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Momentum from WNIT title bolsters South Dakota State women's basketball ahead of new season

“There is such good momentum from last year. It’s such a talented and experienced group,” said SDSU coach Aaron Johnston, entering his 23rd season on the sidelines and with 542 coaching wins to his name. “Really, it’s been trying to figure out how it’s all going to work well together.”

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South Dakota State's Paiton Burckhard (33) attempts to drive past UCLA's IImar'I Thomas during the first half of a Women's National Invitational Tournament semifinal contest on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Frost Arena, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic
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BROOKINGS — If there’s momentum to be gained from one college basketball season to the next, the South Dakota State women’s basketball team is feeling it this fall.

Off an impressive run to a WNIT championship — played all in the Jackrabbits’ home arena — SDSU turns the page to a new season with a stacked roster and a boatload of experience that should be positioned to make more postseason noise next March.

“There is such good momentum from last year. It’s such a talented and experienced group,” said SDSU coach Aaron Johnston, entering his 23rd season on the sidelines and with 542 coaching wins to his name. “Really, it’s been trying to figure out how it’s all going to work well together.”

They are ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press preseason top-25 (a program first in the preseason), No. 24 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s rankings and No. 1 in the preseason rankings of the women’s Mid-Major Top-25. All of that is on top of a preseason selection as favorites in the Summit League to win a ninth regular-season conference championship and a 10th Summit League tournament title over the last 15 years.

“I think we’ve had to battle a little bit of expectations and success,” Johnston said. “Our players don’t go many places in town without hearing how good they’re going to be and how good they’ve been. There’s a certain skill in handling those things and I think our team is dealing with that. But if we’re not ready, we’re going to find that out in the first handful of games with some really good opponents.”

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South Dakota State's Haleigh Timmer (13) pulls up for a jump shot over Alabama's Allie Craig Cruce (12) during the first half of a Women's National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal contest on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at Frost Arena, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Record (2021-22): 29-9, 17-1 Summit (co-regular season champions, earned No. 1 seed for conference tournament).

Postseason: After a 56-45 loss to South Dakota in the Summit League championship game, SDSU regrouped to win six straight games in the WNIT, capped with a 62-59 semifinal win over UCLA and an 82-50 win over Seton Hall on April 2 in the championship game.

Key returners: SDSU brings back sixth-year senior Myah Selland and fifth-year senior Paiton Burckhard this season to lead the Jackrabbits. Selland, who was named Friday as one of the 50 players on the preseason Naismith Trophy watch list for national player of the year, is the conference’s pick as preseason player of the year after averaging 14.3 points per game. … Burckhard started all 38 games last year and averaged 11.3 points per game and led the team in rebounding at 5.6 per contest … Also back are Tori Nelson (10.3 ppg), Haleigh Timmer (8.0 ppg) and Kallie Theisen (6.3 ppg). … SDSU also looks forward to seeing Paige Meyer back on the court. The sophomore guard started all 29 games she played in for SDSU last season and averaged 10.4 points per game before a season-ending knee injury in February. Johnston said Meyer has progressed well and likely will return in the first month or two of the season.

Key departures: Tylee Irwin is the lone departing starter for SDSU, someone that Johnston said will certainly be missed for her role as a point guard, a guard-anyone-defender and a glue player for the team. Irwin started all 36 games for the Jacks, while averaging nine points a game. Reserve guard Lindsey Theuninck also graduated, leaving the guard position a key position to watch.

Key newcomers: Former St. Thomas More standout and University of Utah graduate Dru Gylten transfers in as a graduate student to play guard. Last season, she started 29 games for the Utes and led the Pac-12 in assists and led her team in minutes per game. … Also moving in as freshmen are forwards Brooklyn Meyer and Natalie Nielsen, both from northwest Iowa, and guards Ellie Colbeck and Madison Mathiowetz, each from Minnesota.

Notes: Selland, Meyer and Burckhard were preseason all-Summit first team picks, with Nelson on the second team. …SDSU enters the season on a 16-game home winning streak, which is sixth-longest in the country. … Selland enters the season with 1,602 career points, putting her within striking distance of becoming only the second Jackrabbit all-time to score 2,000 points in a career (Macy Miller scored 2,355 points from 2014-19).

Schedule notes: The Jacks open the season with No. 21-ranked Creighton in Frost Arena on Monday, Nov. 7, followed by home games with Lehigh (Nov. 11) and Mississippi State (Nov. 14). … From Nov. 19-21, SDSU will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, starting with UCLA, a team SDSU defeated twice last year. … The marquee non-conference game is with defending national champion and No. 1-ranked South Carolina at the Sanford Pentagon on Dec. 15, a game that will be nationally televised and is nearly sold out. … The conference schedule starts on Dec. 19 by hosting Oral Roberts.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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