Jacks face tough road to tourney


A deep roster will boost the women’s chances of making the NCAA tournament.

Arguably one of the most successful athletic programs on campus over the last decade, the SDSU women’s basketball team looks primed to make a run at a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament.

One of the big keys to getting back to the postseason, according to head coach Aaron Johnston, is figuring out where everyone fits in.

“We need to continue to get people comfortable in roles,” Johnston said. “I felt like in the exhibition games everyone was trying to do a lot and trying to earn a spot.”

After the exhibition victories over Minnesota State, Moorhead and Southwest Minnesota State, Johnston said he liked his team’s aggressiveness. With the regular season opener Nov. 11 against St. Cloud State, the roles have begun to solidify, so focus can turn toward other areas of the game.

“Now that we’re far enough in we’ll be able to identify exactly where players can help us and what their roles are and that usually helps clean up the offense and defense as well,” Johnston said.

Two roles are already locked up by the lone seniors on SDSU’s roster: Jill Young and Jennie Sunnarborg will no doubt lead the way for the Jacks.

Sunnarborg returns as SDSU’s leading scorer. The 6-2 forward averaged 13 points a game last season and led the team with 43 blocked shots — season qualified to earn preseason first-team all-Summit League honors this year.

Young comes off a solid junior campaign, averaging 10.4 points while making 41.4 percent of her three-point attempts. The senior guard enters the season with 222 career three-pointers which puts her on pace to break the Jackrabbits career three-pointers mark of 250, held by Brenda Davis (2001-04) and Kristin Rotert (2008-11).

After that, the other roles on the team aren’t as clear. Johnston likes his team’s depth, and  he also said that this might be the tallest and strongest team he’s coached.

“We’re going to need to be a good team physically on offense and defense,” Johnston said. “We’re going to have to use our strength and height maybe more than in the past.”

Juniors Katie Lingle and Leah Dietel look to have recovered from last season’s injuries and are ready to be full-time contributors.

Lingle, 6-2 like fellow post Sunnarborg, moved to the starting lineup late last season and was named to the all-tournament team at the Summit League tournament.

Dietel has proven to be an effective rebounder in her limited action over her first two seasons. But after sustaining some injuries in her career, can she stay healthy?

The schedule’s not light on competitive programs either. It’s highlighted by six games against NCAA tournament qualifiers and non-conference games on the road with Nebraska and fellow mid-major power Middle Tennessee State. Frost Arena will also host Washington State and Kansas State, who SDSU went 1-1 against last year.

It also means a Jan. 16 showdown with in-state rival and Summit League new-comer USD. The Jacks also close out the regular season with three straight games at home against NDSU, IUPUI and Western Illinois.

SDSU was picked to finish third in the Summit League behind Oral Roberts and Oakland. ORU will likely give the Jacks the most trouble as they return most of their starters, led by guard Kevi Luper, who was voted preseason Player of the Year.

The Jacks have a tough schedule but Johnston knows that to be the best, you have to play with the best.

“This [season] is going to be hard for us. It’s going to be a big challenge,” Johnston said.  “We have a lot of teams that either played in the NCAA’s or even the WNIT. I think we learned last year that we do have the ability to win a lot of games but last year I think really helped remind us that we have the ability to lose games too … if we don’t play great basketball we have a good chance to get beat.”