After cracking the Associated Press Top 25 poll and making the NCAA Tournament last season, the Coyote women’s basketball team, at USD Basketball Media Day Tuesday afternoon, made clear this year’s expectation will include a Summit League title and a third birth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Coyotes return four starters from last year’s Summit League runner-up team. The graduation of guard Allison Arens left large shoes to fill, USD head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said, but leaders on this year’s squad can fill them.
This year’s roster boasts four seniors and five juniors. Preseason Summit League Player of the Year Ciara Duffy led the team in scoring last season, but an ankle injury in the Summit League Championship game limited her the final two games.
“I did a lot of intensive rehab at the end of last season for that (injury),” Duffy said. “I’m back healthy and excited to get started.”
Joining Duffy in the senior class is Madison McKeever, Taylor Frederick and Megan Bonar. McKeever ran the point guard position last season and has another chance to do it again this year.
“Three years going on my fourth year, I have a lot of confidence but it all comes from my coaches,” McKeever said. “They (the team) give me the confidence to bring up the ball and run our offense and on the defensive end.”
Frederick played the post position last season, splitting time with Hannah Sjerven. Frederick can help spread the offense out by shooting the three, but can also post up under the basket and be physical underneath, Plitzuweit said.
Bonar has not had many opportunities to play the last two seasons due to injuries, but she said she’s
“This year could be something super special and with me being healthy right now and hopefully staying that way,” Bonar said. “Hopefully get some experience out there as well. I’m excited for whatever my role is, whether that’s on the court or on the bench cheering them on.”
The team’s five juniors – Liv Korngable, Monica Arens, Chloe Lamb and Sjerven – all played valuable minutes last season. Claudia Kunzer didn’t play as much, but looks to see a larger role.
Strongest non-conference schedule in Coyote history
Last season, the Coyotes played a non-conference that included two Top-25 teams and many others that clinched bids in the NCAA tournament. They finished that non-conference slate with two losses. This season, the schedule only gets stronger.
The Coyotes open the season at Northeastern, a team that made the WNIT. USD hosts Drake and Creighton, regional opponents who have made the tournament multiple times in recent years. USD hosts Missouri – whom they beat last year when the Tigers were ranked No. 22 – and Missouri State, two tough NCAA tournament teams. They also travel to Green Bay, a team that has won 20 of the last 21 Horizon League titles.
“Green Bay is one of the mid-major powerhouses in women’s basketball,” Plitzuweit said. “They’ve won 20 of the last 21 Horizon league championships. They are a team that was in the WNIT last season and a really tough environment to play in front of.”
Other tough opponents in the non-conference include Utah, who cracked the Top 25 last season and went 13-3 at home. The Coyotes travel to Las Vegas for the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout, where they’ll take on Ohio State (for the first time in program history) and Northern Illinois. They finish up their non-conference slate against the 2017 National Champion South Carolina, whom they fell to in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March.
“We finished up our non-conference schedule with playing a game at the University of South Carolina,” Plitzuweit said. “A team that has been one of the top teams in the country, they’ve been ranked in the top 10 in the nation in the last three years. They’ve had the best home attendance over the last four seasons and 2017 national champions. A team that certainly will give us every challenge under the sun and will play a style we really haven’t seen a whole lot.”
Summit League toughness
The Coyotes finished last season 14-2 in the conference with losses at Denver and South Dakota State. SDSU won the regular season and tournament titles, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. USD was picked last week to win the Summit League, but it won’t be a cakewalk.
USD is the overwhelming favorite this season and this is the first time in Coyote history they have been selected first in the preseason poll. Last year, the Summit League had five of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.
“I certainly believe there are some very good teams in the conference,” Plitzuweit said. “Oral Roberts has been one of the top teams defensively in our league. They were third in the country in three-point field goals made last year.”
“Denver is another team that can really fill up it,” Plitzuweit said. “I believe they finished fifth in the country in three-pointers made last season. A team that plays very fast and is well-coached and disciplined. Western Illinois came in a couple of years ago and gave a lot of teams it’s with their zone and they are a team that is a veteran team.”
The Coyotes plan to use their non-conference schedule to prepare for Summit League play, knowing they have a big target on their backs.
“We know teams are going after us and we have the target on our backs,” McKeever said. “We just have to come in with a chip on our shoulder and just know what we have, and we have each other and just be confident in our play.”
Duffy said the team is looking to build upon an NCAA tournament run last year, and make more history this season.
“We had a good year last year, we accomplished some things that a lot of us had never done before, like making it to the NCAA tournament,” Duffy said. “But there were things obviously that we didn’t accomplished that we had set out as goals at the beginning. That does keep us motivated going into the season.”
The Coyotes open their season against Northeastern in Boston, Mass. on Nov 5.