DWU women’s mindset, practice habits highlight start to season
Tigers see improved defense, rebounding over weekend
Dakota Wesleyan University entered the weekend on a three-game skid and losers of four of its last five games, but its mindset never changed.
Coach Jason Christensen tells his team to not focus on its record, especially this early in the season after the DWU women experienced a tumultuous last two months that saw numerous games canceled and the entire team quarantining for 15 days. It’s a “next play” or “next game” mentality in the tough, yet upset-filled Great Plains Athletic Conference.
On Saturday, the Tigers (4-4, 2-4 GPAC) added to the long list of upsets in the conference this season. They held the third-highest scoring team in the GPAC to 37 points below its average in a 61-38 win over Midland (Neb.), which received votes in the latest NAIA national poll.
“I think our mindset has been there this whole year, as far as we’ve been hungry, we’ve been aggressive,” Christensen said. “I’ve really stressed to them, we can’t get caught up in wins and losses early because we went through a lot. … It’s how you handle it.”
DWU showed it can bounce back from a rough stretch, one it held fourth-quarter leads in two losses. The Tigers led Northwestern (Iowa) by four points with under three minutes to play, but allowed a 10-0 run to end the game. And Jamestown (N.D.) held DWU to eight points in the fourth quarter to escape with a three-point comeback win.
Instead of the young Tigers crumbling, they continued to buy into the scouting report. They ran Midland’s shooters off the 3-point line, played sound gap defense and put an emphasis on rebounding. Alexandria native Jada Campbell and Tripp native Matti Reiner both had a double-double, as DWU’s 20 offensive rebounds helped generate offense on a cold shooting night.
“We just have that mindset every game, we’re going to go out and play as hard as we can and see what we can do with it,” DWU guard Rynn Osthus said. “We like big games. We like competition, so we were ready for it.”
Osthus joined the starting lineup for the first time on Saturday, in place of Haylee Mork. Her seven points, nine rebounds and two steals were a strong debut in the starting five, though the sharpshooting Mork still played 21 minutes off the bench.
The move wasn’t based solely on production, rather based more on Christensen still trying to settle on a rotation and find the most productive lineups. The Tigers run an 11-man rotation.
“We’re just trying to find different mixtures, Christenen said. “I always tell our kids, it doesn’t matter who starts the game. It matters who finishes the game.”
DWU’s gap defense and staying down in the paint led to seven blocks, as DWU’s 62.3 points allowed per game is the fewest in the GPAC. But its shooting struggles continued. The Tigers shot 32 percent from the field, dropping their season shooting percentage to 39.4 percent.
DWU’s offense has still gotten a boost from the 6-foot-4 Campbell. She only attempted one shot against Northwestern, but she’s been visibly more aggressive in the last three games, averaging 12.3 points on 13 shot attempts per game. Aside from towering over defenders in the paint and the ability to grab offensive boards, she can hit a mid-range jumper and be an effective passer. It adds another wrinkle to DWU’s offense.
“The more they have to guard me, the more it opens it up for the rest of the team,” Campbell said. “I think by me creating my offense, it creates more team offense.”
When talking about buying into DWU’s program, Campbell is near the top of that list. Christensen has been impressed with the Presentation College transfer’s willingness to learn. He’s not trying to put too much on her plate, rather focusing only on a couple of post moves and having her come off screens more effectively. The result has been a near double-double every night and one of the best shot blockers in the GPAC at 1.6 blocks per game.
“You talk about a kid who really bought in,” Christensen said. “You get a transfer kid … and you come and play for a new coach, a lot of times you can be in there, ‘Oh I already know that. I already know this.’ Jada hasn’t been that way. She’s been like, ‘I want to learn. I’m going to buy into this.’ It’s paid off.”
And she hasn’t been the only one. That mindset is partly why the Tigers were able to bounce back on Saturday.
“I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve been having in practice,” Christensen said. “These guys come and work everyday. I don’t know if it’s because we’re so young and they don’t know any better, but practices are a lot of fun right now. I love the way they’re working.”
Next up, the Tigers host Hastings (Neb.) at 4 p.m. today at the Corn Palace.