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Balanced DWU women stressing tougher defense

Coming off back-to-back national tournament appearances, the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team is getting accustomed to preseason accolades.

Dakota Wesleyan's Rylie Osthus (10) looks for a pass as Dakota State's Kennedy Wagner (2) defends during a game last year at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Osthus and the Tigers start their season in one week. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan's Rylie Osthus (10) looks for a pass as Dakota State's Kennedy Wagner (2) defends during a game last year at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Osthus and the Tigers start their season in one week. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Coming off back-to-back national tournament appearances, the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team is getting accustomed to preseason accolades.

But the Tigers, who went 27-7 last year, finished second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament and reached the second round of the national tournament, are intent on entering the 2017-18 season with a blue-collar approach.

"We've started a pretty good tradition here at DWU and we want to keep that up," senior point guard Chesney Nagel said. "We also know it takes one game at a time. That's what we are focusing on."

Outside of the DWU locker room, the Tigers were tabbed to finish second in the GPAC preseason coaches poll - behind last year's champion Concordia University. On Tuesday, DWU was announced as the No. 8-ranked team in the NAIA Division II preseason poll.

DWU head coach Jason Christensen said his team won't get caught up with extra outside attention and added the Tigers are focusing on minimizing mistakes.

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"We want to play our best basketball when the end of February rolls around," Christensen said. "We play hard all the time, but we didn't play smart all the time. We need to play a little bit smarter than last year in different situations."

One of DWU's main focal points this preseason has been on the defense. Last year, DWU held teams to an average of 60.9 points per game and 36 percent shooting, which was 25th- and 14th-best in the nation, respectively. Becoming even more consistent on stopping opposing offenses is a high priority for the Tigers this season.

"We were always pretty good early, but we need to play four quarters of defense," Christensen said. "We want to have that same energy level from the first quarter all the way to the fourth quarter."

Nagel added defense has dominated a lot of the team's preseason practices.

"Our defense is going to be key this year," Nagel said. "It all starts with our energy. We trust our teammates to bring forth the effort and to have our backs. That's where it all starts."

Senior Amber Bray noted DWU played its best games last year when the defense was clicking.

"Our defense is going to drive our offense," Bray said. "We want to be aggressive."

While the defense is gaining plenty of attention by the Tigers early in the season, DWU's offense will have to find new scoring threats to replace Erica Herrold and Kristin Sabers. Herrold was second on the team in points per game at 11.3, while Sabers averaged 8.3.

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Last year, DWU had seven players average five points or more per game, including returning starters Nagel, Ashley Bray, Amber Bray and Rylie Osthus as well as bench players Sarah Carr and Kynedi Cheeseman.

"Our scoring will be pretty balanced like last year," Christensen said. "On any given night we can have a kid step up and lead us in scoring."

Christensen pointed to South Dakota State transfer Jessica Mieras, a 6-foot-4 center, and sophomore Makaela Karst, a 6-foot-1 former Mount Vernon/Plankinton standout, as two players that should have bigger roles for the Tigers.

"Jessica is more of a true center and I've never had a true center," Christensen said. "Makela Karst had kind of taken that Erica Herrold role. She has that size, she's still learning, but she should be able to step into that role and continue getting better."

Four freshmen, including former Ethan standouts Kacey Bartscher and Rachel Hawkins, are on the DWU's roster and Christensen said he's liked what he's seen from his younger players early on.

"They are making us better every day," Christensen said. "It's going to be a process. We are pretty deep. I feel pretty good about seven or eight kids. Some nights we might go big, some we might go small. It'll depend on the opponent."

DWU opens its season with a top-10 matchup, taking on No. 9 Jamestown at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Corn Palace.

Related Topics: DAKOTA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
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