After banner year, SDSU hoops looks to do it again

Spencer Chase

Consistency of participation and veteran leadership have been key factors in successful off-seasons for the SDSU men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Both teams are riding the wave of NCAA Tournament appearances, and the pressure for repeat performances is high. To ensure March success, both teams will be relying on veteran leadership and working to avoid complacency.

The men were able to take advantage of new NCAA rules that allowed coaches to work with players for what head coach Scott Nagy called “a few hours a week.” Nagy said last year’s progression was a good step for the program, and it’s added a little pressure, which he likes.

“There’s always expectations, but now they’re good,” Nagy said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we handle being the top dog and getting everyone’s top shot every night.”

Nagy said he’s seen marked improvement in almost all of his players, especially the remaining starters from last season — Nate Wolters, Brayden Carlson, Tony Fiegen and Jordan Dykstra, who Nagy has said dropped pounds but added muscle. Nagy said he likes seeing this improvement in order to replace Griffan Callahan, the team’s emotional and defensive leader.

“We can always replace (Callahan’s) stats, it’s the other stuff,” Nagy said. “You look back to that (Summit League Championship) Western Illinois game, and all the key shots were made by (Callahan).”

Nagy said there are six players in at least their third year with the program, and he’d like to see one of those players assume a leadership role.

The SDSU men open up their season with an exhibition against Black Hills State Nov. 1 in Brookings and then travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the Crimson Tide Nov. 9.

The SDSU women capped off last season with their fourth consecutive Summit League Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Head coach Aaron Johnston said the team has come back strong and has been rebounding from injuries sustained last season. Johnston said Gabby Boever has fully recovered from a knee injury that slowed her down last year, and Steph Paluch and Megan Waytashek are back from debilitating knee injuries.

Johnston said Paluch has been participating in workouts and hasn’t been limited, but she’s working on returning to game shape after an injury in the Summit League semifinals. Johnston said she “still has work to do,” and there’s no timetable for her complete and full return.

In Waytashek’s case, an injury sustained in her freshman year lingered into her sophomore year, so she was issued an injury hardship from the NCAA and was given another year of eligibility in exchange for her two lost seasons due to medical issues. Johnston said Waytashek was certainly deserving of the medical hardship because of her lost time.


“(Waytashek) was never physically ready last year, and she was limited after she was injured in her freshman year,” Johnston said. “When a player only gets four years of eligibility, you have to do what you can to make the most of them. The good thing is she’s come back for this year mentally stronger and ready to contribute.”

This year’s senior class is ready to assume a leadership role after serving as role players for other classes in their first three years. Johnston said he’s looking forward to seeing how the class responds to being the team’s leadership this season.

“They’ve always been a good complementary class and helped out whoever was our key player that year, whether it was Kristen Rotert or Jill Young and Jennie Sunnarborg last year,” Johnston said. “I think they’re anxious to do more and prove that they belong.”

Johnston said he’s looking at a very “deep, experienced team” with a very talented sophomore class. The Jacks start with exhibitions against Minnesota-Crookston Oct. 28 and Black Hills State Nov. 1 in Brookings and then head to the Minnesota Opening Tournament at Minnesota for a Nov. 10 matchup against Villanova.