January 6, 2024
McKenna Hofschild keeps starring for Colorado State, but Sanna Ström brings new energy
Hofschild leads Division I in assists, while Ström has brought size, toughness as a transfer
At 5’2, McKenna Hofschild might not look imposing, but the Colorado State graduate student has been producing some of the most staggering numbers in the nation.
Hofschild ranks fifth in Division I in scoring at 23.1 points per game. Her 8.8 assists per game lead the nation; Texas’ Rori Harmon is in second, a full assist behind her. Hofschild is also first in assist rate at 53.2%.
“I do whatever I can do to get this team to a championship,” Hofschild told The Next. “I am not really one who votes for awards or anything; I am just trying to be the best teammate I can be.”
The Rams ended 2023 at 9-3. Each of their losses was by single digits, and Hofschild was still stellar in them. She scored 28 in a 77-76 loss to Long Beach State, and she had 25 points and 10 assists in an 82-75 loss to Mississippi State. On Dec. 30, CSU opened its Mountain West schedule with a 74-71 overtime loss at San Diego State, in which Hofschild recorded 34 points and 12 assists.
“We have high expectations for this team,” Hofschild said. “We had some tough losses that went down to the wire, and we wish we could get those back. But at the end of the day, that’s just part of basketball. We’re looking to improve and get the next one. We are going to work towards our goal, which is a Mountain West championship.”
Improvements in fifth season
Coming from Prior Lake, Minnesota, Hofschild played one year at Seton Hall before transferring to CSU. She came off the bench for two points per game with the Pirates but immediately found her groove in Fort Collins. She started all 21 games in 2020-21, scoring 13.4 points per game, and was anointed MWC Newcomer of the Year after leading the league with 5.4 assists per game.
Her numbers rose to 20.6 points and 7.2 assists last season, and her 3.42 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked second in the nation. She won MWC Player of the Year, beating out UNLV’s Desi-Rae Young, whose double-doubles paced the Rebels to an undefeated conference record.
“It’s a joy to coach her,” Rams head coach Ryun Williams told The Next. “Not very often in your coaching career do you get to coach players as special and talented as McKenna. We are just soaking up every second because it is her last year. Defensively, she has made an improvement. She has a unique game around the rim, where she is finishing at a very high clip. The three-ball is something where she has always been a threat. But this year, off the dribble, she is really shooting that shot quite well.”
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This season, Hofschild is a strong candidate for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award as well as the Nancy Lieberman Award for the nation’s top point guard. Hofschild broke the CSU career assist record in a November blowout over Division II South Dakota Mines, passing Ellen Nyström’s mark of 584 from 2013-17. She concluded that game with 20 points and 14 assists, enough to earn Mountain West Conference (MWC) Player of the Week honors. She owns five other double-doubles this season, including a 36-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist effort at Montana.
“It’s great recognition for McKenna, but also our program,” Williams added. “You don’t do that unless you have quality players around you. McKenna is really helping to put us on the basketball map. We have a unicorn in our program right now, and it’s a neat thing.”
In the shadow of Hammon
When one thinks of Colorado State women’s basketball, Hammon is often the first name that comes to mind. The 5’6 Hammon was a three-time All-American and led the Rams to the Sweet 16 in 1999. She went undrafted, entered the Naismith Hall of Fame as a player last summer, and is on the fast track to entering as a coach.
Hofschild’s numbers this season are slightly higher than Hammon’s when she played for CSU. However, Hammon’s consistency over four years led to 2,740 points, more than any woman or man in Western Athletic Conference history. Hofschild, who has 1,793 career points, said Hammon once met with her and the team at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
“Her biggest advice,” Hofschild said, “was to embrace the opportunity and experience we get with our teammates who become a second family. She was really big on enjoying every day, not taking anything for granted and really bonding with your teammates.”
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But unlike Hammon, playing professionally is not one of Hofschild’s aspirations. After this season, Hofschild will target a graduate assistant spot at an elite program, hoping to put her foot in the door toward her dream of becoming a Division I coach. She has always envisioned playing and coaching at the college level.
“After this year, I will be ready to move on to the coaching aspect and stay in basketball that way,” Hofschild said. “I bring a lot to the table in terms of coaching. I’ve been a point guard my whole life. I am a big studier of the game, I watch, I listen; my passion is basketball. I can just bring a perspective of knowing the game and bringing that into coaching.”
Kansas transfer Ström adding toughness
With all of her experience, Hofschild has earned respect from younger CSU players. Junior guard Sanna Ström has started most of the games this season after playing two years at Kansas. She is from Lulea, Sweden — the same hometown as Nyström, who held CSU’s assist record before Hofschild.
“McKenna is a great player,” Ström told The Next. “[She is] a different kind of point guard than I have played with before, so it’s fun. She is a unique player, and I am impressed with her being able to do what she does, especially with her height.”
Ström started in about a quarter of Kansas’ games last season as the Jayhawks won the WNIT championship. The 6’ guard is averaging just 4.9 points per game, but she brings a toughness that CSU missed last year, according to Williams.
“Whatever you ask her to do, she is going to do it with [all] her might and she is going to battle until that job is done,” Williams told The Next. “We need to find a way to get her a little more productive. She is so versatile both offensively and defensively. I think she is getting more comfortable every day with our system. She is a player we feel we need to have out there, and I think the more we do that, the more production we will see.”
Williams noted that in the Mississippi State loss, he asked Ström to defend one of the Bulldogs’ 6’5 post players. Despite being a full five inches shorter than her opponent, she relentlessly went after the SEC player without hesitation.
“The biggest change for me is the height difference,” Ström said. “I played [against] some big players in the Big 12, which made me passive a little bit. I stopped going to the basket and became more of a shooter and a defender in the Big 12. We had a 6’5 girl on my team, so in practice, we would guard her from getting to the rim. I think that is a big difference because now, I can actually get to the rim. Overall, I think the tempo is really good in the Mountain West, and I am excited to try something else.”
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Ström said CSU’s playing style and philosophy prompted her transfer. She also knew Nyström, the two-time MWC Player of the Year.
“She definitely had a great experience [at CSU],” Ström said of Nyström. “I think it was an adventure and opportunity I wanted to take. America is a great country for basketball. Basketball is definitely a sport coming up in Sweden. Especially from the city I am from, in northern Sweden, it’s definitely a basketball city. We call it the basketball capital sometimes in Sweden.”
“We have great senior teams and great academies, a lot of club teams for younger players. It’s still a sport that needs financial support and higher interest. We have soccer and ice hockey that are two really big sports in Sweden, but I hope [basketball] is a sport that is upcoming,” she added.
Hofschild is also happy with the emergence of Ström, whose best game came in a 93-61 win over High Point, when she scored 13 points in 23 minutes.
“She has been a great addition this year,” Hofschild said. “She brings a lot of toughness, a lot of energy. She is very versatile on both ends of the floor, and it’s been great having her here.”
Last chance for Hofschild to reach NCAA Tournament
CSU will have two games each against UNLV and Wyoming in the MWC season, plus the rematch with the Aztecs. UNLV was predicted to win the league and is 11-1 this season, with its lone loss coming to Seton Hall, Hofschild’s former team.
“These are teams I’ve played a lot in my career,” Hofschild said. “We are all very familiar with one another. I am excited to play against top competition every night, and that is what the Mountain West gives you.”
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.