Injuries sideline two former teammates for Mesa tourney
Kershel Claussen has looked forward to this weekend ever since she made her decision to go to school and play basketball for Johnson & Wales University in Denver.
The freshman from Grand Junction, who grew up watching the Mesa State College women’s basketball team, was excited for an opportunity to play against the Mavericks in the annual Holiday Inn Thanksgiving Tip-Off.
Instead, Claussen will be watching the Wildcats (2-7) play Mesa State (0-2) at 6 p.m. on Friday at Brownson Arena. She injured her shoulder a month ago in a scrimmage.
“That was going to be the highlight of my season, coming home and playing,” Claussen said. “I’m pretty bummed, but I’m glad my team will get to play. I’ll be there.”
Chadron State (0-3) and Dominican (Calif.) University (1-4) are part of the tournament field and play each other at 2 p.m. on Friday. Chadron and Mesa swap opponents Saturday with the same tip-off times.
Claussen, a 5-foot-10 forward, was looking forward to not only playing in her hometown, but against some familiar faces now playing for the Mavericks. Claussen played with junior Hannah Walsh and against junior Erin Richardson and freshman Alaina Brennan.
“I was so excited to play against Hannah since I played with her for two years in high school,” Claussen said. “I’m so used to being on her side.”
Walsh is out for two or three weeks with a shoulder injury as well. Walsh is looking forward to seeing Claussen, but that doesn’t mean Walsh will be cheering for Claussen’s team.
“This is the first time I’ll be cheering more for a Central girl than a Grand Junction girl,” said Walsh, playfully pushing Brennan, who is a Central High graduate. “Kershel did a
good job playing against Raysha (Ritter). She improved a lot in high school.”
Brennan, who will be playing this weekend, knows of Claussen’s abilities first-hand.
“I would always guard her in high school,” said Brennan, who gives up four inches to Claussen. “She was one of their top scorers. She is a good player.”
Although Claussen has a distinct height advantage, she respects Brennan’s skills and is interested to see what Brennan has learned in one month of college basketball practice.
If Claussen could’ve watched Mesa play last weekend, she would’ve gotten a pretty good idea.
Brennan led the Mavericks in scoring in both games and is averaging 15 points per game off the bench. She made the Fort Lewis Classic all-tournament team.
“I wanted to come out and not be timid,” Brennan said. “The first time you play, the opponents don’t know you and I wanted to take advantage of that.
“I’m a real competitive person. I took it upon myself to play harder.”
Brennan was a bright spot for the Mavericks, who were doomed by slow starts in losses to Division II programs Oklahoma Panhandle State and Angelo State (Texas) last weekend.
“Obviously, Alaina had a very good weekend,” Mesa State coach Timi Brown said. “She’s got that mentality. She’s been working hard. She knew she’d have to pick it up defensively and she’s gotten better in that area.”
As a team though, the Mavericks have a long way to go to be a competitive team in the RMAC. The good thing is, Mesa has two weeks before its first conference game.
“I think because we have so many new people, we’re defining roles,” Brown said. “We have different people playing well on certain nights, then the next night it’s completely the opposite. It’s consistency and performance (to be successful). Both games, we played good in the second half, but you’ve got to play two halves. It’s not good enough right now.”
Brown said the Mavericks need to come ready to play this weekend even though they are playing one NAIA program and a first-year Division II program in Dominican.
“They will play pretty hard so we better come to play,” Brown said. “My big thing is improving from night to night.”
Dominican is in its transition period to Division II this season and will officially compete in the Pacific West Conference next season with Dixie State (Utah) College, Notre Dame de Namur and several Hawaii schools.
The Penguins are led by guards Kelsey Janusch and Alisha Flaaten.
Johnson & Wales is led by Brooke Durant, Andrea Austin and Sarah Fitzpatrick, who are each averaging 10 points a game.