Jackrabbit women capture Summit League title


Evan Patzwald

Myah Selland and Haleigh Timmer celebrate SDSU’s Summit League title win at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor (He/Him)

SIOUX FALLS – It was never a doubt.

The South Dakota State women’s basketball team capped off a dominant regular season with a complete performance in Tuesday’s Summit League Tournament championship game at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.

The top-seeded Jackrabbits (28-5) crushed No. 6 seed Omaha (15-17) 93-51 to win their 10th conference tournament title and first since 2019. They will also make the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in program history.

“I thought we played incredible basketball here over the last several weeks, not just this weekend,” Jacks coach Aaron Johnston said. “We’ve played well for a long period of time and that’s taken a lot of focus and concentration and effort. Really looking forward to what comes next.”

It seemed inevitable that the Jacks would win another Summit League title, given the right circumstances. But winning the conference championship had eluded the Jacks over the last few years, largely because of injuries.

In 2020, the Jacks were poised to win a third-straight conference title. But Myah Selland suffered a season-ending injury just nine games into the season. Still, the Jacks advanced all the way to the Summit League title game, eventually losing to top-seed USD.

Selland again suffered a season-ending injury the following year late in the regular season. The Jacks still ended the COVID season with a 14-0 conference record. But Selland’s injury was too much for the Jacks to overcome and they were upset by eighth-seeded Omaha in the quarterfinals.

Both Selland and Paiton Burckhard were on SDSU’s last team to win the Summit League championship. But after coming up short the last few years, they wanted their last seasons as Jackrabbits to include a conference title.

“I think we’ve been through a lot together and (Burckhard) has picked me up through all of those,” Selland said. “We talked about how we’ve missed this feeling and we want to do it again.”

An injury to freshman point guard Paige Meyer late in the year seemed to affect SDSU in the conference title game last year, where they again lost to USD.

This year, everything finally came together for the Jacks. They ran through their Summit League competition in the regular season, going 18-0 and outscoring opponents by an average of over 27 points.

“I think all throughout the year, we’ve been thinking, ‘boy, we’ve had such good success, we don’t want to have a bump in the road now,’” Johnston said. “This team got through the mental part of that, and they were really focused and determined to come down here and play well in this one and I’m glad it worked out for them.”

They were overwhelming favorites to win the Summit League Tournament. They opened it with a 28-point win against St. Thomas and followed that up with a 27-point win against Oral Roberts in the semifinals.

Against the Mavericks, the Jackrabbits proved right away why they were 25.5-point favorites. They ended the first quarter on a 10-0 run and led 21-8 after one. From there it was essentially over. The Jacks continued to increase their lead, which was as big as 30 in the first half. At halftime, the score was 44-16 Jacks.

Despite facing that deficit, Omaha continued to fight. But the Jackrabbits were too much for the Mavericks to handle and in the end, SDSU walked away with a 42-point victory. The 93 points they scored were the most a team has ever scored in the Summit League title game.

Sophomore guard Haleigh Timmer led the Jacks with 18 points on 7-8 from the field and 4-4 from 3-point range. After efficient performances throughout the weekend, Timmer was named tournament MVP, an accomplishment she credits to the depth of the team.

“I think our team does a good job of just staying focused in those moments and we all just play off each other so well,” Timmer said. “It could be anyone’s night on this team, we’re so deep.”

Meyer scored 16 points and had four assists, Burckhard had 14 points and Selland added 11 on 4-of-6 from the field.

As a team, the Jackrabbits were efficient, shooting 62% from the field and hit 13-of-19 3-pointers. On the defensive end, the Jacks blocked seven shots, four from Tori Nelson and three from Kallie Theisen, and forced 17 Omaha turnovers.

For the Mavericks, Katie Keitges was their only player to score in double figures, finishing with 11 points. Polina Nikulochkina scored eight points and Elena Pilakouta and Aaliyah Stanley each added six.

It was a poor shooting night for the Mavericks. They shot 34% from the field, including only shooting 21.4% in the first quarter and 18.2% in the second. They struggled turning the ball over, which turned into 29 Jackrabbit points.

Now SDSU looks ahead to the NCAA Tournament. They are a projected 12 seed by ESPN Bracketology. But the team believes it has the potential to make a deep tournament run.

“I think this team has a lot of potential,” Burckhard said. “I think being able to come out on top in this tournament definitely put our foot in the right direction and we’re ready to go.”