SDSU Media Day higlights

By Robert Myers Sports Editor

SDSU recently held media day for the fall and winter sports. The head coaches each had the opportunity to give an approximately five minute speech concerning the state of their program, and what to look for in the coming season.

Head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach Brad Erickson spoke first at the event, highlighting his teams’ goals to finish second in a Summit League field that Denver leads far and away.

When it comes to the rosters, the women have much more depth than the men, all be it young, and Erickson says to achieve their goals, they will have to rely on help from the freshmen.

The women have a much deeper roster than the men going into the year, but much of that depth comes from the freshmen class which Erickson said needed to play a big role.

“We’ve got a big freshman class,” Erickson said. “We’ve got 12 freshmen women and one transfer. If we’re expected to stay in that second spot, we’re going to have them step up.”

While the men should do well in the diving events, led by Connor Florand who set conference records last spring, and the backstroke where Erickson expects Alex McLain to break the school record, he said that it will take quality contributions from across the board to meet their goals.

“For us to do that, we don’t have a big, big squad, but we’re going to have to rely on a lot of quality throughout our lineups,” Erickson said.

Next up to the podium was head wrestling coach Chris Bono. In two short years with the program, Bono has managed to change the culture and raise the level of competition.

“It’s time to win,” Bono said. “We’ve been here two years now. We’re not rebuilding anymore. I think it’s time to go out and win some matches and we have a chance to beat some pretty big teams.”

Bono said that there are six wrestlers on his roster who he believes capable of becoming All-Americans. Aiding them in their efforts will be new assistant coach John Reader who himself is making a run at the Olympics.

“I’m happy to finally get someone of his caliber in here,” Bono said. “He’s already had a huge impact on these guys. The level of intensity in the room has gone up. And in recruiting, kids are wanting to come because of John Reader.”

Head baseball coach David Schrage discussed his pitching depth which should be a major asset as the Summit League moves to a schedule featuring a three-game series every weekend.

“We have 12 seniors on our program, nine of them are pitches,” Schrage said. “So we won’t have an inning we throw out there where we don’t experienced guy that has pitched for us.”

Another factor that should make his starters Adam Bray, Chris Anderson and Chad Hodges along with his bullpen, featuring all-time saves leader J.D. Moore, more of a factor is the NCAA’s move to a new baseball, one modeled after the MLB’s ball that will lead to more offense in the form of doubles and home runs.

“I can tell you with 100 percent confidence there’s going to be more home runs and there’s going to be a little bit more offense come this spring,” Schrage said. “We hit more home runs this fall against an experienced pitching staff than we have the three previous falls I’ve been here.”

Newly minted softball head coach Krista Wood promised improvements to a softball program that struggled mightily last season, going 11-36 with only two Summit League wins.

“We were trying to get kids to buy in to what we were doing, changing the culture a little bit,” Wood said. “We’re trying to make this into a championship team and building a tradition. … It took a couple weeks, but I think the kids are really starting to get what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Fall focuses for the team have included improving pitching which had a 6.17 ERA and a defense which made 74 errors last spring.

“Defensively, the whole fall I think we might have had two errors,” Wood said. “We’ve really been focusing on our defense. Overall we went 7-1 this fall against our competition, so we saw a lot of good things. Our pitching staff is getting stronger every week. … I think we’re going to surprise some people this year.”

Head track and field coach Rod DeHaven generated the most laughs of the day, making references to 1960s Batman and Norman Mailer while planning a boy band demolition day and advertising the opportunity for anyone with some extra cash to have a meet named after them.

Redshirting has been a big part of his program in recent years, but DeHaven said this time he’s turning loose the stars, meaning a return to competition for Trent Lusignan who redshirted track last season and cross country this past fall.

Other top returners will be Ashley Odegaard in the sprints, Mary Wirth an outdoor high jump All-American, and Marc Husman in the sprints.

“Essentially we’re not redshirting anyone who we feel will have an impact on the program which should help us finish higher,” DeHaven said.

Perhaps the biggest boost for the track and field teams will be the recently completed SJAC.

“If we were playing a basketball with a nine foot hoop that’s kind of the equivalent to what practicing inside of HPER was,” DeHaven said.

SJAC will also host three home meets during the indoor season, beginning with the SDSU Open on Dec. 6.

“I’ve joked in the past that our 30-year road trip will finally be over,” DeHaven said. “You can’t imagine the number of five hour trips to Fargo we’ve had on multiple weekends over the years. I’m looking forward to not going to Fargo four or five times during the indoor season.”

Head women’s basketball coach Aaron Johnston gave indications that the best is yet to come for Jackrabbit women’s basketball, coming off a season where he guided his team to the WNIT’s final four, 

“We’ve got a really good year coming up I think,” Johnston said. “This year’s team is going to be talented, really talented, as talented as any team we’ve had in the past. We’ve got a great group of seniors who will be wonderful leaders for us. … The freshman group will be primed and ready to help us.”

The team returns five seniors including All-Summit League selection Megan Waytashek. Together they will be tasked with taking an expanded leadership role on the team.

“This group of five need to get together and figure out how it’s going to be their team, how they’re going to take the reins and really lead by example and hold people accountable, and I think that’s an ongoing process,” Johnston said. “Ultimately we will go as far as those seniors take us.”

Though the Jacks will miss Gabby Boever as she sits out with an injury, they have more than capable replacement candidates in junior Chloe Cornemann and true freshman Macy Miller. Similarly battles continue at other positions as Johnston is still waiting to determine a starting lineup and rotation for the Oct. 30 exhibitioner against South Dakota Tech.

“I have a lot of confidence in 13 players,” Johnston said. “Gabby will be out for a while with her injury so the other 13 can all help us in some capacity, but it’s going to be about making sure the right players have enough minutes. That doesn’t mean we’re going to shorten things, but we can’t just play people just to play people. They’ve got to get to the point where they’re better than the next person.”

On the men’s side, head coach Scott Nagy looks to field a basketball team almost unrecognizable from last year’s group.

Despite having an inexperienced team, Nagy said there are some areas where the Jacks will be better than last year.

“I think we’re going to be better defensively and we definitely have better ball handling team,” Nagy said. “We’re not as big. Our guards aren’t as big, but we have more people that can handle the basketball and we’re just more athletic so we’re going to be able to pressure the ball better and that Cody and Connor are going to make it very difficult to score inside.”

Joining SDSU after the end of the fall semester will be University of Wisconsin transfer George Marshall who played 35 games as a freshman and shot .368 from behind the arc before transferring early in his sophomore campaign.

SDSU was picked fourth in the Summit League preseason poll, so some things will have to come together for the Jackrabbits to reclaim the conference title.

“We have to be great defensively,” Nagy said. “I think that one area we dominated the league last year was rebounding. We’re a little bit smaller this year and so our guards are going to have to do a great job rebounding the basketball. I don’t anticipate that we’ll struggle scoring so the main focus for us is being great defensively.”