Those in attendance of the women’s Summit League Tournament Championship game on March 12 in Sioux Falls, watched on as the University of South Dakota Coyotes fell to in-state rival South Dakota State, ending the school’s final chance of making the “Big Dance”.
Three days prior, the Coyotes men’s basketball team suffered a one-point loss to the Western Illinois Leathernecks in the first round of the men’s Summit Tourney. SDSU ended up winning the tournament for the second consecutive season.
Despite the countless bitter Coyotes in Vermillion looking north, both basketball programs have gained valuable experiences by taking part in their respective tournaments and have brought hope to a newly founded Division 1 university.
Following six consecutive losses to conference opponents the men’s basketball team didn’t look like a team that would do much damage in the conference tournament, while in their first year of eligibility.
After two dominate wins and a two-point loss to Western Illinois to close out the season, the Coyotes seemed to be a potential dark horse to win it all. Despite already losing two close contests to the Leathernecks during regular season play, due to tournament seeding, USD was given a chance to avenge those defeats and their mediocre 11-19 season.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way anyone had hoped as the Coyotes first opportunity to make the NCAA tournament was silenced with a devastating 53-54 loss.
On the following day, the women’s basketball had a chance to do what the men’s couldn’t: win. The team took to the court in the first round and ended up demolishing North Dakota State. After a win against the IUPUI Jaguars, the team competed in their first D1 championship game against the four time champion Jackrabbits.
The Coyotes made a valiant effort; however, in the end the Jacks pulled ahead for the 56-53 win.
Certainly the close loss put a damper on the 17-15 winning season, especially for the seniors who weren’t able to experience the March Madness atmosphere.
Take a look at the picture this way; Even being given the opportunity to compete in a national championship tournament, where the best of the best collegiate programs go to dance, is a monumental step for the school, it’s student body, faculty, alumni and fans.
Despite losing the women’s appearance in the championship game marked the first time in the history of the university that any athletic program has competed in a D1 level championship game.
The university may be few years removed from regularly getting games featured on ESPNU, but this game shines a light on the ability this school’s athletic programs has, something many have written off.
On a larger scale, the losses are tough, and are going to be hard to swallow. The basketball Division 1 programs are in their infancy and will take some growth (just ask football). This moment however will go down in the history books, and in the future when our beloved Coyotes hoist their trophies, we won’t care about those history books.