Last year, Creighton, Green Bay, and Grambling State were among the best 64 teams in the country, landing spots on the NCAA women’s basketball championship bracket. This year, they land spots on USD’s schedule.
Head women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit said the team is facing the “toughest non-conference schedule in USD women’s history,” and they’re ready to embrace the challenge.
“We have a very tough non-conference schedule this year,” Plitzuweit said. “We’re going to have to continue making strides in order to stay competitive.”
Less than two weeks away from the season’s start, Plitzuweit prepares to enter her third season at the helm of the Coyote women’s basketball squad. At Basketball Media Day Wednesday, Plitzuweit said she’s confident in this year’s unit.
“This group of young ladies has a great core of returners,” Plitzuweit said. “In our newcomers, we’ve added some size and length. Our crew is excited for the challenge.”
The Coyotes come off a 29-7 (14-0 CONF) 2017-18 season in which they reached the finals of the Summit League Tournament, falling short to South Dakota State 65-50. They won a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, taking down Houston, Colorado State, and Michigan State before losing 79-71 to Texas Christian University in the quarterfinal.
Recent success has brought high expectations, but Plitzuweit is not looking to do anything fancy this season.
“What we want to do is play very simple basketball, very easy basketball,” Plitzuweit said. “We want to do very common things but be very uncommon in them. We want to do it better than we have in the past and see where that leads us.”
While the Coyote offense is simple in theory, it is anything but. Senior guard Allison Arens and Junior guard Ciara Duffy said they are excited to see the offense in full swing this season.
“Our offense is kind of a difficult offense to learn,” Arens said. “There’s a lot of movement, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Her offense is quick tempo-ed, a lot of movement, which is different from my freshman year. She really teaches us to work hard.”
“One of the most amazing things about our offense is on any given night anyone can be the leading scorer,” Duffy said.
Leading USD with 12.3 points per game and earning All-Summit League first team honors last season, Duffy is ready to step into a leadership role on the team.
“It’s now more my responsibility and the responsibility of all us (upperclassmen) to not only look out for ourselves during games and off the floor but also for the younger girls,” said Duffy.
While the Coyotes are working to perfect their dynamic offense, Junior guard Madison McKeever noted the changes in defense being made.
“We’ve really been focusing on the defense and guarding the better players so we don’t have to scramble,” said McKeever. “Right now we’re really focusing on man-to-man and being able to guard one-on-one, and that will help especially with tougher teams and our non-conference games.”
Losing only three seniors to graduation, Duffy said the team won’t lack in on-floor knowledge.
“This year we’re going to bring back a lot of experience,” Duffy said. “We had a lot of young girls get experience last year. I think having a more veteran squad is going to make the difference in tight games.”
Plitzuweit said those returners will see an increased workload.
“Certainly we have some young ladies like Chloe (Lamb), Monica (Arens), and Taylor (Frederick) who saw some significant minutes, but now their roles will change,” Plitzuweit said. “Now they’ll be on the court more often. There’s potential for some of them to be in the starting lineup possibly.”
One underclassman Plitzuweit was particularly excited to see on the court is redshirt sophomore center Hannah Sjerven, who is now eligible to play after transferring from New Mexico last season.
“Hannah Sjerven is someone who is very, very different than any of the post players we’ve had in my first two years,” Plitzuweit said. “Hannah’s more of a physical post presence and is someone we can throw the ball to around the basket. We’re looking for Hannah to progress and be someone who not only can give us some size, someone to throw it up to, but also be a force on the perimeter.”
USD’s veteran squad looks to return to form this season with the added motivation of last year’s Summit League Tournament loss to rival SDSU.
“We still have a bitter taste in our mouths from that Summit League Tournament,” said Duffy. “I think that’s been definitely acting as a motivator for us because we know there’s more we can achieve.”
Regardless of where the team’s motivation is coming from, the team remains focused on their first game heading into the season.
“Right now we’re focusing on us and the first game,” said Arens. “The only game that we’re concerned about right now is Creighton.”
Plitzuweit said the team is putting in many hours of practice.
“Our young ladies have been through some very rigorous schedules in terms of training and improving and really have responded extremely, extremely well,” said Plitzuweit.
The Coyotes begin their season in Omaha against Creighton Nov. 7 and return to Vermillion for their home opener against Incarnate Word Nov.11 at 3:15 p.m.