Both the Coyotes men’s and women’s basketball teams are led by a strong group of seniors as they prepare for the second half of conference play.
The USD women (19-2, 8-0) are atop the Summit League standings at the mid-point for the regular season and rank No. 21 in the latest Associated Press Top 25. The Coyotes are No. 18 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll.
Senior Ciara Duffy has been the driving force for USD, averaging 17 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game on the year.
Three other seniors are also playing vital roles. Madison McKeever is the starting point guard and is averaging 8.6 points and nearly two steals a game. Taylor Frederick is one of the first players off the bench for the Coyotes and is averaging 8.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Finally, Megan Bonar plays limited minutes off the bench for the Coyotes. Bonar has dealt with her fair share of injuries in her career at USD, but has been healthy and playing roughly six minutes a game.
On the men’s side, seniors fill up four of the five starting positions. Triston Simpson and Cody Kelley play in the backcourt while Tyler Hagedorn and Tyler Peterson play forward positions in head coach Todd Lee’s offense. The fifth senior for the Coyote men is Brandon Armstrong, who comes off the bench to play at valuable times.
“I told the starter, ‘you know guys, we’re not going to do this a whole lot more,'” Hagedorn said. “Starting lineups are really special and going out there with my three other seniors and Stan (Umude) and Brandon (Armstrong) on the team. It’s really special to have your close friends and we’ve all been here for four, I’ve been here for five (years), so we’ve grown close as a team.”
Hagedorn lead the Summit League at 19 points per game and added 7.1 rebounds. Kelley and Peterson each scored 10.9 points per game. Simpson is averaging 11.5 points per game but missed seven games earlier this season to a knee injury. Armstrong is the sixth man, playing 16 minutes a game and appearing in every game this season thus far.
The women’s team play five of their final eight games on the road. The men’s team has a similar schedule with an extra home game against Peru State on Feb. 4 thrown in. Both teams will rely on leadership from their senior classes to guide them through the final month of play.
“It certainly helps us to have a group of young ladies who’ve been through that before,” USD women’s head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “When there’s timeout, we can look at them and they say ‘Yep, I know we should have done that’ and then they’re able to go make that adjustment. They know before we say anything to them about what needs to transpire.”
Both teams are on winning streaks heading into this week’s road games. The Coyote women are on an eight-game win streak dating back to Dec. 29. The men are on a three-game win streak and have won five of their last six games.
Senior Day will be celebrated during a double-header on Feb. 29 against North Dakota in Vermillion where all nine seniors will be honored. Last year, the Coyote basketball programs celebrated four seniors combined (three men, one woman).
Neither team last year won the regular season or conference tournament championships. The Coyote women were picked to win it all this season, while the men picked second in the conference. At the midpoint, the Coyote women are the lone undefeated team in conference play. The men are sitting fourth at 5-3, one game behind the leader, South Dakota State, who USD has beaten in Vermillion.
“I remember telling Tyler Peterson that nothing worth having is going to come easy,” Hagedorn said. “This conference season is a battle and so we definitely didn’t start the conference season the way we wanted, but we definitely finished the first half the way we wanted.”
The Coyotes are in action with a pair of road games this week. The women start the trip against Omaha Wednesday (today) in Omaha. Plitzuweit will be going for her 100th win at USD. The men start their road trip in Denver against the Pioneers on Thursday. The two teams will switch sites on Sunday, as the women face Denver and the men are in Omaha.