The South Dakota State University women's basketball team will officially open the 2012-13 season by playing two games this weekend in the Best Buy Classic hosted by the University of Minnesota.
The Jackrabbits tip off the season by meeting Villanova (Pa.) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Minnesota and Washington State square off in the tournament opener at noon Saturday.
The losers of Saturday's game will play in the consolation game at 11 a.m. Sunday, with the winners facing off in the tournament championship at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Villanova ended the 2011-12 season with a 19-15 overall record, 6-10 in the BIG EAST Conference, and advanced to the third round of the postseason Women's NIT.
SDSU completed the 2011-12 campaign with a 24-9 overall record, including a 16-2 mark en route to Summit League regular season and postseason tournament titles. The Jackrabbits made their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and sixth overall Division I postseason berth. SDSU became the first women's team in league history to win four consecutive tournament titles.
Minnesota is coming off a 2011-12 season in which it won the championship of the Women's Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. The Golden Gophers finished the campaign 19-17 overall, including a 6-10 mark in the Big Ten Conference.
Washington State continued its rebuilding efforts in 2011-12, ending the year 13-20 overall. The Cougars finished 11th in the Pac-12 Conference with a 5-13 mark.
MEDIA COVERAGE: Audio coverage of both of this weekend's games is scheduled to be available via the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service at GoJacks.com, the official website of SDSU athletics. Monthly subscriptions for the Jackrabbit Extra, which includes live audio and video streaming of select contests are available for $11.95 per month or $99.95 for an entire year of coverage.
Local radio coverage begins a half hour prior to scheduled tipoff on the Jackrabbit Sports Network, with J.J. Hartigan calling the play-by-play. Jackrabbit Sports Network affiliates for SDSU women's basketball this season include: 104.1 FM (The Wolf) in Yankton, KBRK 93.7 FM in Brookings and KGFX 92.7 FM in Pierre.
THE SERIES: Saturday's game against Villanova will mark the first-ever meeting between the Jackrabbits and Wildcats. SDSU has yet to record a victory against a BIG EAST opponent, going a combined 0-5 against BIG EAST foes Marquette (0-3), Rutgers (0-1) and Cincinnati (0-1).
SDSU has had success against both Minnesota and Washington State during the Division I era, which began at the start of the 2004-05 season. The Jackrabbits have won both previous meetings with the Golden Gophers at Williams Arena, recording a last-second, 59-58 victory during the 2006-07 season and a 65-55 win during the 2008-09 campaign. Overall, the Jackrabbits are 4-1 against Minnesota in a series that dates back to a 46-42 SDSU victory during the 1974-75 season.
The Jackrabbits have won matchups against Washington State each of the past two seasons. SDSU notched a 72-61 win over the Cougars in Pullman, Wash., in December 2010. The Jackrabbits then pulled out a hard-fought 63-58 win at Frost Arena on Nov. 20, 2011, behind 22 points from Jennie Sunnarborg and 13 points by Jill Young. Carly Noyes led WSU with 12 points, followed by 11 points each from Tia Presley and Sage Romberg.
OPENING SUCCESS: The Jackrabbits' 74-35 victory over St. Cloud State (Minn.) in the 2011-12 season opener at Frost Arena on Nov. 11, 2011, marked the 19th consecutive season SDSU opened with a win.
The last time the Jackrabbits lost a season opener was during the 1992-93 season, when they fell 74-72 to Moorhead State (Minn.).
815 AND COUNTING: SDSU's victory over Oakland on Dec. 29, 2011, was the 800th in the women's basketball program's history. Since the modern era of women's basketball at South Dakota State University began with a 6-0 mark during the 1966-67 season, the Jacks have gone on to compile an overall record of 815-367 (.690 winning percentage).
In addition, SDSU sealed its 26th consecutive winning season between competing at the NCAA Division II and Divsion I levels during the 2011-12 season.The Jackrabbits' last losing season was an 11-16 campaign during the 1985-86 season.
160 D-I WINS: Since moving up to the NCAA Division I ranks at the start of the 2004-05 season, the Jackrabbits have posted a winning record against D-I opponents. In its eight seasons competing at the Division I level, SDSU has compiled a 165-66 mark (.714 winning percentage) versus D-I opposition. The Jackrabbits have posted victories over 54 different Division I teams representing 20 conferences plus independents.
TOUGH AT HOME: The Jackrabbit women's basketball team has gained a decisive home-court advantage at Frost Arena over the past decade.
