Back on the court: DWU women return to game action after month-long hiatus

The Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team returned to action on Sunday for the first time since Nov. 11.

Dakota Wesleyan University's Matti Reiner (34) drives to the basket as Doane's Bailee Baack (5) defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Sunday at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team received positive COVID-19 tests in mid-November, the season took a sudden halt.

The Tigers sent home their players for 15 days to quarantine. They postponed three games, and then saw their expected return to the court on Saturday against the College of St. Mary (Neb.) postponed, as well.

By the time DWU stepped back on the hardwood for a 77-59 win over Doane (Neb.) on Sunday at the Corn Palace, it had been over three weeks since its last contest on Nov. 11. At 3-1, the Tigers have the fewest played games in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, with everyone else having played between six and 10 contests.

“I didn’t know what to expect taking that much time off,” DWU coach Jason Christensen said. “It’s not like when people take time off playing a game, we took time off. We were without a basketball in our hands for 15 days because we sent our kids home and they were in quarantine.”

The Tigers ended up having seven days of practice to prepare for Doane. They treated it like preseason 2.0, trying to ease everyone back into shape and still trying to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the young team. They had a 1-hour, 15-minute practice in the morning and afternoon to try to avoid injuries.


“Right when we got back, it felt like a new preseason,” DWU starting point guard Kaylee Kirk said. “It felt like a whole new season because we had been gone for so long. … It took us a few days, but then we were back to normal.”

The hiatus comes in the middle of a year DWU is trying to settle on a rotation that’s replacing four starters, including two All-Americans, from last year’s team.

The emergence of freshman guard Haidyn Pitsch as the team’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, and development of Tripp native Matti Reiner, who averages 12 points and 7.3 rebounds per game helps solidify a couple of more starting spots. But the rest of the rotation is still a work in progress, one Christensen tinkers with every game.

Christensen didn’t have a full-lineup substitution on Sunday that had become a frequent site through DWU’s first three games, though his frequent subbing still resembled a hockey game.

“We still honestly don’t know who to play,” Christensen said. “The positive thing is we have a lot of talented players. I really like this freshman class. I like what my older kids are doing. I like this group a lot, but it’s going to be a learning process.”
Along with figuring out the rotation, the Tigers implemented a faster-paced system. They try to get on the fastbreak and apply ball pressure full court. On Sunday, it started to switch on screens more often, too.

The scrappy Kirk has benefited the most from the full-court press, with a team-high 11 steals. Pitsch also has eight steals.

“I love it. That’s my game,” Kirk said. “I like to get up and pressure, so I’m all for it.”
Now in full swing, Christensen simply wants to continue playing games, even if it means continuing to alter its schedule. On Nov. 12, the Tigers now travel to Jamestown (N.D.) after both teams’ original games were postponed. DWU has 24 scheduled games, but Christensen wants to get to the maximum of 25 contests.

It hosts Northwestern at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Corn Palace.


But on Sunday, in their first action back, the Tigers didn’t look like a team that had to quarantine for 15 days, or one that didn’t play a game for nearly a month. They missed 3-pointers, but they got so many open looks partly due to their passing. And when DWU missed, it got to 50/50 balls and grabbed offensive rebounds.

Christensen praised his team, but for as much as it might be about their talent and potential, it could equally be about their mindset that allowed a young group not to get rattled by an unexpected hiatus.

“I didn’t really expect rust because we had a week of practice,” Alexandria native Jada Campbell said. “Everyone was so excited to get back, and everyone was locked in and engaged. It’s really important when a team can come back from a three-week break and be ready to play.”

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