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USD basketball back to prove themselves this season

In the next week, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will begin their seasons at home in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center (SCSC). First, the men hit the court Thursday to take on Simpson College in an exhibition match, then the women will compete against Oklahoma Tuesday.

During the 2020-21 season, in which COVID-19 affected the basketball team’s ability to practice together and sometimes even play games, both teams were able to find success. 

The women’s team was named Summit League Tournament Champions for two consecutive seasons and were invited to compete in the 2020-21 NCAA tournament as the 11-seed. The men’s team went into the Summit League Tournament ranked No. 2, where they made it to the semifinals.

The women’s team will see three seniors returning to the court this season. These returning players said there are a lot of expectations from both the fans and themselves to compete at as high of a level as they did last season.

“I think our group as a whole’s personal expectations are higher, if not matching, the outside noise we receive,” senior guard Chloe Lamb said. “We want to do great things, and we expect that people want to see us do great things. You try to block out (the outside pressure) as much as you can and work with your team day by day, but I would say the internal pressures, the expectations and the standards that we set for ourselves, exceed the ones placed on us by others.”

Another factor that the women have been focusing on for this upcoming basketball season is using the new and younger players to their advantage.

“I think we have a great group of freshmen. Coach P (Dawn Plitzuweit) and her staff are always looking for (players) that can build chemistry together and click really well,” senior guard Liv Korngable said. “Grace Larkins is someone who isn’t afraid to shoot the ball or to score as a freshman, and I think that’s something that we don’t have to push her to do as much.”

Along with Larkins, head coach Dawn Plitzuweit points to players such as freshman guard Maddie Krull, senior forward Regan Sankey and junior center Aspen Williston as players who have improved greatly and will make an impact both on and off the court.

“(Sankey) is doing a tremendous job of filling a lot of the voids that we have and she continues to get better,” Plitzuweit said. “(The team) has given Sankey some more of the leadership responsibilities, which then frees up (the other seniors) to focus on themselves a bit more.”

As for the men, they have spent the off-season getting to know their teammates and working on building camaraderie on the court. 

“We all get along with each other pretty well, so I think having a group of guys that you go to war with makes it easier to play and calm your mind and just get ready to go to battle,” senior guard Xavier Fuller said. “I think the grit we have on our team right now is probably what I’m most excited to see what we can do with.”

The men’s team has been training together since July and has begun to see some players that they believe will help fill the spots left by graduate Stanley Umude and injured junior guard A.J. Plitzuweit. 

“So obviously, we have a few returners that know the system now and are comfortable with how we play, so I think it’s going to be great for the likes of (Fuller) and Boogie (Anderson) who just came last year and really stepped up for us,” junior guard Kruz Perrott-Hunt said. “With Ty (Walker), Keaton (Kutcher), and Erik (Oliver) who are coming in, and Max (Burchill), I think it’s looking good for us. We are tall, strong and we like to compete, so I’m excited to see how we do.”

As the teams get ready to start competition, something that they both agreed on was their excitement for a more-normal basketball season. They were able to have a normal off-season, which wasn’t an option last year due to COVID-19, and because of this offseason, both Plitzuweit and head men’s basketball coach Todd Lee believe it made the transition for players easier.

“It has been more of a normal summer and fall so that’s been good,” Lee said. “It has been really good for the newcomers to get acclimated to everything.”

The men and women will both compete in their first game in the SCSC before travelling to Sioux Falls, where the men will take on the Air Force on Veterans Day and the women will play against the No. 1 ranked South Carolina Nov. 12.