BILLINGS — Layla Baumann has had to play catch up.
Billings West’s standout senior tore the labrum in her left shoulder in June and had surgery in July. She returned a month early, though, missing only the first two games of the season.
“The first six weeks I was in a sling and couldn't do anything, then I started (physical therapy). At first it was a ton of strengthening and getting my range of motion back, which I'll never have fully back, but it was definitely hard," Baumann said.
The No. 2-ranked Golden Bears certainly missed her early on. West split the two games Baumann missed in December but is 4-0 since her return, winning by an average of just over 30 points per game.
“When your best player is putting in extra time and is in the weight room, it's hard for others not to follow," head coach Charlie Johnson said. "For us it's a luxury that she's back. I know she wanted to get back sooner, but we're just glad she's back this year."
Both Baumann and Johnson attribute their winning ways more so to the effort defensively. Baumann and the other guards can play ultra-aggressive on the perimeter, because the two 6-foot-4 Pierce sisters loom in the paint to deter opponents.
“We're super long and I think it's going to help defensively and offensively, as well. If we work the ball around it will be easy to find them inside," Baumann said.
“I'd prefer to keep the ball in front of us so (Sydney Pierce) and those guys don't always have to erase it, but it's nice for the girls to understand that if we do miss an assignment or get beat, we have height in the back end that can erase some shots," Johnson said.
With Baumann back, West has all the makings of a championship contender. After missing out on the opportunity for hardware last season, that’s the end goal for this year’s Bears.
“It was tough. It was difficult knowing we had a team that probably should have been playing in one of those games Saturday afternoon, evening. Just the basketball didn't bounce our way that weekend. It still was a great group last year. We have a lot of returnees that are hungry to get past that, get over that hurdle, so they're hungry to get there. But again, we're only in January," Johnson said.
West takes its shot at defending champion Billings Skyview at home on Thursday night.