HAGEN: SDSU, USD rivalry on the rise in women’s basketballDominance is probably the easiest, most accurate way to describe the South Dakota State University women’s basketball team’s reign of the Summit League tournament for the past four years.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Dominance is probably the easiest, most accurate way to describe the South Dakota State University women’s basketball team’s reign of the Summit League tournament for the past four years.
South Dakota State started its transition to NCAA Division I in 2004 and joined the Summit League in 2007. Since 2009, the first year SDSU was eligible for the NCAA national tournament, the school has claimed the Summit League postseason title each season to earn an automatic berth to the big dance.
One of the biggest reasons for success, head coach Aaron Johnston says, is his team’s strong recruiting within South Dakota.
“For us, part of our strength at SDSU has been built on the fact that we’ve got players, that for a long period of time, really dream of being a Jackrabbit,” he said. “… These players aren’t just fighting for South Dakota State, but they’re fighting for their home and their own area. It’s a sense of pride, and that’s been a good motivator for our team.”
This year, the Jackrabbit women will start their conference season Dec. 30, hosting North Dakota State University at Frost Arena in Brookings, looking to start a run at their fifth straight Summit title.
The 2013 Summit League tournament will be March 9-12 at Sioux Falls Arena, the same site where the Jacks have cut down the nets as champions each of the past four years. This year, though, SDSU won’t be the only team using Sioux Falls for home-court advantage.
The University of South Dakota completed its transition phase to Division I last year, making the Coyotes eligible for the Summit League tournament and, more importantly, the NCAA national tournament. USD started its transition to Division I in 2007 and became a member of the Summit League in 2011.
Last year, South Dakota’s two biggest universities met for the first time as Summit League members, with each team winning on its home court. SDSU took the first meeting by eight points in front of 3,309 fans at Frost Arena, while USD picked up a somewhat surprising six-point overtime win at the DakotaDome in Vermilion in the second game, where 3,824 fans attended.
This season, the teams will match up Jan. 5 in Brookings and again on Jan. 31 in Vermillion. Because of the effective recruiting blueprint South Dakota State has drawn, which has been followed closely in the last year by USD, the rivalry is going to grow to new heights in the upcoming years.
Earlier this week, Mitchell upcoming junior Macy Miller announced her verbal commitment to SDSU, making her the second Kernel in two years to become a Jackrabbit. Miller will join the school in 2014, while Mitchell upcoming senior Kerri Young will wear blue and yellow in the fall of 2013.
This season, the Jacks have five players from South Dakota returning from last year’s team along with freshman recruit Chloe Cornemann, a Yankton High School graduate. By the time Miller is a freshman at SDSU, Johnston will have at least five South Dakota-born players on his roster.
USD, which recently announced the hiring of Amy Williams as its new head coach, has one returning player from South Dakota next year. But Williams has inherited four freshmen recruits from the state, including Brandon Valley’s Heidi Hoff, Rapid City Stevens’ Margaret McCloud, Watertown’s Tia Hemiller and Madison’s Bailey Milne.
South Dakota and South Dakota State’s rosters are filling up with in-state talent, and Williams and Johnston are excited about adding to the already intense rivalry.
“It’s to a point where all the little girls are growing up in the state of South Dakota, knowing they don’t have to leave the state to play at a competitive Division I program,” said Williams, a Spearfish High School graduate who was born in Armour.
Johnston said he can’t think of a better in-state rivalry in the women’s college game.
“There are other in-state games like Iowa-Iowa State, for instance, but they’re not in the same league,” he said. “They play each other, but those games are not quite the same.
“Michigan-Michigan State, those teams are both in the Big Ten, but they have players from all over the country on those teams. They didn’t grow up playing against each other and in high school or in AAU. It’s really unique to have SDSU and USD that will be built on players that played against each other and know each other.”
Last season, the attendance figures were not overly impressive when the SDSU and USD women’s teams matched up. Before last year, the last time the Coyotes and Jackrabbits played was Feb. 15, 2010, in front of a crowd of 5,246 at Frost Arena, which holds up to 6,500 fans. The DakotaDome is a 10,000-seat facility.
Expect attendance numbers to rapidly rise in the upcoming years when the USD and SDSU women’s basketball teams meet on the court. The local interest is going to bring the rivalry to a new summit.