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South Dakota State WNIT notebook: Rapid City native Haleigh Timmer shines during tournament run

Timmer averaged 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds during the first 31 games, but put up 16.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game after being inserted into the starting lineup.

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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

BROOKINGS — Haleigh Timmer was nothing short of brilliant for South Dakota State during its run to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament title.

Though the true freshman from Rapid City averaged a modest 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game from her prominent spot in the rotation through 31 games, the first-year Jackrabbit made a gigantic leap in the WNIT as she slid into the starting lineup.

Prior to the Summit League basketball championships, SDSU coach Aaron Johnston needed to fill the void left when starting point guard and fellow freshman Paige Meyer’s season was ended by a knee injury. During the conference tournament, Timmer saw her minutes, which hovered in the high teens much of the season, boosted to 24 per night. However, the bit of extra time on the court didn’t lead to much of a bump in production, as Timmer scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds across three games in Sioux Falls.

But even so, Johnston decided to shuffle the lineup again prior to a WNIT first-round matchup with Ohio on March 17, inserting Timmer into the starting five where she’d been just twice (both in November) in her 31 appearances to that point.

That decision sparked a six-game string of exceptional performances to punctuate the St. Thomas More product’s first year in yellow and blue and helped propel the Jackrabbits to a championship.

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Timmer, who had nine double-digit scoring games before the WNIT and none higher than 14 points, kicked off the tournament by notching career-highs with 24 points and eight rebounds against the Bobcats as SDSU won by 30 points.

“Yeah, I felt good,” Timmer said afterward. “It was good to just be in the postseason, play in March and have an opportunity to prove what we can do.”

As it turned out, Timmer and her teammates would have five additional opportunities, and the 5-foot-11 guard made the most out of them.

“I think she’s played really well all year, just with lineups we’ve played her a little bit behind Tylee [Irwin] and Tori [Nelson],” Johnston said following a 22-point outing from Timmer in SDSU’s second-round win over Minnesota. “Quite honestly, she’s probably had this in her earlier, but because of depth and lineups hasn’t had that opportunity. … She’s a tough matchup because she shoots the 3, gets to the rim and can post up. We can just use her in a variety of ways.”

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South Dakota State's Haleigh Timmer walks up to accept all-tournament honors as her teammates cheer after winning the Women's National Invitation Tournament championship on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at Frost Arena, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Across six WNIT games, Timmer scored 100 points — the most of any Jackrabbit — on 39 of 64 (60.9%) shooting, 13 of 23 (56.5%) from distance, and pulled down 30 rebounds (for per-game averages of 16.7 points and 5.0 rebounds). Timmer’s efforts earned her a place on the all-tournament team next to redshirt junior teammate and tournament MVP Myah Selland, who piled up 98 points, 53 rebounds, 23 assists and 13 steals.

“Timmy doesn’t know she’s a freshman,” Selland joked.

Though the six games represent just 16.2% of Timmer’s 37 appearances, her production in those contests accounted for 33.8% of her total scoring (296 points) and 26.5% of her rebounding (113 rebounds).

“I absolutely believe it has a lot to do with just the opportunity. [This lineup] really allowed Haleigh Timmer to shine,” Johnston said after she chipped in 14 points during SDSU’s 82-50 demolition of Seton Hall in the WNIT championship. “She was a difference-maker, not just a good freshman. She was one of the better perimeter players that we saw in all the games that we played.”

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“That girl,” senior Tylee Irwin said of Timmer as she shook her head and a smile spread across her face. “She’s got no fear and it’s going to be so fun to watch her these next few years and see what she can accomplish.”

‘It’s a national championship’

Though South Dakota State was left out of the 68-team NCAA tournament field, a sense of apathy or aversion to their inclusion in the 64-team WNIT field was never felt.

The Jackrabbits took their exclusion from the ‘Big Dance’ and turned it into a not-so-silent motivator, as players and coaches alike couldn’t escape questions surrounding their omission and its effects.

“I think we took it (not making the NCAA tournament) in a very realistic way, certainly disappointed,” Johnston said following a win over Minnesota in the WNIT second round. “I think we have a team that could compete in any national tournament, so I thought it was OK to be disappointed. But they shifted gears, as they’ve done all season through some disappointments and adversity, to focus on what we can make out of what’s in front of us, what we can control versus what we can complain about.”

“That was the first thing when we found out (we were in the WNIT), Myah [Selland] sent in the group chat, “Hey, let’s win this thing,” added Haleigh Timmer.

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South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston holds up the net after cutting it down in celebration of winning the Women's National Invitation Tournament championship on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at Frost Arena, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

The Jackrabbits’ drive to make a deep postseason run was evident. In the first three WNIT rounds, SDSU defeated Ohio, Minnesota and Drake by a combined 69 points. Up next was a pair of closely-contested clashes with Alabama and UCLA, two games that took on very different feels.

Against Alabama, a 17-point first-half lead swung to a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit for the Jackrabbits before they rallied late for a five-point victory. Four nights later against UCLA, neither team managed an advantage of more than six points, as SDSU earned a three-point win over the Bruins.

Then came the WNIT championship, which got out of hand in a hurry for visiting Seton Hall. SDSU led by 20 less than nine minutes in and never allowed the Pirates any wiggle room for a comeback, claiming the tournament title by a record 32-point margin.

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Johnston compared the feelings of winning the WNIT to those of 2003, when his Jackrabbits won the Division II national title shortly before starting the transition to Division I.

“This is a national championship, and that’s the way it should be looked at,” Johnston said. “It’s a different tournament than the NCAA tournament, but it’s a national championship.

“We started off with a group of schools that are all fairly similar. There were no easy wins, we had some scores that looked good, but there were no easy opponents coming through,” Johnston continued. "It absolutely feels like winning a national championship like ours from Division II.”

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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