October 27, 2020 

South Dakota schools again top Summit League preseason poll

South Dakota, South Dakota State are as close as ever, while newcomer Kansas City looks to make an impact

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Photo: South Dakota Athletics via Twitter

When it comes to the Summit League these days, it’s death, taxes, and South Dakota and South Dakota State being the teams to beat.

That much held up for a third straight season, as the South Dakota Coyotes nabbed the top spot in the conference’s 2020-21 preseason poll, revealed Monday, while the South Dakota State Jackrabbits claimed second place. It’s how they finished last season, as the Coyotes became the first team to finish undefeated in conference play, then held off the Jackrabbits in an exciting (and, by that point, much closer than expected) tournament championship game to claim both Summit crowns.

After COVID-19 ended the NCAA season prematurely, South Dakota (30-2, 16-0 Summit) was No. 17 in the AP Poll and No. 11 in the Coaches Poll — a record-setting final ranking for a Summit League team.

Entering 2020-21, the defending champions boast the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year in senior Hannah Sjerven, who last season was named Defensive Player of the Year and Summit League Championship MVP.

Fellow Coyote and senior Chloe Lamb joined Sjerven on the Preseason All-Summit League First Team, along with South Dakota State juniors Paiton Burckhard and Myah Selland, Oral Roberts senior Keni Jo Lippe, and Omaha junior Mariah Murdie.

“The bottom line is, we have to focus every day to be our best and work on the basic, simple, fundamental skill sets that are going to allow us to continue to get better,” South Dakota head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said during the Summit Coaches Show on Monday night. “That’s something that doesn’t change even though we have a lot of new faces on our team this year.”

With one of its most impactful players in All-American and Summit League Player of the Year Ciara Duffy having graduated, South Dakota now faces the prospect of being the favorite by a much lesser margin — though the target on its back remains massive.

“I think we’ve all found our own little way to fill the void a little bit, and it’s not just one person at all, it’s everyone,” Lamb said.

South Dakota State, on the other hand, is perhaps stronger this season than last. After a “down year” that still saw the Jacks finish 23-10 (13-3 Summit), they’re down a major starter in Tagyn Larson but regain another experienced player in Selland, who started all nine games she appeared in last season before succumbing to injury. They also gained graduate transfer, Haley Greer, from Colgate, and new graduate assistant coach Macy Miller adds a familiar face to the sideline.

“We just have a really good group of versatile, good young people that’ll fit well into our system,” South Dakota State head coach Aaron Johnston said. He also emphasized the team’s height, noting that he could put a viable lineup on the floor made up entirely of players six feet or taller.

The Jacks are well-represented on the Preseason All-Summit League Second Team, which comprises Tylee Irwin and Tori Nelson (South Dakota State), Monica Arens (South Dakota), Julia Fleecs (North Dakota), and Evan Zars (Western Illinois).

Like the top two teams, much of the preseason poll resembles last season’s finish. The rest of the poll, in order, went Western Illinois, Oral Roberts, North Dakota State, Kansas City, Denver, North Dakota, and Omaha. Aside from Denver dropping from No. 3 to No. 7 compared to the 2019-20 standings, no one else in this season’s poll moved from their relative place last season.

Meanwhile, newcomer Kansas City replaced Purdue Fort Wayne after the latter departed for the Horizon League. But “newcomer” is a relative term — the Roos were part of the Summit League until 2013 when they left for the WAC.

After winning the WAC regular-season title this past season (the conference tournament was canceled during the quarterfinals), they’re in a good position to make some noise back in the Summit League, where they reached the tournament title game in 2012.

“I think that the Summit is a lot more skilled [than the WAC],” head coach Jacie Hoyt said. “I think that it’s an incredibly tough conference, just tough, hard-nosed players, that we have a ton of respect for. We certainly feel like we can compete with the best of them, but at the same time, we know that there’s never going to be an easy game.”

The Summit League schedule has not yet been released.

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