Coyotes end Pioneers’ Cinderella story

After eight ties and 13 lead changes, the South Dakota Coyotes emerged as the champions of the Summit League Women’s Basketball Tournament.

USD’s 82-71 victory came against a Denver team that few expected to make it out of the first round. The Pioneers entered their first Summit League Tournament as the No. 6 seed with an overall record of 7-21.

Guiding their magical run through the tournament in which they defeated the No. 2 and No 3 seeds was Denver’s sophomore point guard Paige Bradley who was named to the league’s all-tournament team, playing 117 minutes and scoring 52 points in her three games.

“It’s a great honor to get that all-tournament team,” Bradley said. “I couldn’t do it without my team. The support of them – that is why I was able to do it.”

USD meanwhile had two all-tournament team members: Nicole Seekamp and MVP Polly Harrington. A crowd and team favorite, Harrington was a force inside during tournament, scoring 47 points and pulling down 19 rebounds in her three tournament games.

“That was kind of a shock,” Harrington said about the MVP award. “I just went out there every night and tried to play my best for my team. I’m blessed to be nominated and received the award.”

After scoring 26 in the team’s first game against Western Illinois, Seekamp battled through illness to add 30 points in her final two, bringing her points total to 56. Seekamp’s contributions went deeper still as she finished the tournament with 18 rebounds, 19 assists and 13 steals.

“It’s amazing how she still impacted the game,” USD head coach Amy Williams said of Seakamp. “For Nicole to have seven assists, two turnovers, five steals and impact the game the way she did, getting to the foul line and scoring in double digits even if she was a little zapped with the energy, I just couldn’t be more proud of her as a player.”

Also named to the all-tournament team was Western Illinois’ Ashley Luke who scored 35 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in her lone game. IUPUI’s Deairra Goss was the fifth member of the all-tournament team, totaling 45 points and eight rebounds in her two appearances.

The championship itself proved very tight for the first 33 minutes before USD was able to rally behind the support of a roaring pro Coyote crowd to extend and hold their lead.

Key to their second half was USD’s 57 percent shooting percentage which not only put points on the board but also allowed them to step up their defense.

“More than anything, it was what they were doing on the offensive end,” Cremeans said. “They were able to get those easy points. They got their fans behind them. It really changed the momentum of the game. They didn’t look back after they were able to get easy points on transition.”

The day after the Coyotes pushed SDSU around in the paint, Denver broke even there, scoring 36 and giving up 36. The Pioneers put three of their forwards in double figures for the game with Theresa Wirth scoring 13, Alison Janecek adding 10 points with eight rebounds and Desiree Hunter finishing with a double-double, scoring 14 and rebounding 10.

When Harrington wasn’t roaming the paint for the Coyotes, Margaret McCloud and Bridget Arens were filling in and combining for 21 points and six rebounds. A freshman, Arens came into her own after getting her feet wet in the first game, averaging 11 points per game against SDSU and Denver.

Winning the Summit League Tournament, USD will advance to the NCAA tournament.

“It’s awesome to be able to celebrate that with Coyote nation,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s our cleanup crew at the dome, they all have a part of what happened here today.”

On the other side, though disappointed, Denver’s players and coaches are taking pride in what they accomplished and with the exception of seniors Janecek and Hunter will look to build on their experiences going into next season.

“I loved seeing their emotion,” Denver head coach Kerry Cremeans said of her players. “I wanted them to soak it all in, to let them know that they were going to walk away with a trophy back to UD. They fought hard to make that happen. They stole the hearts of a lot of people. I want them to know how special that was and not to forget it.”