High expectations this season for women’s basketball


Joclyn Haven

SDSU’s Myah Selland drives the ball in a WNIT game against Drake March 24 at Frost Arena. Selland was selected as the preseason Summit League Player of the Year for the second-straight season.

Brayden Byers, Sports Reporter

There hasn’t been hype surrounding a Summit League basketball team quite like this for some time. 

South Dakota State’s women’s team is predicted to be a dominant force. They return four of their five starters and six of their seven top scorers and were picked first in the preseason Summit League polls. 

There is a lot to look forward to with this team from inside and out. Head coach Aaron Johnston echoes those sentiments. 

“There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation. I think everybody comes back with the sense that really neat things could happen this year,” Johnston said. 

Johnston, returning for his 23rd season at the helm of the program, also knows there is an understanding that things won’t go the exact same way. 

“I think they’re also very realistic and understand this is a different team and it’s gonna take a different plan and have to be ready for anything that comes up along the way,” he said.  

The schedule is long, beginning in early November and culminating in March with tournament season, but there are going to be some added hardships this year. 

South Dakota State will face off against four power-five conference schools, two of them from the Pac-12 and two from the SEC, as well as two programs ranked in the preseason Top-25.

“Every year I think we’ve always done a great job of playing other like-minded teams,” Johnston said. “We look at our program as an elite program, and so we try to schedule other teams that would say the same.” 

The Jackrabbits themselves are ranked in the preseason AP Top-25 for the first time in program history, ranked at No. 23. The team is excited, but know they need to keep their head forward.

“It’s fun to be a part of something that hasn’t happened here yet,” 2022 WNIT tournament MVP Myah Selland said. “It’s something to be proud of, but I think it’s something we don’t let weigh on us too much.” 

SDSU had a rough start to the year last year, losing three of its first 10 games in its nonconference schedule. Selland knows that the team knows they must perform in those big games to be successful. 

As a team, the Jacks were second in the nation in field goal percentage, while leading the country in three point percentage last year. They return the fire power to do it again. 

Selland, Haleigh Timmer, Tori Nelson and Paiton Burckhard all return from the starting lineup last year. Paige Meyer, returning from an injury she suffered last season, and Kallie Theisen are back as part of the top seven scorers from last year.

The roster also has five newcomers, four freshmen and one grad transfer. The one grad transfer is Dru Gylten, a native of Rapid City. She comes from the University of Utah and is looking to help the team continue to get better. 

“Just being able to relay everything I have learned in my college basketball career to the younger girls and being a leader on and off the court and leaving a mark is a big focus for me,” Gylten said. 

A big hole they will have to fill is that of Tylee Irwin. Irwin averaged 8.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and shot 42% from the field in her five-year career. 

“When you lose someone like that, you lose a lot more than you realize,” Johnston said. “That leadership from last year’s senior class and certainly what Tylee did on the floor are tough things to replace.” 

On the inside, the Jacks are a very deep team. The likes of Selland, Nelson, Burckhard and Theisen are a very good returning group of forwards. 

They also add forwards Brooklyn Meyer and Natalie Nielsen, both from Iowa, to bolster the inside a bit more. 

The injured guard group on the outside will have some experience added on when Paige Meyer returns. Timmer and Regan Nesheim are also returning. 

The addition of Gylten as well as freshmen Madison Mathiowetz and Ellie Colbeck will bring some fresh faces to the perimeter. 

The team has a lot of offense, but Johnston expects the defense to be an area the team works on. 

“We have a lot of players that can score and make plays, but so far in our early season, we just haven’t had the focus it takes defensively,” Johnston said. “So that will be a big emphasis heading into our first couple of games.” 

Those first couple of games will be a challenge as the Jacks match up with No. 21 Creighton in the home opener. 

They will also face off against Lehigh and Mississippi State before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. 

In that tournament, they will face off against UCLA, a WNIT participant, and could play four other nationally recognized teams. 

“There is a really great group of teams down there.” Selland said, “We get to play UCLA, who we are familiar with, the rest of the group down there are some really top tier teams.” 

Gylten, having been a part of those trips before, echoes Selland saying the quality of competition will be a good test. 

“Being in that environment kind of just brings the joy into college athletics,” Gylten said. “Just the amazing experiences you get. This is just another example of the cool opportunities you are able to get in college athletics.” 

Later in the season, they will finish out their nonconference slate in South Dakota hosting UT Martin in Frost Arena and playing top-ranked South Carolina in Sioux Falls.

The Summit League Championship will be in Sioux Falls again this year at the Denny Sanford Premier Center March 3 through March 7. 

The Jackrabbits begin their season Wednesday as they take on Southwest Minnesota State at 6 p.m. in an exhibition match as part of the Jackrabbit Tipoff double header with men’s basketball.

Their first regular season game will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in Frost Arena against No. 21 Creighton.