The last ones standing: The undefeated Coyote women look for Summit Tournament title
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The last ones standing: The undefeated Coyote women look for Summit Tournament title

The Coyote women dropped the 2019 Summit League Tournament championship to South Dakota State last March. But this year the No. 17/12 Coyotes know what they’re after and the target that is on their back.

“The part our players have and a chance to be a part of in the past is experiencing what it’s like to not be as successful as we want to be in whatever that means,” USD head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “Whether that’s in the regular season, that’s in the tournament…. We’ve had to battle through some adversity and some of that adversity has fueled us.”

The Coyotes finished their regular season with a 27-2 record and a perfect 16-0 record in Summit League play. USD’s two losses come against No. 23/21 Missouri State and No. 1 South Carolina. Plitzuweit said the record isn’t the main way she and her team look at their success.

“We have prided ourselves on being the best that we can be and I think a big part of that shouldn’t be measured by the success you have,” Plitzuweit said. “It should be measured by, are you continuously improving and if you look at that aspect of it. We as coaches can see that we are improving and that makes us believe our young ladies are giving their best and they are successful.”

Moving forward, the Coyotes take on Omaha, Saturday at noon in the Denny Sanford Premier Center for the opening game of the Summit League tournament. The Coyotes beat Omaha by 32 and 33 points in their two matchups this season.

Plitzuweit said being the number one seed adds an extra challenge of being the biggest target in the conference. 

“We know we’re a team that other teams in our conference have marked as the top team in the league and that’s the team that you want to knock off,” Plitzuweit said. “When we weren’t the top team in the league, we were marking that team number one, number two, so we understand that. We’ve been on both sides of it.”

USD received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last year following a loss to South Dakota State in the Summit League Championship game. The Coyotes lost in the opening round to Clemson, ending their season. 

The Coyotes this season climbed into the Top 25 polls for the first time in early December. USD hasn’t fallen out of the USA Today Coaches Poll since it entered Dec. 3. The team entered the AP Top 25 for the first time of the season Dec. 16, missed the poll the following week and re-entered Jan. 6 at No. 22. 

“We’ve had very high expectations coming into this season,” junior Claudia Kunzer said. “Every practice, everything we go into, we’re doing 100%. We’re doing defense 100%, we’re diving on the floor and I think that’s just been our mentality from June to where we are now.”

The Coyotes have received recognition for their hard work, being ranked higher than any Summit League school has ever been in the USA Today Coaches Poll and cracking the top 20 of the AP poll for the first time in school history.

The Coyotes are led by senior Ciara Duffy, who is a semifinalist for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award. Duffy averages 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

USD plays Omaha Saturday at noon with the winner playing the winner of Oral Roberts and Western Illinois Monday at noon. On the other side of the bracket, SDSU faces North Dakota in the opening round, with the winner playing the winner of Denver and North Dakota State in the other semifinal. 

All quarterfinal and semifinal games will air on MidcoSN and ESPN+. The Championship game will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday and is aired on ESPNU.