Head women’s basketball coach Amy Williams is taking the first few games of the season seriously, but after her team started last season slowly, she has a different perspective.
“If you can have success, be successful or see great things out of your program in those games, that’s a positive,” Williams said.
Besides winning and publicizing the program, USD’s early season games serve as a team building exercise.
“The big thing is how are we going to react to those tough challenges,” Williams said. “Those tests can tell you a lot about character and prepare you for the rigors when you get into the challenges of the Summit League.”
The players have a number of things they will have to focus on by tipoff Friday at 7 p.m.
“If we work on those little things at the start of the year, then by the end of the year we should have all that down and it’s just about us playing our game,” senior guard Nicole Seekamp said.
One of the main things the team has been focusing on this year is its defense. The Coyotes had the 41st highest scoring offense in the nation last year, but its defense could not keep up.
“We spent the first week of practice doing nothing but defensive drills,” Williams said.
After winning the University of South Dakota’s first Summit League Tournament and playing in the NCAA tournament last year, expectations are high as the upcoming season nears.
But Williams said her team is not grounded by the weight of expectations.
“We’re really excited about the expectations being high for our team,” Williams said. “Now we have a new challenge to see if we can meet those expectations.”
The player’s mentality going into the season has not been bogged down by the weight of fans’ expectations.
“Considering how well we did last year, our expectation this year is to go one step better, and obviously make the NCAA tournament and hopefully win a game and go as far as we possibly can,” said Seekamp.
The players know where they can pick up some inspiration.
“You have to move on from your success and just keep trying to build a better team even though the high expectations are still there,” said junior guard Tia Hemiller.
As far as holding themselves to a high standard, Williams said the pressure is being handled well.
“We’re not feeling a whole lot of pressure. We feel like last year was last year and this year we are not going to let ourselves fall into feeling unnecessary pressure,” she said. “We’re staying just as hungry and trying to play with that chip on our shoulder that we always have and that we got something to prove.”
USD carries those high expectations into its first two games of the season against Drake University and the University of Kansas.
The Coyotes open up their season Friday at Drake, who went 17-15 last season and defeated USD in double overtime in Sioux Falls.
(Photo: Senior guard Raeshel Contreras attempts a layup against a Stanford defender March 22 during the NCAA Tournament in Ames, Iowa. The women’s basketball team finished the season 19-14. File Photo / The Volante)