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Jackrabbit women riding high heading into Summit League tourney

South Dakota State’s Kerri Young, left, has the ball knocked from her hand by Penn State’s Keke Sevillian, right, from Penn State in the first half of a women’s basketball game earlier this season at Frost Arena in Brookings. (Dave Eggen/Inertia)

The South Dakota State University women's basketball team is on track to return to the NCAA national tournament, and Mitchell native Kerri Young is playing a key role.

After a win over Western Illinois University Saturday, the Jackrabbits sit in first place in the Summit League standings at 19-8 overall and 10-1 in conference play with three games left in the regular season.

In her freshman year with SDSU, Young is coming off the bench and playing solid minutes for Jackrabbit coach Aaron Johnston.

"Kerri is a spark for us," Johnston said. "She can come in, score points and has gotten better defensively as the season has progressed. She might be able to get us 20 points in a game or a couple of important rebounds."

Young has played in all 27 games for the Jackrabbits, starting one. She is averaging 20.4 minutes of playing time and scoring 8.3 points per contest, the fourth most on the team.

Young is also averaging 2.4 rebounds and has made 18 three-point shots.

"I came to this team with confidence and wanted to play a big part as a freshman," Young said. "I put the time in during the summer and I feel like I have helped the team out so far."

As a team, SDSU is third in the league in scoring (74.3 points) and first in team rebounds per game (41.7). The team has won 11 of its last 12 games, and has bounced back from its lone Summit League loss on Feb. 8 to IUPUI with two straight wins.

Leading the SDSU offense is junior guard/forward Megan Waytashek, who is averaging 11.1 points per game to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 37 made three pointers. Senior guard Steph Paluch is scoring 10 points per game and pulling down a team-high 6-6 rebounds, while junior forward Mariah Clarin is chipping in with 8.7 points per contest.

Defensively, the Jackrabbits are holding opponents to 64.8 points per game, second best in the conference.

"We are doing really well right now," Johnston said. "We need to get more consistent offensively and we need to take better care of the ball."

SDSU was tied atop the standings with IUPUI, until the Jaguars lost to the University of South Dakota Saturday in Vermillon.

Following the final three games of the Summit League season, SDSU will compete in the conference tournament from March 8-11 at the Sioux Falls Arena. The Jackrabbits have won the event each of the last five seasons to secure bids to the NCAA national tournament.

Johnston's crew has entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed for the last two seasons and is on track to be the top team once again this year.

"It's always a great environment, not just for us, but for all the women's teams that get to play there," Johnston said. "Very rarely do they get to play in that kind of atmosphere."

The Jackrabbits play their final home game against North Dakota State University at 4 p.m. Feb. 22 at Frost Arena in Brookings. SDSU is 13-0 at home this season.