Stifling defense propels the Jacks to first WNIT victory

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

In their return to playoff basketball after a two-year reprieve, the South Dakota State women’s basketball team defeated Illinois State University, 61-48, March 17.

Before and during the game, the atmosphere in Frost Arena was electric, as a season-high crowd of 5,719 cheered on the Jacks to victory.

“What an atmosphere,” ISU Head Coach Robin Pingeton said.

The Jacks benefited from playing at home in front of such a large crowd. Pingeton called the crowd SDSU’s “sixth man.”

“The atmosphere you have makes it an awfully tough place to play,” Pingeton said.

The Jackrabbits also felt the impact of the crowd.

“There was a great crowd … the most we’ve ever played in front of. I think it really added to our play,” sophomore forward Jen Warkenthien said.

SDSU Head Coach Aaron Johnston said, “(It is) unbelievably difficult to try and get into something on the offensive end if you’re on somebody else’s floor and everybody is screaming … I thought our fans played a really big role.”

With so much excitement surrounding the game, it would have been easy for the Jacks to be overwhelmed and play with too much emotion.

“I think the whole atmosphere made everybody kind of jittery … just playing in front of that many people just kind of gets you a little nervous sometimes,” junior center Courtney Grimsrud said.

SDSU stumbled initially out of the gate, falling behind 6-3, but the Jacks quickly responded. Layups by Megan Vogel, Maria Boever, Andrea Verdegan and Grimsrud led the Jacks to a 14-2 run, capped by a Vogel 3-pointer. With a little more than 12 minutes remaining in the half, SDSU led, 17-8.

“I think we handled the emotion of the crowd. I didn’t sense we were rattled. I didn’t sense that we were over-emotional. I thought we really handled the environment well,” Johnston said.

During the final 10 minutes of the game, SDSU did not lead by less than five points, but the game never felt secure. Megan McCracken nailed a 3-pointer with 5:20 remaining, bringing ISU within five points. They would get no closer. In fact, they would get no more points.

Ashlea Muckenhirn scored an easy layup with 3:02 remaining, sending the crowd into an uproar. Every seat was emptied as the 5,719 roared with applause. They sensed the Jacks finally secured the victory.

To secure the school’s first WNIT victory, the Jacks used grit, determination and great defense.

“I think we just made hustle plays … People joke how we’re blue-collar, small-town kids, I think that’s what makes us successful … all those little things were what was the difference tonight,” Vogel said.

#1.883615:2936253746.jpg:womensbballfans1.jn.jpg:Fans wait patiently in the cold outside the HPER on Mar. 17 to see the Jackrabbit women play Illinois State University.: