The 2021-22 Summit League is slated to be a battle of South Dakota, with the South Dakota Coyotes and South Dakota State Jackrabbits expected to challenge each other for the regular season and tournament championships, as well as capture a majority of the conference honors.
Can another squad spoil this expected South Dakota showdown between the Coyotes and Jackrabbits?
Rewind: A look at where the Summit League left off
For all the uncertainty that abounded, the 2020-21 women’s college basketball season was a successful one for the Summit League.
For only the third time, two Summit League squads — South Dakota and South Dakota State — made the NCAA Tournament.
South Dakota earned a berth in the Big Dance for winning the Summit League Tournament, as the No. 2 seed Coyotes knocked off the No. 8 seed Omaha Mavericks to claim their second-straight and third overall tournament title. An 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Coyotes could not hang with the 6-seed Oregon Ducks, falling 67-47 in the opening round to finish the season 19-6.
During the regular season, South Dakota State owned the Summit League, becoming only the fourth team in conference history to finish the regular season undefeated on its way to the regular-season conference crown. The Jackrabbits’ success earned them deserved national recognition, as they were ranked for eight-straight weeks in the AP poll before finishing the season ranked 25th. While they entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed, they faltered in their first tourney game, falling victim to a convincing upset effort by aforementioned Omaha. Nonetheless, the Jackrabbits’ overall resume helped them earn their 10th trip to the Big Dance. However, the No. 9 seed Jackrabbits were outclassed in the first round by the 8-seed Syracuse Orange, 72-55. They ended the season with a record of 21-4.
Here’s where each team stands entering the 2021-22 season, in order of the preseason standings predicted by the Summit League’s head coaches:
1) South Dakota Coyotes
South Dakota is favored to win the Summit League regular season championship for the fourth time due to the anticipated excellence of Preseason All-Summit League First Teamers Chloe Lamb and Hannah Sjerven.
Lamb, now a redshirt senior guard, averaged 15.8 points per game last season behind her superb 3-point shooting — 43.3 percent from deep. During the 2021 conference tournament, Lamb drained 10 of her 19 attempts from deep before deservedly claiming the Summit League Championship MVP.
Fellow redshirt senior Sjerven won her second-straight Summit League Defensive Player of the Year award last season, with the 6-foot-2 center leading the league with 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. She also efficiently put the ball in the basket, scoring 17.1 points per game. Another redshirt senior in guard Liv Korngable, a Preseason All-Summit League Second Team selection, further gives South Dakota the experience necessary to win the conference.
An early-season contest against the South Carolina Gamecocks, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, also will ensure that the Coyotes enter the conference schedule well tested.
2) South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Like South Dakota, South Dakota State has three players tapped for Preseason All-Summit League honors, with redshirt junior forward Myah Selland, junior forward Paiton Burckhard and senior forward Tylee Irwin all snagging a spot on the First Team.
Selland, the 2020-21 Summit League Player of the Year, was voted Preseason Player of the Year. Also a WBCA All-American Honorable Mention last season, Selland was tops in the Summit League in scoring with 19.2 points per game. She led the Jackrabbits in rebounding, assists and steals, with 6.8 boards, 3.8 dimes and 1.3 swipes per game.
Burckhard and Irwin also averaged double-figure scoring numbers last season. Like Selland, both scored efficiently because of their effectiveness in getting to the free throw, and their success in cashing in on these freebies. Last season, South Dakota State was in the top-20 nationally in free throws attempted and made. This proven ability to generate reliable offense should help the Jackrabbits again storm through the conference schedule.
2Q | Tylee Irwin gets the bucket and converts the free throw! Jacks on a 6-0 run! pic.twitter.com/kc62Gg6gD4— Jackrabbit WBB (@GoJacksWBB) October 28, 2021
3) North Dakota State Bison
Last season, North Dakota State showed that they had the ability to compete with South Dakota and South Dakota State.
Against the Jackrabbits, the Bison held the margin of defeat to less than 10 points in both games. In their first game against the Coyotes, the Bison were nipped 82-81. However, in the other two contests between the two squads — one in the regular season and one in the conference tournament — South Dakota took care of North Dakota State with ease.
In short, while the Bison likely are a level below the two teams from South Dakota, contending for the conference championship is not an unreasonable aspiration.
To reach this next level, North Dakota State will need a leap from Heaven Hamling, the redshirt junior guard who was named to the Preseason All-Summit League Second Team.
In her first season for the Bison, Hamling turned in the second-best 3-point shooting season in school history, hitting almost 42 percent of her attempts from deep. While she averaged 13.1 points per game, she had four games where she scored more than 20 points, including a 30-point outburst in North Dakota State’s near win over South Dakota on Feb. 27.
4) Kansas City Kangaroos
Kansas City might have the best jerseys and TikToks in the Summit League. Can the Roos convert this style and coordination into on-court success? The 2019-20 regular-season champions will hope to improve upon last season’s below .500 conference record. To do so, they will need a super senior season from Preseason All-Summit League First Team nominee Naomie Alnatas.
5) