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Tigers sport youth, pair of returning All-Americans in 2019-20

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Sarah Carr (40) goes to the basket past a St. Thomas' (Fla.) defender during a game in the first round of the NAIA Division II national tournament at the Tyson Events Center last season in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It’s the same philosophy, just with a new cast for the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team.

The Tigers want to hold teams under 65 points and out-rebound their opponents on a nightly basis. It’s what powered them to a national semifinal appearance last season.

DWU returns four rotation players from that team. But a slew of underclassmen need to step up for the No. 7 Tigers to experience a third straight deep postseason run, starting at 6 p.m. today at the Corn Palace against Valley City State University (N.D.).

“This will be the most freshmen I’ve ever played since my very first year,” DWU coach Jason Christensen said. “... We’re just trying to figure out where we should be playing kids. I’m very confident in the stuff that we’re running, very confident in our defense and stuff we need to do but now we need to get better with it.”

While DWU continues to improve on “getting to the ball (and) rebounding,” Christensen will try to fit the right pieces around his four seniors. That includes a pair of All-Americans in Kynedi Cheeseman (first team) and Sarah Carr (second team).

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Cheeseman’s 19 points per game led the team last season, making her DWU’s ninth all-time leading scorer (1,467). The Alexandria native has a chance to be just the second women’s player to score 2,000 career points.

Carr (17.1 ppg/6.1 rpg), Plankinton native Makaela Karst (9.9 ppg/4.7 rpg) and Jessica Mieras, who missed all of last season, add size to the Tigers. Depending on how Christensen staggers their playing time, it could lead to a plethora of lineups and playing styles.

“We’re two different teams,” Christensen said. “We’re going to be a team where you see us get up and down the floor, and then we’re going to have some lineups in where you’re going to see us just beat it into the paint.”

The Tigers have plenty of options, albeit young ones. Kaylee Kirk will take over at point guard for four-year starter Rylie Osthus, whose all-around game Christensen knows won’t be easy to replace. Haylee Mork will also start for the Tigers after playing just 21 minutes last season.

With the graduation of Madison Mathews and Sam Schuh becoming a student coach, four freshmen are in the 9-to-10 player rotation.

Twins Kelsey and Lexi Valencia add length to the backcourt, Tripp native Mattilynn Reiner will start the season as a shooting guard and small forward, and Kamryn Heinz is expected to see action.

“Right now, I’m kind of confused with what combinations to play,” Christensen said. “We’re playing a lot of younger kids and trying to find the right mix of who to play with who.”
After opening at home against VCSU, the Tigers play Dakota State and Presentation at the NAIA Sanford Pentagon Classic over the weekend. They also play South Dakota State University at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Pentagon in an exhibition game.

Although, its first big test comes in its Great Plains Athletic Conference opener on Nov. 13 at No. 5 Dordt (Iowa), which was picked second in the GPAC, one spot ahead of DWU. Christensen is ready for the early-season challenge. But the youthful Tigers’ identity won’t be known until later in the year.

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“So you ask expectations, if you can get to 20 wins that’s a good thing. But I don’t know with this group if you can base it on wins and losses quite yet,” Christensen said. “… I’m hoping when we get back from our Christmas break, we’re where we need to be and I’m starting to feel comfortable with things we’re doing.”

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