Kynedi Cheeseman has been on a scoring tear to start the season.
The Alexandria native has worked around double teams and being face-guarded, scoring a career-high 23 points per game during No. 13 Dakota Wesleyan University’s 8-2 start.
It’s the best mark in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, ranks second in NAIA Division II and would be the best single-season mark in program history. All-time leading scorer Randi Morgan holds the current record at 20.1 points per game in 2000-01.
While Cheeseman showed patience to get to the rim during her 26-point outing in a 73-42 win over Mount Marty College on Wednesday, she has been close to unguardable from anywhere on the court. She shoots 42.1 percent from 3-point range and 87.9 percent from the free-throw line, helping her top 20 points seven times.
“When you’re getting face-guarded, a lot of times you can press,” DWU coach Jason Christensen said. “I thought she did a good job being patient, I thought she did a good job with her shot selection. And I also thought she put the ball on the floor and got to the rim.”
It’s powered her up DWU’s all-time scoring ranks. Against the Lancers, she passed former teammate Ashley Bray (1,689) for fourth all-time with 1,700 career points. Victoria Drefs (1,770) sits in third place and Ronda Morgan (1,843) is second.
“(Bray) was an extraordinary player to play with,”Cheeseman said. “She was so fun to play with, but it means nothing to me.”
Her ascent is setting her up for a historic season. The senior is on pace to score 699 points this season and finish with 2,166 career points, excluding potential postseason games. Randi Morgan holds both school records with 729 points in a single season and 2,557 career points.
A process on defense, Kirk thriving as starter
Christensen expected this season to be a process on the defensive end due to the Tigers’ mixture of youth and seniors. It reached a peak against Mount Marty, though, when it held it scoreless in the second quarter and without a made field goal for 16 minutes, 17 seconds.
The performance pushed DWU’s points allowed per game under Christensen’s desired 60-point threshold (58.4). It’s allowed 159 total points in its two losses, though.
“It all comes down to relying on your teammates that they’re going to be on the help side or keeping your girl in front of you,” Kaylee Kirk said. “It’s all about talking.”
Makaela Karst has been a lynchpin down low, drawing a charge and blocking a shot to set the defensive tone in the first quarter against the Lancers. She’s the only Tiger with double-digit steals (18) and blocks (10) this year.
Kirk has also stepped up in place of four-year starter and GPAC defensive player of the year Rylie Osthus. The sophomore was a strong defender last season, but in a bigger role, she and Cheeseman are tied for the team lead with 23 steals. The 5-foot-5 Kirk also leads the team in rebounding (5.4 rpg).
“I think rebounding is all an attitude thing,” Kirk said. “It’s all who wants to get the ball. After a shot goes up, I have my head down and I go get that rebound.”
Her comfort level has translated to the offensive end, too. She shoots just 33.9 percent and 2-for-16 from deep, but she’s an efficient distributor. Kirk has a team-high 51 assists and has six games with two or fewer turnovers.
“She’s starting to get it, as far as what I want,” Christensen said. “She’s coming over in timeouts between free throws and asks me what I want. I’m thinking and she goes, ‘How about this?’ She’s starting to get it.”
‘We got nothing to lose’
DWU is 2-2 in true road games this season, and it’ll face it’s toughest test to date at 2 p.m. today at Concordia (Neb.). The No. 1 Bulldogs (8-0) have been dominant, winning by an average of 51.6 points. That includes a one-point overtime win over No. 2 Southeastern.
Led by All-American Philomena Lammers (14.5 ppg/6.1 rpg), they also took Division I Creighton to double overtime in an 85-83 exhibition loss.
The defending champs haven’t been stopped since. Concordia has topped 100 points six times, including a season-high 127 points against College of St. Mary. It’s held five opponents to 51 points or fewer, too.
And it won all three games against the Tigers last season.
“I’ve never won down there. They’re really good. They’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Christensen said. “They’re destroying everybody. We got nothing to lose. We’re going to go down there, give it our best shot and see where we’re at.”