In his tenure as Jackrabbit head coach, Johnston has led the Jackrabbits to a 148-22 record (.871 winning percentage) at Frost Arena, including a 93-13 mark (.877 winning pct.) at home during the Division I era. The Jackrabbits have put together home winning streaks of 15, 15 and 22 in the process. Their current home winning streak is nine.
Since the start of the 2001-02 season, SDSU has a 137-17 home record (.890 winning percentage), losing an average of less than two games at Frost Arena each full
season. The Jackrabbits capped the 2008-09 regular season with a 14-0 record - a mark that stands as the first undefeated home season in school history.
A loss to Western Kentucky early in the 2009-10 campaign snapped a 35-game
regular season home winning streak, as well as a 15-game overall winning streak that began after SDSU lost to Creighton (Neb.) in the first round of the 2008 Women's NIT.
SDSU's loss to Oral Roberts on Jan. 4, 2010, marked its first home loss to a Summit League opponent.
SUMMIT LEAGUE SUCCESS: South Dakota State has built an impressive Summit League résumé during its tenure in the conference.
Since joining the league at the start of the 2007-08 season, the Jackrabbits have
compiled a 75-15 record (.833 winning percentage) in Summit League regular season games en route to outright league titles with records of 16-2 in 2007-08, 17-1 during the 2008-09 season and 16-2 during the 2011-12 campaign. In addition, SDSU has gone 40-5 at home (.889 winning percentage) against league foes and has won at least one game on every other Summit League member's home court with the exception of South Dakota, which joined the Summit League last season, and Omaha, which is a new member during the 2012-13 season.
TEAM PREVIEW: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The South Dakota State University women's basketball will attempt to prove that old adage correct as it prepares for the 2012-13 season. Despite losing two 1,000-point scorers, undergoing a bit of a shakeup in the coaching staff and facing a challenging schedule, veteran head coach Aaron Johnston believes the Jackrabbits still have the talent and ability to make another run at the NCAA Tournament.
"I think this will be a unique year in that we've always had multiple proven scorers," Johnston said. "We have always been a great jump-shooting team, but I think we've adjusted our offense that our strengths this season are going to be penetration, transition and getting to the basket."
While an emphasis on tough half-court defense remains, Johnston said the Jackrabbits have made some adjustments offensively and will force the issue more than in recent years.
"A big part of our focus so far has been on building our offensive concepts and getting players ready," Johnston said. "This team will be at its best when it is playing up-tempo and in a full-court setting."
Exactly who will step forward to take on the roles of departed 1,000-point scorers Jill Young and Jennie Sunnarborg remains to be seen, but this year's roster figures to be among deepest in Johnston's 13-year tenure as head coach. The duo of Sunnarborg and Young were cornerstones on Jackrabbit teams that made an unprecedented four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in the first four years the program was fully eligible for postseason consideration.
Four seniors return to lead the Jackrabbits this season, including second-team all-Summit League selection from a year ago, Ashley Eide. The team's top returning scorer at 10.9 points per game, Eide did a little bit of everything for the Jackrabbits last season as she led the team in field goal percentage (.502), while ranking second in five other categories, including assists (75) and steals (37).
Two other seniors with extensive starting experience are forward Leah Dietel and
center Katie Lingle.
Dietel started the final 20 games of the 2011-12 season and averaged 3.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Lingle started the first 13 games of the year before providing a boost off the bench with averages of 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while adding a team-best 24 blocked shots.
Rounding out the senior class is guard Steph Paluch, who has progressed well through her rehabilitation from a knee injury she suffered in the semifinals of the Summit League Championships in March. The Pierre native began the 2011-12 season as the Jackrabbits' starting point guard, but saw her production increase when she moved to the off-guard spot. Paluch led the Jackrabbits in both steals (44) and assists (78) last season and would have the option to redshirt this season.
"We've worked really hard with our seniors on developing leadership," Johnston said. "All those players have had big-game experience. They know how to win, they know how to practice every day and they know how to prepare themselves."
The junior class consists of guard Tara Heiser and forward Hannah Strop. Heiser stepped into a starting role after Paluch's injury and ended the year averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds. Heiser scored a season-high 12 points in her first start of the 2011-12 campaign, when the Jackrabbits defeated UMKC in overtime to win their fourth consecutive Summit League tournament title.
Strop hit some big shots from the perimeter during the 2011-12 campaign, finishing the year with averages of 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
The key to the Jackrabbits' success could lie in a talented sophomore class.
