Bessler basketball

Bulletin photo by Ethan Weston

Buffalo High School junior Cassidy Bessler goes for a layup during a game against Sheridan High School on Dec. 16, 2022 at Buffalo High School.

There was no holiday hangover for the Lady Bison. In its first outing of the new year, the Buffalo High School girls basketball team tore through its opponents at the Pinedale tournament, knocking off two top teams and firmly staking its claim to being one of the best 3A squads in the state. 

“We were over there to make a statement,” coach Keith Leppert said. The Pinedale tournament was just the second time this season that Buffalo has faced a 3A team after packing its early-season schedule with 4A schools. 

“We knew that we’re better than what a 3-2 record might indicate and what we learned was going to pay off when we got into the 3A schedule,” he said.

Pay off, it did. Buffalo – which started the weekend unranked, according to the WyoPreps coaches and media poll – defeated No. 5 Pinedale and No. 2 Lyman in dominant fashion, outscoring the two teams in every single quarter. Both teams had been undefeated before this weekend.

In recent years, Buffalo has built its identity around a stifling defense, but in its first eight games of the year, the Lady Bison’s offense has also emerged as a potent threat. Combined, Buffalo shot 44% from the field in its games against Pinedale and Lyman, led by Karly Davis, who had 45 points on the weekend, and Cantrell Rosalez and Kamry Davis, who both scored 37.

Leppert attributed the improved offensive execution to the team’s focus on taking better shots. The team has become more patient, passing back and forth and waiting for the best opportunity to score, he said. Even after having drained a basket, the players will return to the bench to ask if they took the right shot.

“They’re always constantly trying to learn,” he said. “I mean, even when they’re playing well, they’re looking for ways to improve.”

In some ways, Buffalo’s toughest challenge came from Star Valley (3-5), an unranked opponent whose offense the Lady Bison struggled to stop early on. The first quarter ended with Star Valley ahead 22-16. In the second quarter, Buffalo’s defense was able to manage the game more effectively, holding Star Valley to 12 points. The teams headed to the locker room tied at 32.

But in the second half, Star Valley flagged and Buffalo took advantage. The Lady Bison outscored Star Valley 36-20 in the final two quarters to win 68-54. 

Leppert said that, despite Buffalo trailing early in the game, the Lady Bison demonstrated exactly how he wants the team to approach games. Buffalo’s depth and pure athleticism mean the team can consistently wear its opponents down.

“I told the girls that’s the blueprint for what we want to do,” he said. “Teams might hang with us and even have the lead in the first half, but we know that the second half belongs to us.”

The Lady Bison took that blueprint into games against Pinedale and Lyman, but neither team hung around as long as Star Valley did. 

Against Pinedale (9-1), Buffalo jumped out to a 15-9 lead by the end of the first quarter. The team leveraged its advantage on the inside with Grace Peterson, who led the team in scoring with 17 points in the game. By the end of the first half, Buffalo was up 35-20, and the team never looked back after halftime, dispatching the Lady Wranglers 71-48.

In the team’s final game of the weekend against Lyman (9-1), Buffalo’s scoring declined and the two teams battled on defense. Leppert said the goal was to keep Lyman’s normally prolific shooters off balance. Led by Cassidy Bessler and Tess Rule, the Lady Bison defense held Lyman to 35 points in the game, the Lady Eagle’s second-lowest total of the year. Buffalo won 58-35.

“We hounded them, we frustrated them, and I think we definitely affected their shooting from the outside,” Leppert said.

Buffalo has another chance to knock off a top team on Friday, when the Lady Bison host No. 1 Douglas, last year’s state champion and a perennial threat. Leppert acknowledged the challenge, but he said that if the team plays to its potential, he’s confident the Lady Bison can keep Douglas on the ropes.

“I thought the girls played really, really well (this past weekend),” he said. “And then, as a coach, I sat down and watched film yesterday and saw a lot of things we need to work on, which is kind of scary that these girls can get that much better yet.”

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