Haleigh Timmer emerging as South Dakota State women's basketball's next go-to player

Sophomore from Rapid City earning Johnston's trust with poise on both ends of the floor

SDSU's Haleigh Timmer played a team-high 42 minutes in the Jackrabbits' NCAA tournament win over USC on Friday, March 17, 2023 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.
Matt Zimmer/Forum News Service

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Haleigh Timmer made her NCAA tournament debut for South Dakota State in Friday night's first round win over Southern Cal, and from an individual standpoint, it didn't go so well for the sophomore guard.

Timmer made just 2-of-13 shots, had three of her shots blocked, turned the ball over three times and scored five points. At times, she appeared rattled by the Trojans' big and experienced defenders.

And yet in a game where super senior Myah Selland scored 29 points and point guard Paige Meyer provided the spark to shake SDSU out of an early funk, coach Aaron Johnston gave more minutes to Timmer than any of his players. She played 42 of the overtime game's 45 minutes, a full two-and-a-half more than anyone else.

There are a few reasons for that. For one, Timmer is the team's second-leading scorer with 12.1 points per game, their most prolific 3-point shooter, a skilled defender and one of their fastest players, all of which are attributes SDSU would need against a Pac-12 opponent. She's also already etched herself in Jackrabbit lore with her postseason performances, stepping up big in last year's WNIT run and then earning this year's Summit League tournament MVP.

But the Jacks have plenty of other capable players. Johnston could've pulled Timmer for a mental breather as much as a physical one, or just tried someone else to see if they had the hot hand. He didn't.


That is an indication of how highly this program thinks of the 5-foot-11 Rapid City native.

"I really think Haleigh is going to be that next go-to player," Johnston said, alluding to the fact that Selland and Paiton Burckhard are both done after this season. "Paige has a chance to be that next go-to player, and I just have that much confidence in both of those guards. But Haleigh has been that for us for a long time. Last year in the WNIT and those situations, she really rose to the challenge and looked like she was as big or bigger than the moment. You know, and even last night when the ball didn't go in for her, I still feel like she was engaged defensively, where I think she's grown so much. She has gone from a good defensive player to a really good defensive player. We are better when she's on the floor."

The 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship
South Dakota State's Haleigh Timmer races to the basket against St. Thomas' Maggie Negaard on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at the Summit League Basketball Championship at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dave Eggen / Inertia

A former St. Thomas More star, Timmer seemed like a candidate for a breakout season after her postseason heroics last spring as a freshman. In the six WNIT games she averaged 16.7 points and five rebounds, making over 60 percent of her shots.

With Meyer out injured and the Jacks lacking a true point guard, it was nothing short of a heroic turn for Timmer, and while she had to find her role again this year with Meyer returning and grad transfer Dru Gylten coming on board, she eventually did so. Timmer averaged 9.2 points through the Jacks' first 17 games, but it was shortly after the New Year that she established herself as a ridiculously consistent player.

Starting with a 15-point effort against North Dakota on Jan. 7, Timmer scored in double figures every game the rest of the season, averaging 15.5 points over the final 16 games of the season. That included the conference tournament, where Timmer had 25 points in the semifinals against Oral Roberts and 18 in the championship against Omaha.

"She's always had that in her," Burckhard said of Timmer. "I'm not surprised she had the tournament she did. We've seen glimpses of it all season, and for her to come out and have a phenomenal conference tournament was awesome to see. It'll be fun to see what she can continue to do."

For Timmer, the key to success has been confidence. She had to work her way into the rotation last year, and even when she earned regular playing time she was well down the pecking order in offensive weapons. But Johnston and his staff encouraged Timmer to be aggressive, even when on the floor with established veterans. It soon began to pay off.

South Dakota State's Haleigh Timmer (13) attacks the hoop through Omaha's Grace Cave (20) during the Summit League women's basketball championship game on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

"I feel like I'm a lot more comfortable in the offense and my role," Timmer said prior to the NCAA tournament. "Getting used to my teammates and settling in more, I've expanded my game and a lot of that has to do with how my coaches and teammates have helped me."


That, Johnston says, is why he left Timmer out there against the Trojans even when she seemed to be momentarily lacking that confidence. SDSU is going to need Timmer if they're going to have any shot of knocking off top-seeded Virginia Tech on Sunday, and the coach wants to make sure she knows her role has not changed just because she had an off night.

"I think all players play their best when they're clear and confidence in their role," Johnston said. "When they know the plan and everyone else around them feels comfortable with that plan. For Haleigh, specifically, that's where she's really grown. She doesn't get distracted on the floor with things that aren't her responsibility. She recovers well from a missed shot. She recovers from things that don't go her way. When Haleigh gets locked into, 'Here's what I can do well, here's what my team needs me to do well and here's where my focus needs to be', as important as that's been for Haleigh, it's been so important for everyone on the team. It's been a huge part of her development."

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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