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Coyotes create legacy both on the court and in the stands

The women’s basketball team made school history last Saturday as they competed in the program’s first Sweet 16 game of the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament. 

Coyote fans, students and alumni made the trip to Wichita, Kansas to cheer on the women. The Intrust Arena housed roughly 8,540 fans which was much more than the arena was first expecting. 

According to Intrust Arena personnel at the event, once it was announced that South Dakota would be advancing to the Sweet 16 and the arena saw the influx of people wanting to attend, they decided to open the upper bowl to ticket sales which they weren’t prepared to do originally. 

“Coyote sports…is just a great way for the community and USD campus to come together, and it’s just such great entertainment for us I know,” Coyote fan and Vermillion local Deb Christensen said. “…To be down here (Wichita) to cheer them on, we’ve been watching them play this season and every season in the past and this is just a great way to end the season.”

Head coach Dawn Plitzuweit and the team said that the amount of Coyote fans that made the trip to support them meant more than anyone will know.

“To all of our fans, to Coyote Nation, that came, it was a very special thing. That was an incredible crowd that we had; it was just incredible support. To not only our fans, I think we recruited quite a few fans from the region who came to cheer for us as well. The state of South Dakota is really important to us, and I think that was certainly a really special time for our young ladies,” Plitzuweit said. 

Prior to Saturday’s competition, the Coyote women took down No. 7 Ole Miss and No. 2 Baylor in Waco, TX. The win over Ole Miss became the Coyotes’ first tournament win ever. 

The Coyotes’ Sweet 16 opponent, Michigan, was also fighting to make program history. The Wolverines came into the NCAA Tournament seeded No. 3 in the Wichita region. After making it to the Sweet 16 round of the tournament, the team was determined to reach the Elite Eight round for the first time. 

“Obviously we’ve made history throughout this entire season, but we wanted to continue to keep doing things that have never been done before,” senior guard Leigha Brown said. 

For both the Michigan team and USD, the idea of making their mark on both the tournament as well as their respective programs was in the back of their minds. 

“Knowing what goes into getting yourself and your team here, it’s not one or two players, it’s not just the coaches, it’s a whole community of what we are in Vermillion. I hope people remember how we were able to create that and that (the community) keeps showing up for women’s basketball and keep doing that for the next generation,” redshirt senior center Hannah Sjerven said. 

Now that the Coyotes’ season is complete, the program will be saying goodbye to Sjerven along with redshirt seniors Chloe Lamb and Liv Korngable and senior Reagan Sankey.

“I think that the seniors that we have, including Reagan and the three super seniors, they were hungry to do something that’s really hard to do,” Plitzuweit said. “What I told them was that they’ve had the chance to qualify for four NCAA tournament, and that’s almost unheard of at the mid-major level. To do that, that’s hard. And then to go to the tournament and to win a first round game is really hard to do…I think what they’ve done is nothing short of compete at a very high level.”