Sydney Lamberty has already tackled one obstacle for the Creighton women’s basketball team this season.
The Park High School graduate has helped fill a vital role at point guard with her teammate Jade Owens sidelined by a season-ending injury. Now the Bluejays junior is ready for the next big challenge of playing in her first NCAA Tournament.
“I feel like I’m going to be really nervous,” Cottage Grove’s Lamberty said during a phone interview Tuesday. “Excited, because it’s awesome. This has always been a dream that I go to the NCAA tournament with my team. So this is going to be really cool.”
Lamberty has experience playing point guard during her days with the Park girls’ basketball team, but she had not played the position much during her first two seasons at Creighton. It has required her to devote more attention to getting her teammates involved in the offense and managing her assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I played point guard in high school, but it is a huge difference when it comes to college,” said Lamberty, who made 59 starts in her first two seasons at Creighton. “That was definitely something that I’ve had to change.”
Her versatility at Creighton is no surprise for Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen, who coached Lamberty in high school and often catches up with her during offseason workouts. While at Park, she had the size and talent to play point guard on offense and guard players anywhere on the floor while on defense.
“For how she played in high school for us and how she played with her AAU team, she is probably one of the most versatile players that we’ve had come through here,” Tolkinen said. “She’s strong. She’s smart. She just has really good skills on both sides of the ball.”
Creighton earned an at-large bid to the tournament after winning a share of the Big East title and closing out the season with a record of 23-7. The Stockton Regional's seventh-seeded Bluejays are headed to Corvallis, Ore. to face No. 10 seed Toledo on Friday. The winner of that game will play either Oregon State or California State University, Long Beach on Sunday.
The tournament will be a new experience for Lamberty and most of her Creighton teammates after playing in the WNIT the past two seasons. Both years the program won 17 games.
Lamberty has credited Creighton's chemistry for the biggest reason why they have piled up more wins. Their familiarity on the court is a product of having only one senior, Tessa Leytem, graduate over the offseason.
“We were talking about it today, actually. When someone gets really hot, we know that we want to get them the ball,” Lamberty said. “I just think, recently, we’ve had a lot of great team chemistry, and that’s been a big difference this year.”
Both Creighton and DePaul went 16-2 in the Big East schedule to finish the regular season as co-conference champs. Creighton was bounced from the Big East tournament with a 72-65 loss to Marquette in the semifinals.
After finishing near the middle of the conference over the past two seasons, the Creighton players entered this year with the mindset to contend.
“At the beginning of the year we always set goals, and that was definitely one of our end of the year goals was to be the Big East champs,” Lamberty said. “We didn’t really plan on sharing it with DePaul. But whatever, that works too.”
Only two current players were on the Creighton roster the last time the Bluejays made an appearance in the NCAA bracket in 2013. Those players were Brianna Rollerson, a redshirt senior, and Watertown’s Marissa Janning who was granted a medical hardship waiver this offseason.
With their experience, it’s safe to say those two have been building up the suspense for their younger teammates.
“Pretty much they were just telling us how it's amazing, and how it’s super fun and awesome,” Lamberty said. "And that we're going to love it. I'm just really excited."