In March of 2017, Hannah Sjerven first stepped foot in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center to watch USD play North Dakota in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). At the time, no one knew she would be a vital piece to the 2018-19 Coyote women’s basketball team.
“I came to the WNIT game against UND two years ago and I was on campus for the day,” Sjerven said. “I just knew, like I just got a feeling (you) know, that I was meant to be here.”
Sjerven’s journey to USD began like most athletes’, playing their sport at a young age. Her first sport was basketball and, over time, she developed into a national recruit.
Sjerven began AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball at twelve years old. There, she met one of her better friends, fellow USD standout Madison McKeever.
“When you play AAU you’re pulling together a bunch of girls that don’t really know each other,” Sjerven said. “We were twelve when we started playing together, so it was weird at first, but our moms became really close, and then we become really close.”
Sjerven found herself growing into a standout athlete in high school, lettering in three sports. Despite her successes outside of basketball, her family and longevity in the game aided her decision to play basketball at the collegiate level, she said.
“It’s the sport I played the longest,” she said. “It was my first sport and the competition level is hard to find in other sports.”
A coveted recruit
As a high school recruit, Sjerven had several options. Ranked 23rd in the nation at her position, schools from all over the country reached out to Sjerven. She talked to east coast schools, Summit League schools, but ultimately, she decided on the University of New Mexico.
“[The recruiting process] was pretty overwhelming and looking back on it, I didn’t realize how big of a decision I was making as a 17-year-old. It’s very cool and honoring to know what it was for me, but at the same time I almost wished it slowed down a little.”
Sjerven’s struggles in New Mexico began before she arrived on campus. Her senior year of high school, the staff member that recruited her at New Mexico—and one of the major reasons in deciding to go there—was fired. Still, she went.
When Sjerven started working with the team, the new staff’s offensive scheme and mentality didn’t sit well, she said. She only played 13 games her freshman year, and then decided to transfer to USD.
“I did not play a lot my freshman year, so to be recruited off of 13 games is hard,” Sjerven said. “When I transferred, you had to ask for a release, which is a little scary, but it’s something I thought about for a while and decided with my parents that I wanted to be closer to home. I feel like it’s the same as the first time around; it’s another quick process but almost heightened on the speed because you are a transfer.”
After head coach Dawn Plitzuweit wrapped up her first season as the head coach at USD, she knew she needed a versatile post player to replace graduating Abigail Fogg.
“We were really looking to bring someone in to fill her shoes and then we got a phone call from the coach at New Mexico,” Plitzuweit said.
The coaches at New Mexico reached out to Plitzuweit about having Sjerven come to USD, figuring she would fit the USD system well. Even with 13 games of college basketball under Sjerven’s belt, Plitzuweit wasn’t concerned.
“We felt like she was a young lady who was a great person and would really fit our program well, and would grow to be a great, competitive, elite basketball player when we watched her play,” Plitzuweit said. “After spending some time with her and meeting her, we felt like she was someone who would make us better on the court, but also someone who would make us better off the court.”
Plitzuweit said she believes working with players one-on-one benefits both players and the team as a whole, a philosophy that attracted Sjerven.
“I knew I was not ready, coming off my freshman year, to play significant minutes at any Division-I school,” Sjerven said. “I was looking for somewhere that was going to make me better and she talked a lot about that.”
According to NCAA policy, all student-athletes who transfer schools are ineligible to play the following season. There are a few rare exceptions, but they did not apply to Sjerven.
“I sat out a year and only practiced. I did every workout but never played in a game. I was on the scout team, so I would run the other team’s offense–be someone from the other team. I think for me, it was just understanding that every day was a chance to perform and get better and to prepare for this year,” Sjerven said. “It definitely helped me as a player. I improved a lot and I see it in film when we look back. I think it also helped me grow in other areas off the court that show on the court, but aren’t necessarily a basketball skill.”
Starting hot at South Dakota
At New Mexico, Sjerven scored 37 points and snatched 24 rebounds in 13 games. In her first 20 games at USD, Sjerven is averaging 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. She isn’t taking all of the credit for her success, and praises her teammates and the depth of Plitzuweit’s roster.
“I think I have a really good, supportive team. I think that it helps that we have about seven girls that can go off for double figures every night. So you can take away Allison Arens or Ciara Duffy and we have Taylor Frederick or me or Madison (McKeever) to step up. It is hard to guard five people at a time.”
On Nov. 28, Sjerven recorded her first double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) when USD women’s squad beat No. 23 Iowa State, USD’s first-ever win against an AP top-25 team. They did it again in early December, traveling to Missouri and beating the Tigers, ranked No. 22 at the time. In fact, USD is the first Summit League team to beat two AP top-25 teams in the same season.
Additionally, USD came out victorious in a double-overtime game against South Dakota State. Sjerven collected a double-double (23 points, 10 rebounds) in front of a sellout crowd, the first in SCSC history.
Sjerven admits that her breakout season has been an enjoyable ride, but she believes the team success is the start to the USD women’s basketball foundation.
“It’s fun. I think we are trying to create that as our culture. When we bring in recruits or when we bring in the next class, this is something we do,” Sjerven said. “We may just be a mid-major, but we go out and beat bigger schools. We want that to be known.”