EDITORS NOTE: This article is from the 2015-2016 women’s basketball season as the Coyotes claimed the WNIT title in front of their home crowd. This was the last basketball game played in the DakotaDome, as the Sanford Coyote Sports Center opened the following fall.
After the Coyotes’ goal of making the NCAA Tournament fell short, a WNIT title wasn’t a bad consolation prize. The Coyotes defeated FGCU 71-65 in front of a sellout crowd of 7,415 screaming Coyote fans.
Head coach Amy Williams said winning the WNIT in front of their fans was special in its own right.
“Every accomplishment has its own glory, but I will say being able to win this championship in April, in front of the kind of crowd we played in front of today and with that type of support and in the Dome, it really makes this a little more special,” Williams said.
The Coyotes went on a run through their bracket of mid-major and power five teams alike. The Coyotes took down Creighton in the opening round in the DakotaDome before being forced to hit the road and take on Minnesota. That was the only WNIT game the Coyotes would play away from home, as the fans came out to support a tournament sendoff to the DakotaDome.
After the 88-54 drubbing of Oregon, the Coyotes had to grind it out against FGCU. Neither team could find an edge early, going into the second quarter neck-in-neck with the Coyotes up 19-18.
By halftime there was still little space between the two teams, with the Coyotes leading 31-27. The entire game was this tight — with the largest quarter scoring difference being three.
The teams went into the fourth quarter with USD up 45-38. From there, it became a senior duel. FGCU’s Kaneisha Atwater and USD’s Tia Hemiller went head-to-head throughout the quarter. Atwater scored 19 points in just the fourth quarter and managed to get to the foul line for six shots. Hemiller had 13 and was 8-10 from the foul stripe in the fourth quarter.
FGCU outscored the Coyotes 27-26 in the fourth, but the damage was done.
Atwater kept FGCU in the contest. The senior had 25 points, four rebounds and three assists. Whitney Knight, fellow senior and A-Sun Conference Player of the Year, had a huge defensive showing for the Eagles. Knight broke a school record by blocking nine shots. She also had six points and five rebounds, but only managed 2-12 shooting.
Hemiller lead the Coyotes in scoring with 22 points. She also had eight rebounds and six assists. Senior Kelly Stewart was second on the team in scoring with 12 points and five rebounds. Stewart and Hemiller each made a big three down the stretch for the Coyotes. Senior Nicole Seekamp, Summit League Player of the Year and All-WNIT MVP, scored seven, grabbed nine boards and dished eight assists for the Coyotes.
Seekamp and Hemiller both made the WNIT All-Tournament team, along with Atwater and Knight from FGCU, Maite Cazorla of Oregon and Madison Ristovski of Michigan.
The Coyotes now must say goodbye to the five seniors who’ve led them all year. Seekamp, Stewart and Hemiller, along with Margaret McCloud and Heidi Hoff, were big contributors throughout their time at USD.
Seekamp said to go out with a WNIT title is a chance to go out on a high note.
“Being here and being champions is just amazing, and to do it with this bunch of seniors and with this team and coaches is just unreal,” Seekamp said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
With the win, the Coyotes closed out the DakotaDome era.
“Only three women’s teams in the whole country get to end their senior year on a win and we’re one of those teams,” McCloud said. “I can’t really put it into words, it’s just amazing.”