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Dakota Wesleyan University coach Jason Christensen instructs his athletes as senior Amanda Hart listens during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game against Mount Marty earlier this season at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan University coach Jason Christensen instructs his athletes as senior Amanda Hart listens during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game against Mount Marty earlier this season at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Christensen, seniors spend four years building DWU program

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sports Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Four years ago, Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball coach Jason Christensen and four players embarked on a journey.

Now, Christensen, along with seniors Kim Johnson, Taylor Piper, Micaela Erickson and Amanda Hart, have helped the Wesleyan women’s program get back to its winning ways.

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“This is a special group,” Christensen said. “There is probably not a team in the GPAC that started with what we had and turned around the way we did. We went from being a six-win team to being a competitive group.”

Since Christensen took over in 2010, the Tigers have morphed from a 6-25 team to a squad that has made appearances in the NAIA top 25 polls. A large part of that success has come from the roles this year’s senior class has played. The class features two players who are a part of the 1,000-point club.

Hart, an Alexandria native, and Piper, a Mitchell native, have played in all 118 games that Christensen has coached in. This season, Hart is averaging 12.8 points per game, which leads the Tigers. In her four years, Hart has tallied 1,320 points, which ranks eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list. She also holds the school record for most 3-pointers made in a season (104) and career (362).

“We are really proud of the way we have built its program back up to its former glory,” Hart said. “I remember watching this team when I was growing up and it has really meant a lot to me to help this program get back to where it needs to be.”

Piper has scored 578 career points, dished out 344 assists and recorded 144 steals in her four years. The point guard has also started all 25 games for the Tigers this season.

Erickson is listed as a junior on the Wesleyan roster because she sat out the 2011-12 season due to a torn ACL. She has played in 71 games, recording 390 points and 273 rebounds. This season, Erickson is averaging 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and has started 16 of the Tigers 25 games.

Johnson, a forward from Sioux Falls, has scored 1,277 career points, which ranks 11th on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season, Johnson earned second-team All-American honors and first-team all-GPAC honors after she averaged 18.5 points per game.

This season, Johnson’s scoring output has dropped to 10.2 points per game. A large part of Johnson’s scoring decline is due to the emergence of freshmen forwards Erica Herrold and Kristin Sabers and junior forward Katie Johnson. Herrold and Sabers are averaging 8.7 and 7.3 points per game, while Katie Johnson is averaging 11.8.

“It has been exciting to watch how they have progressed,” Christensen said. “I had two choices to make. One was to go after junior college kids or build with what we had here already. It has worked because the kids bought into what I was trying to teach them and that is why we have had the success that we have had.”

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