Gabby Boever turned in a strong second half during the 2011-12 season and will be in the mix for the starting point guard position this year, Johnston said. Boever was especially strong in the postseason as she posted averages of 8.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in three Summit League tournament contests.
Johnston also expects forwards Mariah Clarin and Megan Stuart to make significant contributions this season. Clarin played in 24 games last season, averaging 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Stuart, meanwhile, played in 22 games and averaged 1.9 points per contest.
"This is one of the best and deepest groups of posts we've had," Johnston said. "They all have different strengths and give us a great deal of flexibility to change our style depending on the opponent."
Another sophomore, Rachel Walters, provided the Jackrabbits with effective long-range shooting down the stretch last season. The Sioux Falls native went 8-for-16 from three-point range over the final five games of the season and finished fourth on the team with 24 three-pointers despite averaging only eight minutes per game.
Completing the sophomore class is wing Megan Waytashek, who has played in only six games since January 2011 due to injury. Waytashek received an injury hardship and is working back to full strength. When healthy, Waytashek has been a versatile performer who can play either on the perimeter or on the block.
The 2012-13 roster also includes three newcomers. Sophomore Anne Aamlid will add depth at forward, while freshmen Chloe Cornemann and Jessica Hart will vie for playing time at the guard positions.
"We've got a great mix of seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen," Johnston said.
Other new faces can be found on the coaching staff following the departures of assistants Chad Oletzke and Emilee Thiesse for head coaching positions in the Division II ranks.
Stepping in to fill their roles are Mike Jewett and Carissa Nord. Jewett previously was head coach at Southwest Minnesota State and has extensive regional ties after previously serving as an assistant coach at both St. Cloud State and Augustana.
Nord served as a graduate assistant during the 2011-12 season before being elevated to a full-time position just before the start of the school year.
"It has been fun to see the new energy we have as a staff this year," Johnston said.
As has been the case throughout their time in Division I, the Jackrabbits will play a challenging non-conference schedule - one that includes six games against fellow NCAA Tournament qualifiers.
"We need to do better in November and December, and that's going to be difficult with the schedule we play," Johnston said. "But this schedule is exactly what I want it to be - every game we have a chance to win and every game we have a chance to lose."
Four of those games will be at Frost Arena, starting with a Nov. 18 matchup against Nebraska. The Jackrabbits also will host Creighton, Middle Tennessee and Eastern Michigan, while traveling to Penn State and Georgetown.
"Anytime we have had balance in our non-conference schedule we've been better," Johnston said.
Other non-conference matchups include road games at postseason qualifiers Central Michigan (WNIT) and Northern Iowa (WBI), along with a neutral-site game against WNIT qualifier Villanova in the season opener Nov. 10 at a tournament hosted by the University of Minnesota.
The Summit League also has undergone changes with the departures of Oral Roberts and Southern Utah and the addition of Nebraska-Omaha. In addition, the league has adopted mirror scheduling for the 2012-13 season, meaning most conference games will be played on Thursdays and Saturdays as opposed to the Saturday-Monday format of recent years.
"I think the conference schedule works out well," Johnston said, noting the travel within the league has been reduced and the team will have a regularly designated off day most weeks on Sunday.
"The conference will be really balanced, very competitive," said Johnston, who has guided the Jackrabbits to a 75-15 record and three league titles in regular season play since joining The Summit League at the start of the 2007-08 season. "Everybody in the league has a chance to be better this year. There will be no margin for error."
COACH AARON JOHNSTON: Entering his 13th season as head coach of the South Dakota State University women's basketball team, Aaron Johnston has taken the Jackrabbit program to the top of NCAA Division II and is leading SDSU to national prominence at the Division I level.
Johnston enters the 2012-13 campaign with a career record of 290-99 (.746 winning percentage), ranking second on the SDSU career victories list behind his predecessor, Nancy Neiber, who compiled a 301-140 record in 16 seasons from 1985-2000. Johnston posted his 200th career victory on Dec. 4, 2008, against Centenary (La.) and career win No. 250 against Illinois State on Nov. 24, 2010. His career totals have included a 75-15 record (.833 winning percentage) in Summit League regular season games, a perfect 12-0 mark in Summit League postseason tournament contests and a 16-8 mark (.667 winning percentage) in postseason games.
