BROOKINGS -- As South Dakota State University surged past Syracuse on its own floor with a 16-2 run, the ESPN cameras repeatedly cut to the Jackrabbit bench celebrated euphorically en route to an upset win Monday to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s basketball Tournament.
At the center of those celebrations was Plankinton native Megan Bultsma, a 6-foot-3 reserve center in her third season for 28-6 SDSU.
She has seen limited action during the postseason, but Bultsma is fulfilling her role on the Jackrabbit squad and she is enjoying every second of No. 6-seed SDSU’s run to the regional semifinals against No. 2 Oregon Friday at 10:30 p.m. in Portland, Oregon.
“I haven’t seen all of those clips too much, but we’re really close-knit,” Bultsma said. “We work so hard together in practices and in the games, we’re always there for each other, cheering on every single thing that happens. You still feel part of it, no matter what you do.”
Bultsma did not see any time on the court during the win over Syracuse and played the final seconds in the Jackrabbits’ first-round win over No. 11 Quinnipiac on Saturday, but she is often the first one off the bench to greet teammates during timeouts.
While Bultsma has entered 22 of SDSU’s 34 games this season, playing time is never a guarantee. Regardless, she treats her role the same in every contest and helps prepare the first unit as best as possible in practice.
“When we’re getting ready, I just try to make everyone else around me better,” Bultsma said. “When we get down on the floor before the game, I’m just doing things to get everyone excited -- doing cheers, hanging out in the locker room and getting everyone ready to play -- and then being as loud as possible on the bench.”
This is the second time Bultsma has been a part of the NCAA Tournament, but this time one has carried a different feel. Coming in as a No. 8 seed last season, SDSU was abruptly ousted in the first round by No. 9 Villanova in overtime, despite a 25-point night from Mitchell native Macy Miller.
This time around, SDSU rolls into Portland on an 18-game winning streak, pulling out a pair of hard-fought wins in the tournament to get there. That has added to the outpouring of support from the community, Bultsma said.
“This one has been a little more exciting,” Bultsma said. “When we left Brookings (for Portland) everyone in town was super excited because this is something new that we haven’t done at South Dakota State before. The support from everyone has just been amped up, which is cool for all of us.”
The Jackrabbits arrived in Portland on Wednesday night, and will practice today at Moda Center -- the home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers -- before playing the second of two regional semifinal games on Friday. Top-seeded Mississippi State plays fifth-seeded Arizona State in the opener at 8 p.m.