Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

DU basketball players score conference honors

If DU basketball wasn’t already hot, it got considerably warmer March 3 with the announcement of Sun Belt Conference honors for starting forwards on the men’s and women’s teams.

Kaetlyn Murdoch of Temple, Texas, was named conference Freshman of the Year and Nate Rohnert of Parker, Colo., was selected to the first team of the all-Sun Belt Conference squad.

“It’s a huge honor. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Murdoch, a 5-11 forward whose rebounding and shot-blocking totals dazzled opponents and helped push the 15-14 (10-8 in the Sun Belt) Pioneers to a third seed in the league championship tournament.

Against Arkansas State on Jan. 7, Murdoch tallied 13 blocks, which is a DU and Sun Belt record. She’s the sixth player in NCAA history and the only freshman ever to set that mark.

Rohnert, a 6-5 junior who played at Chaparral High School, is only the third DU player in history to receive first-team honors. Rohnert helped pace the 14-15 Pioneers (9-9 in conference play) to the No. 7 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, which begins March 4 at Magness Arena. DU takes on Louisiana-Monroe, which they defeated twice in conference play, 58-47 on Jan. 11 and 66-57 on Feb. 26. The winner advances to a quarterfinal showdown against Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday in Hot Springs, Ark.

“It’s a great honor and a great representation of how much this team has grown,” Rohnert says about his first-team award. “To go from four wins and an ugly situation to [Head Basketball] Coach [Joe] Scott, who is working every day to get us better. That’s great.”

The women’s team also travels to Hot Springs. They won a first-round bye in the Sun Belt tournament and on Saturday will play the winner of the Arkansas State-North Texas game.

Murdoch credits her coaches and teammates for “providing positive feedback and support” that allowed her to improve her game and be named Freshman of the Year. They were the ones who broke the news she had won the honor and were the ones who welcomed her in the fall when she arrived at DU with the idea of helping the team any way she could. “If I get playing time, I plan on going in there and benefiting the team as much as I can,” she said before the season. “If I don’t get playing time and I sit on the bench, I’ll be the biggest cheerleader they have.”

Murdoch got plenty of playing time, appearing in all 29 Pioneer games and averaging 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. She is shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and 60.3 percent from the free-throw line. Moreover, she and Ashly Robinson are the team’s top two rebounders, pulling down a combined 41 percent of all Pioneer rebounds this season.

Rohnert’s contribution has been as profound, transitioning from a stationary forward to a ball-handler in Coach Scott’s motion offense. “Coach has given me a lot of responsibility running the team,” he says. “I love the challenge of bringing up the ball.”

It’s paid off for the Pioneers and been noticed elsewhere as well. In fact, Rohnert is the only player to rank in the top 15 in the Sun Belt conference in points (eighth with 15.0 per game), rebounds (13th with 5.4 per game), assists (third with 4.72 per game), minutes (first at 37.1 per game), steals (fifth with 1.38 per game), field goal percentage (50 percent) and assists/turnover ratio (11th at 1.41).

Both players said they are focusing on the games yet to be played, but also on a few light moments. For Rohnert, it’s a good meal back home in Parker. For Murdoch it’s a new color for her hair, which she dyes differently before every game. Pink, purple, blue, green.

“It’s a fun thing I do,” she laughs.

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