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DWU women face ‘big’ Fire in national semifinals

Dakota Wesleyan University's Sarah Carr (40) shoots in between St. Thomas' (Fla.) Anari Dozier and Gianni Domond (23) during a game in the first round of the NAIA Division II national tournament at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- The Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team has a big test -- figuratively and literally -- awaiting it in the NAIA Division II semifinals.

After earning a 75-62 win over Taylor (Ind.) on Saturday, the Duer bracket No. 1 seed Tigers take on Liston bracket’s top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) at 8:05 p.m. Monday. The Fire defeated Antelope Valley (Calif.), 75-60, in the quarterfinals.

These teams met in 2018, too, as the Tigers won, 78-64, in the national quarterfinals. And for DWU (31-5), that means remembering the Fire’s (30-2) size.

“They’re big girls,” DWU guard Rylie Osthus said. “It’s kind of hard to pass around them, but we’re ready for the challenge.”

Elsa Paulsson-Glantz, a 6-foot forward, leads the team at 16.9 points per game to go along with 6.2 boards per contest. Meanwhile, Makenzie Cann (14.6 ppg), Jaycee Coe (14.2) and 6-foot-6 Marlena Schmidt (11/6.6 rpg) all score in double figures, too.

Cann and Paulsson-Glantz were both named to the all-Sun Conference first team, while Tim Hays was the conference’s coach of the year. The Fire are sixth in NAIA Division II in scoring with 83.6 points per game, while DWU ranks 10th (79.5 ppg).

“We have to find our openings and play fearless,” Osthus said.

DWU had Sunday off, which was its first day off since the national tournament started. It won three games in three days to reach the semifinals for a second straight year.

“We’ve played three straight days (and) our legs were kind of tired,” Osthus said. “One day off is definitely going to recharge us and get us ready for (Southeastern).”

It also gave the Tigers an extra day to prepare for Southeastern’s size. Last year, the Tigers had 6-foot-1 twins Ashley and Amber Bray. This year, DWU relies on 6-foot-2 Plankinton native Makaela Karst and 6-footer Sarah Carr in the post, while 5-foot-10 Sydney Halling comes off the bench.

The Tigers have had success defending the paint during the national tournament, though. They held the NAIA Division II leading scorer -- Taylor forward Kendall Bradbury -- to 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting in the quarterfinals.

DWU is giving up 59 points per game in three national tournament games as it’s on a run which provided coach Jason Christensen with a pleasant surprise.

“We’re 31-5, and I’m sorry, but they proved me wrong,” Christensen said. “I knew we could get to a national tournament, but with everybody had coming back in the nation, I knew our conference was going to be tougher than nails. We were rated No. 1 for a while and I kept shaking my head and thinking, ‘Man, I don’t know about this.’ What a tough team.”