Reflections on a Championship Season at the University of South Dakota
You know you're doing something special when you're playing - and winning - college basketball games in the month of April. Across the country, only three teams will end their seasons with victories this month - the winners of the NCAA men's and women's tournaments, and the champion of the WNIT.
That puts the South Dakota Coyotes (32-6) in select company, after USD knocked off Florida Gulf Coast, 71-65, in the WNIT title game, Saturday afternoon in Vermillion.
The victory, in front of a record 7,415 fans, came in the final basketball game to ever be played in the DakotaDome, as the Coyotes get ready to move into a new on-campus facility next season.
The win provided yet another showcase for perhaps the most talented senior class to ever play for the USD women's program:
- Australian Nicole Seekamp, the Summit League Player of the Year, who thought her career was done after last season, only to be granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA. She leaves Vermillion as USD's all-time leader in games started, assists, and free throw shooting.
- Wisconsinite Kelly Stewart, who scored 800 points in a career that was almost derailed by a serious foot injury.
- Watertown native Tia Hemiller, who finishes with more than 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in her career. She tied a career-high with 22 points against FGCU, Saturday.
- Rapid City native Margaret McCloud, another 1,000 point scorer, who leaves as the most accurate shooter in USD history (56%). McCloud and Hemiller both appeared in 135 games for the Coyotes - the most in program history.
- Brandon native Heidi Hoff, a former South Miss Basketball, who was a starter for the first 12 games of her sophomore season season, before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Since returning, she averaged 15 minutes a game last season, eight minutes a game this season.
I talked with head coach Amy Williams about the emotions leading up to the WNIT title game, the win over Florida Gulf Coast, and what she'll remember most about her graduating players:
Without those five seniors, South Dakota looks to returners like Caitlin Duffy, Jasmine Trimboli, Kate Liveringhouse, Abigail Fogg, Bridget Arens, and Jaycee Bradley to step up next season. All six averaged ten minutes or more per game and averaged a combined 36 of USD's 78 points per game this season. Pierre native Kaitlyn Severyn will also be available next season, after transferring from South Dakota State.
This season's Coyotes celebrated with an on-campus rally in Vermillion, Monday afternoon: