CHEYENNE – Rylee Jo Ward had two of the best games of her career last week.
The junior guard scored a career-best 35 points during Burns’ 51-44 win over Alliance, Nebraska, on Tuesday. She backed that with 22 points during a 53-36 win over Pine Bluffs on Saturday.
In addition to her 28.5 points per game, Ward averaged six steals and 3.5 assists in those games. Those efforts earned her Prep Athlete of the Week honors from WyoSports’ Cheyenne staff.
Ward is quick to point out she was merely finishing what her teammates started.
“My teammates all played excellent defense, and created a lot of steals and opportunities for points for everyone,” Ward said. “More than half my points came off turnovers. Madi (Thompson) got deflections in our press, someone else got the steal, and we got up the court.
“When we apply a lot of pressure, we create a lot of turnovers and get open baskets. We can’t force it, though. We have to be patient and be ready for it.”
The Lady Broncs forced 61 turnovers against Alliance. They snared 25 steals against Pine Bluffs.
Burns coach Barry Ward – who also happens to be Rylee Jo’s dad – has long been a fan of full-court pressure defense.
“In 25 years of coaching, I have never coached a single 6-foot post player,” he said with a chuckle. “We have to press, and that’s even more important since we’ve moved up to (Class) 3A. We have to make up for the size disadvantage somehow.”
Rylee Jo is averaging 20.7 points, six rebounds, 4.3 steals and 2.4 assists through seven games this season. She has averaged 13.9 points, five rebounds, four steals and 2.5 assists in 45 career varsity games.
Her scoring overshadows her defense, Barry said.
“I’ve always thought the best part of her game was on the defensive end,” he said. “She reads passing lanes very well.”
Rylee Jo’s career averages would most likely be higher if she hadn’t suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee late last season. Rylee Jo said she doesn’t notice the sizable brace on her right leg anymore. However, it does appear to be limiting her slightly, Barry said.
“There are still some physical limitations from that brace she absolutely despises,” he said. “I think tearing an ACL has given her a different perspective. It seems like she appreciates things a whole lot more than she did in the past.”
Rylee Jo was able to return to the volleyball court a few weekends into last fall. She earned all-conference honors, but that wasn’t the most significant thing that happened in her return from injury.
“Playing volleyball helped me get over all of the scares of what might happen if I fell wrong or something,” Rylee Jo said. “Once basketball started, I was fine. I wasn’t scared anymore. I just played.”
Others recognized for their efforts include:
-- Graedyn Buell, boys basketball, Cheyenne East: The senior guard averaged 27.5 points to help the Thunderbirds go 2-0 last week.
-- Baylee Delbridge, girls basketball, Cheyenne Central: The senior guard averaged 14.5 points to help the Lady Indians go 1-1 on the week.
-- Jackson Hesford and Bradley Whitright, wrestling, East: Hesford, a senior 160-pounder, went 4-0 with two pins at the Shane Shatto Memorial Duals in Douglas.
Whitright, a senior 195-pounder, was 4-0, with three pins and a major decision.
-- Boden Liljedahl, girls basketball, East: The sophomore guard averaged 15.5 points to help the Lady Thunderbirds win both of their games last week.
-- Jared Price, boys swimming, Cheyenne South: The senior won both the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breaststroke during a triangular with Central and Kelly Walsh.
-- Brady Storebo, boys basketball, Central: The senior averaged 23 points to help the Indians go 2-0.
-- Riley VanTassell, girls basketball, South: The senior forward averaged 13 points to help the Lady Bison go 2-1.