The Summit League Coach of the Year in each of the Jackrabbits' first two seasons in the league and again during the 2011-12 season, Johnston was named a finalist for the 2009 Naismith Award as the nation's top coach. SDSU tied a school record for victories in a season with 32 during the 2008-09 campaign and gained national attention by vaulting into the top 25 in December after non-conference victories over the likes of Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota and Gonzaga (Wash.). The Jackrabbits were ranked in the final 13 USA Today/ESPN regular season coaches' polls, climbing as high as 14th in the coaches' poll and 16th in the Associated Press poll. SDSU finished the 2008-09 season ranked 19th in the coaches' poll.
Along the way to a 32-3 overall record, the Jackrabbits received national media coverage from CBS Sports, USA Today, ESPN.com and The New York Times.
A native of Pine Island, Minn., "A.J." earned a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. After serving one year as an assistant coach at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, he moved on to SDSU as a graduate assistant for the Jackrabbit men's basketball team for two seasons before becoming assistant women's coach. He also coached the SDSU golf teams one year.
ACADEMIC SUCCESS: The South Dakota State University women's basketball team continued its track record of academic success, ranking second among Division I programs in the Women's Basketball Coaches Associations Academic Top 25 with a 3.610 team grade-point average during the 2011-12 academic year.
"It was another successful year in the classroom for our program," head coach Aaron Johnston said. "Year after year we have been at or near the top of the WBCA Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. SDSU is a great institution and clearly our university has an excellent plan in place for helping students excel academically."
Wisconsin-Green Bay held the top spot among Division I programs, edging the Jackrabbits for the top spot with a 3.616 team GPA. The top three teams in the D-I rankings all played in the NCAA Tournament as DePaul (Ill.) completed the trio with a 3.604 GPA.
Across all divisions of women's college basketball, which includes NCAA Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior colleges, the Jackrabbits finished 10th overall. Drury (Mo.) led all divisions with a 3.709 team GPA, followed by Northland (Wis.) at 3.706.
In seven seasons competing at the Division I level, SDSU has finished no worse than third place in the Division I team GPA rankings. The Jackrabbits have led the nation four times (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011), finished second twice (2010, 2012) and placed third once (2009). In addition, SDSU led all divisions of women's college basketball for team GPA in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Also during the 2011-12 season, Ashley Eide was selected to the Capital One Academic All-America Second Team. A Sioux Falls native who is majoring in health, physical education and recreation, Eide earned a spot on the honor squad with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
Eide is the sixth Jackrabbit women's basketball player to receive Academic All-America recognition during the program's history, joining: Tara Tessier (first team, 1988); Laurie (Bruns) Kruse (second team, 1991); Jodi Bergemann (third team, 1994); Megan Vogel (second team, 2007), and Jennifer Warkenthien (second team, 2009).
SISTER ACT: Two members of the 2012-13 Jackrabbit women's basketball team are following in the footsteps of older sisters - both of whom were recent additions to the SDSU 1,000-Point Club.
Sophomore guard Gabby Boever is the second from her family to play for the Jackrabbits. The Worthington, Minn., native follows her older sister, Maria, who scored 1,360 points - currently 14th - during a career that spanned the 2007-10 seasons.
Freshman guard Chloe Cornemann is expected to make her collegiate debut this weekend. Cornemann's older sister, Ketty, also lettered for the Jackrabbits from 2007-10, finishing her career 30th in scoring at SDSU with 1,042 points. Their father, Dave, was an NCAA Division II national champion wrestler for the Jackrabbits at 167 pounds in 1984.
In addition, fellow newcomer Anne Aamlid has strong Jackrabbit bloodlines - her sister, Seri, played volleyball while brother, Nik, was a member of the SDSU football team. Their father, Brian, played basketball at SDSU from 1977-81.
JACKRABBIT INSIDER: Throughout the 2012-13 women's basketball season, head coach Aaron Johnston will be a guest on the "Jackrabbit Insider," a weekly behind-the-scenes look at South Dakota State University athletics.
The half-hour television show which features interviews with Jackrabbit coaches and student-athletes, airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on Sioux Falls-based KTTW FOX 7. The show is also broadcast on FOX Sports North at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and on FOX College Sports Central (check listings). Online, the show can be viewed at GoJacks.com.
THE ROSTER: The 2011-12 SDSU women's basketball roster features 14 players from two different states. Of the 14 players, seven are from Minnesota and seven are from South Dakota. By class, four are seniors, two are juniors, six are sophomores and two are incoming freshmen.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits open the home portion of their schedule by hosting Creighton (Neb.) on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Frost Arena.