Next stop: Lubbock, Texas

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

In their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, the South Dakota State women are venturing to Lubbock, Texas.

The Jacks ended up with a seventh seed – ESPN’s Charlie Creme predicted SDSU as a five seed in his last projection – and will face Texas Christian University in the first round. Not only do the Jacks have to face a Texas school in the first round of the tournament, they will also have to face a Texas school in the second round if they make it that far. Baylor and the University of Texas-San Antonio are the other two teams squaring off in Lubbock.

The Jacks are entering the tournament with a 31-2 record – with one of the losses being to Maryland, the Raleigh Region’s No. 1 seed – and are currently ranked in the top 20 in both major polls. Despite all of this, the selection committee elected to send the Jacks to Lubbock as a No. 7 seed.

“Obviously, we keep everything in mind regarding the economy and travel for teams,” Jacki Silar, NCAA’s Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair, said in a teleconference following the Selection Show.

Party Atmosphere

In what was already a historic event, things were turned up a notch when ESPN selected to air a live feed of Frost Arena during the Selection Show. The only three teams to be shown on ESPN were the University of Connecticut, the No. 1 team and only undefeated team in the country; Tennessee, the two-time defending national champions; and SDSU.

Some people attended the event instead of watching the show on ESPN because the station elected to show shots of Frost Arena.

Trevor Kjellsen, a freshman engineering major, tried to sit near the floor of the arena so he could be on camera, and the freshman was excited about the national exposure the Jacks were receiving from ESPN.

“It is really cool,” Kjellsen said. “Not a lot of schools get that (attention).”

Blue and yellow balloons were passed out to the crowd before the show started, Jack State – the SDSU mascot – was in attendance getting the crowd going, the pep band played during commercials and a little girl was dancing directly behind the players for most of the hour. Not everything was positive, though, as the fans let out a loud chorus of boos when UConn and Tennessee were shown during the Selection Show.

Even though ESPN referred to South Dakota State as San Diego State, it could not stop the Jackrabbit faithful from enjoying this night.

“I think it’s awesome that they made it this far,” said Casey Cuppy, a sophomore health promotions major, “especially since it’s their first year eligible and they’ve only lost two (games).”

Excitement overcomes disappointment

Most of the fans that were in Frost Arena were a little surprised and disappointed in the seed and location of the game. Lubbock is just under a 16-hour drive from Brookings, and most people had hoped the selection committee would keep the Jacks closer to home.

But even with that disappointment, fans realize that this is a special event in the history of SDSU athletics.

“I think a seventh seed was appropriate for the girls,” Jennifer Gavlick, a Brookings resident, said. “Of course, I hoped for higher, but you need to earn your respect at the championships, and this is SDSU’s first year.”

With the Jacks’ résumé, it is hard to argue why they could not have been seeded higher. The Jacks are ranked 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and 16 in the Associated Press poll. They are 4-1 against teams that are appearing in the tournament, with the only loss coming to Maryland, the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Region, the same regional the Jacks are in.

Even with a possible date with Maryland looming three games down the road, Jacks fans are confident their team can compete with anyone in the country.

“The seed is good,” Steve Berseth, the athletic director at Brookings High School said. “? You can’t argue with a six or seven seed. When we played Maryland, we showed we can stay competitive.”

High Hopes

UConn is undoubtedly the favorite to take the title, but Jackrabbit fans think they have as good of a shot as anyone. ESPN analysts said that UConn probably would not be beaten for the title, which led to another chorus of boos from the crowd. When the commentators were discussing what a team would need to beat the Huskies, Jeff Ludwig, a junior agronomy major, and John Baustian, a freshman electrical engineering major, had an answer: Jill Young and the SDSU women.

“They almost beat Maryland. Why not?” said Ludwig.

People are already considering the Jacks to be the Cinderella story of the tournament. The New York Times and USA Today have already done stories on SDSU, and Sports Illustrated is scheduled to have a story on the Jackrabbit women coming out soon. During the Summit League Tournament last week, the ESPNU announcers predicted the Jacks to make it to at least the Sweet 16.

“I think our young ladies captured the imagination of a lot of folks across the country,” Berseth said. “It’s a great story. It’s our first year in Division I, and to play the way we have against major teams, it’s a Cinderella story.”

An Event for All

The Selection Show at Frost was a chance for everyone to come together and combine as one. Usually for basketball games, the students are separated from the other fans. This was not the case this time around.

Casual fans were mingled in with hardcore fans; students mingled with alumni. People that have been following the Jackrabbits for decades mingled with sixth graders.

“It’s great,” Dan Schaal, a math professor at SDSU, said. “I went to SDSU and went to the games back in the ’70s. I was a fan of the girls way back when no one was coming to the games.”

A sixth grade traveling basketball team, a group that the Jacks have visited over the last couple of years, was also in attendance, and a few of them predicted the Jacks were going to win it all.

“They have a good attitude, a good coach and enthusiasm,” said Brianna Vig, who is a sixth grader at Mickelson Middle School.

The event was a chance for Jackrabbit fans to come together one last time before the tournament.

“I think it is absolutely fantastic that the girls made it this far,” Ruth Anderson, a 1964 SDSU graduate, said. “My husband and I have followed the basketball teams faithfully ever since we moved here in ’61.”

SDSU President David Chicoine was also in attendance at Frost on this historic night, much like he was for every game at the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls. The president said he will try to be in Lubbock but might have scheduling conflicts.

“It will be a new experience for (the team), and hopefully, we’ll get some fans down there,” Chicoine said. “There were some ups and downs this season, but they stayed focused and now they have the opportunity to play on the national scene. It’s pretty exciting.”

March 16 was a historic night for the Jackrabbit women’s basketball team, and as they work to move further into the national spotlight, the Jackrabbit faithful – as evidenced by the hundreds of fans at Frost – will be with them every step of the way.

Senior News Editor Ruth Brown, News Editor Tony Gorder and Managing Editor Amy Poppinga contributed to this report.