A new look for the Tigers: DWU women want to play fast, press on defense
There’s a lot of change to the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team this season.
It extends beyond needing to replace four key seniors, including three stalwarts in the starting lineup. The slower-paced, tough half-court style that has become a staple under coach Jason Christensen has transitioned to an up-and-down, full-court press team. Using experience from previous young teams he’s coached, Christensen wants them to play fast, aggressive and not overthink.
Due to COVID-19, the Tigers have rarely had full practices, and the usual preseason alumni game and scrimmages have been canceled, too. Therefore, this weekend’s games against Valley City State (N.D.) and Presentation College at the Sanford Pentagon will be his first true look at the new system.
“It’s going to be a work in progress,” Christensen said. “I think we have a lot of talent. I think we have a lot of athleticism, but it’s a wait and see.”
The Tigers are also very young. Kaylee Kirk has tried to step up as a leader, with the most playing time under Christensen. The junior 5-foot-5 point guard carved a valuable role as an excellent rebounder (5.4 rpg), defender (2.5 spg) and distributor (4.2 apg) over the past two seasons, but she only shot 36.6 percent from the field and scored 4.9 points per game, which is the most of returning players.
With their top-four scorers graduated, who will score for the Tigers this year?
Rynn Osthus (2.5 ppg / 32.9 percent shooting) had promising moments when she cracked the rotation last year and Tripp native Matti Reiner (3.6 ppg / 35.7 percent shooting) started nine games. Haylee Mork (2.4 ppg / 46.2 percent shooting) started three games, as well.
However, like many aspects of the Tigers, it’s hard to tell heading into the season.
“For me to pick a leading scorer right now, I couldn’t pick one,” Christensen said. “… I think it’s going to be a wait and see thing.”
He also noted Presentation transfer Jada Campbell as a consistent scorer in practice. She averaged 16.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and two blocks per game en route to being named the North Star Athletic Association defensive player of the year and all-conference second team member. She was third in the NAIA in rebounding.
Freshmen Haidyn Pitsch and Hannah Berens have also shown the ability to score in practice, as they make up two of the 14 freshmen on the roster. Christensen envisions a 10-12-player rotation to open the year, though he hasn’t settled on a starting lineup yet.
The larger rotation is a product of the faster pace and youth. While DWU hopes it creates chaos and leads to turnovers, it likely will lead to DWU also turning it over more than the 16.3 times per game it did last season, which were the second fewest in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
“I’m going to have to live with some turnovers. We know that, but as the year goes on, hopefully we can cut down on the turnovers,” Christensen said. “This group, when you’re this young, you don’t want them thinking. I’m trying to let them play, get up and down the floor.”
Christensen often says his team is a “work in progress” before the season, but given the unusual offseason and youth, the mantra seems more true this year than in the past. The Tigers have to replace a lot of production and are ushering in a new system to set the groundwork for future success, too.
“I have to be patient with this group,” Christensen said. “I can’t just focus on wins and losses. We have to learn to compete and get better, and hoping that’s what I see this weekend.”