Jackrabbit women’s basketball picked to top Summit League

ABBY+FULLENKAMP

Abby Fullenkamp

ABBY FULLENKAMP

Landon Dierks

The quest for a ninth Summit League title and a trip to the NCAA tournament begins Tuesday, Nov. 6 for the South Dakota State women’s basketball team.

Head coach Aaron Johnston is entering his 19th year leading the Jackrabbit women’s basketball program and has lofty goals for his group this season.

“Our expectations are always really high,” Johnston said. “I thought last year we were good, but we had some ups and downs. We just need to be more consistent and a little more determined to achieve some of the things we have in front of us.”

The nonconference schedule appears to be a daunting one for the Jackrabbits this season. Seven of SDSU’s 13 nonconference contests will come against squads that won a conference regular season or tournament title in 2017-18.

“It’s a good challenge, but it’ll be a big challenge,” Johnston said of the nonconference slate for SDSU this season. “It’s the type of schedule where we’ll have to play well in every game to have a chance and if we don’t play well, we’ll get beat.”

The Jacks will open the 2018-19 regular season in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when they take on Marquette University. Last season, the Golden Eagles won the Big East regular-season title and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they fell to the Louisville Cardinals.

Two other high-profile opponents stick out on the Jacks’ schedule — Baylor and Oregon.

SDSU will face Baylor during the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout on Nov. 23 in Las Vegas. The Lady Bears posted an impressive 33-2 record last season but were upset in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.

An Oregon squad that reached the Elite Eight for the second year in a row and finished 33-5 last season will visit Frost Arena on Dec. 12. The Ducks are led by junior point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who was honored as the Nancy Lieberman National Point Guard of the Year and Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore.

The Jacks are the preseason favorite to cut down the nets in Sioux Falls once again this season. SDSU received 24 of 33 first-place votes in the preseason Summit League poll. Johnston has guided his program to eight Summit League tournament championships over the past 10 years.

The Jackrabbits will return 79.8 percent of the scoring from last season, including the defending Summit League Player of the Year in redshirt senior guard Macy Miller.

If the Jacks’ first preseason contest is any indication, 2018 starting five will be Miller, senior guard Madison Guebert, sophomore guard/forward Myah Selland, redshirt junior forward Tagyn Larson and freshman forward Paiton Burckhard.

Miller begins the 2018-19 campaign just 171 points from becoming the all-time SDSU women’s basketball scoring leader.

Guebert is close to a record of her own as she sits only 40 three-point field goals away from the SDSU record.

Both seniors were named to the 2018-19 preseason All-Summit League first team.

Selland started 17 games as a freshman last season and was named to the Summit League All-Newcomer team for her efforts.

Larson joined Selland on the All-Newcomer team and was awarded the title of Summit League Transfer of Year last season after starting 16 games and appearing in all 33 contests.

The frontcourt duo was named to the 2018-19 preseason All-Summit League second team.

Burckhard is the only probable starter without collegiate experience but earned her spot in the rotation after a record-setting career at Aberdeen Central High School in South Dakota.

No matter who the Jackrabbits put on the floor, Johnston expects his team to compete at the highest level.

“We have a really talented, deep roster this season,” he said.

The Jackrabbits will play host to last season’s Atlantic Sun Conference regular season and tournament champion Florida Gulf Coast to open their home schedule (FGCU defeated the Jackrabbits 87-78 last season). Tipoff is 7 p.m., Nov. 9 in Frost Arena.