Veterans return for DWU women; Tigers kick off season against Kansas Wesleyan
Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball coach Jason Christensen and his team are coming off the best season in his tenure and are looking for more.
The national tournament is the ultimate goal for the Tigers but Christensen said his team must build its goal starting now.
DWU plays in its first regular-season game of the season today at the Doane Classic. The Tigers face Kansas Wesleyan at 6 p.m. today in Crete, Neb.
“We have to take it one game at a time and the more games we win, the better chance we have at getting to the national tournament,” the fourth-year head coach said. “A lot of people around town are asking where we think we can finish. I say we can be anywhere from two or three down to the ninth spot because the Great Plains Athletic League is that tough.”
Last season, Wesleyan finished fifth in the conference going 20-11 overall and 11-9 in the GPAC. It was the most wins the women’s program has had since the 2003-04 season.
Last season’s success matched with the returning veterans put the Tigers as a fifth-place selection in the conference preseason polls. Wesleyan also received votes in the preseason Division II NAIA women’s basketball poll. Last season, the Tigers received votes on multiple occasions and peaked at the 24th spot in the Jan. 22 poll.
A big reason for the Tigers’ success was the post play of forward Kim Johnson and the outside play of guards Amanda Hart and Celeste Beck. Johnson, a senior from Sioux Falls, averaged a GPAC-leading 18.5 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. For her stellar post play, Johnson was named second team All-American and all-GPAC first team.
While Johnson was dominating the post, Beck and Hart were firing on all cylinders from behind the three-point line.
Beck, a junior from Sioux Falls, averaged 11 points per game, earning all-GPAC honorable mention honors. She led the NAIA and the GPAC with a 48.8 percent three-point percentage.
Hart, a senior from Alexandria, earned all-GPAC second-team honors after averaging 11.5 points per game. She finished fifth in the NAIA in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers per game with 3.1.
Joining Johnson, Beck and Hart in the starting lineup will be junior forward Katie Johnson and senior guard Taylor Piper.
Johnson was a key contributor off the bench for Wesleyan last year, averaging 7.6 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game. Piper, a Mitchell native, ran point for the Tigers as a junior, averaging 5.3 points per game and 3.2 assists per game.
“This season we will probably go as far as our older kids take us,” Christensen said. “This will be the deepest team I have had since I have been at DWU.”
The Tigers’ biggest losses from a season ago are starting guards Brittany Hills and Elizabeth Lamb.
Christensen looks to junior guards Micaela Erickson and Skyler Heyden, a Burke native, to fill the spots.
Christensen added he is expecting contributions from freshmen post players Erica Herrold, of Parkston, and Kristin Sabers, of Mitchell.
“It’s huge to have Erica and Kristin,” Christensen said. “We have been rotating them with Kim and Katie, and they are learning a lot and are very athletic and very hungry.”
Christensen said his team still has a long way to go but was encouraged by what he saw in DWU’s exhibition matches against Division II foes Augustana College and Northern State University.
“We have to be ready to play because it is going to be a battle and a grind all year,” Christensen said. “Offensively, I am happy with where we are at. I think we do a good job of finding who can score. “Defensively, we have a long way to go. We have to be able to defend and if I had to pick out one thing out that we have to better at, is play better on ball defense.”