Coyotes Open Summit League Play at Omaha with Targets on Backs
Last season, the South Dakota women's basketball team captured the ultimate Summit League prize, winning the conference tournament and representing the league in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
All of that is a distant memory as the Coyotes open Summit League play at Omaha Friday night.
After 13 non-conference games, USD (10-3) is scoring at the highest clip among Summit League teams, topping 80 points nine times, while giving up 65 points or less in six games.
The numbers are also impressive on the boards, where the Coyotes are the top defensive rebounding team among Summit teams, second to Oral Roberts overall.
USD head coach Amy Williams told me some of the non-conference statistics carry more weight than others in her mind:
The Coyotes have a veteran lineup and have been healthy much of the non-conference schedule, utilizing the same starting five in every game.
The biggest hole to fill on this year's team was in the post, where USD is trying to make up for the graduation of Polly Harrington.
So far, Coach Williams says, a rotation of players is getting the job done:
The offensive star for the Coyotes thru the first 13 games has been senior Raeshel Contreras, who is number two in the conference in scoring (17 points per game) and has already grabbed a pair of Summit League Player of the Week honors.
Coach Williams says Contreras has upped her game thanks to a lot of hard work:
Contreras' production is taking some of the pressure off senior All-Conference guard Nicole Seekamp. Seekamp is in the top ten in the league in scoring, but also in the top five in assists and steals.
Coach Williams says Seekamp's selfless play really sets the tone for this team:
Elsewhere on the roster, USD is getting solid contributions from juniors Kelly Stewart and Tia Hemiller.
Hemiller is just 5-8, but is always among the top rebounders in the league and is second in three point shooting so far, hitting better than 46 percent from behind the arc.
Stewart is nailing 45 percent of her threes so far, and is enjoying the longest stretch of injury-free basketball she has had while in Vermillion.
Coach Williams says Stewart's health is paying big dividends:
After winning five of their last seven regular season Summit League games last year, and capturing their first ever Summit League Tournament crown, the Coyotes are firmly on the radar of every other team in the conference these days.
Coach Williams has a different point of view:
Game one of the Summit League slate is Friday in Omaha against a Mavericks team USD split with last season, winning big in Vermillion before falling behind big early in Omaha and losing by eight in late February.
UNO has last season's Defensive Player of Year in center Taijhe Kelly, as well as two players in the top ten in the Summit League in scoring this season - Mikaela Shaw and Brianna Bogard. Bogard is trying to comeback after missing most of last season with a knee injury:
Tipoff is 7:00pm Friday night in Omaha.