as the team to beat this season.
“I’m not sure how much I believe in that,” the coach said. “I think we’ll have to see as we get along. Our conference is obviously pretty tough. There is never an easy win in our conference.
“We’ve got a chance to be pretty good. We certainly have some talent,” Sherman said. “We’ve just got to put everything together. Consistency, I think, will be our biggest thing. We’ve played some good games against some good teams, and we’ve had some letdowns against some teams we should have beaten. I guess it’s no different than any year that I’ve ever coached. But in region play, we just want to be playing our best basketball at the right time.”
Sherman identified Western Nebraska, Casper and Sheridan as a few of the teams the Mustangs must contend with to win a region title.
“Gillette won it last year, and they returned some good players,” he added. “And there are some other teams, like Northwest and Miles, that I think could be right up there. Their records might not show it, but I’ve seen them play, and if they put it all together they could be tough to beat. It’s a tough league, no doubt. And certainly, we could end up on top, but we’re going to have to play well to do that.”
The Mustang women are heading into the second half of their season injury-free.
“Right now, we’re good to go,” Sherman said. “Of course, (injuries) can happen anytime, especially after a long layoff. That’s one thing you cross your fingers for. But we’re going into the second half of the season full strength.”
Mustang Wrestling has two home duals remaining this season. The first will take place Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. versus Northeastern Junior College. The last is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. versus Northwest Kansas Tech. Western’s grapplers will compete in the Rocky Mountain District Championships in Powell on Feb. 11.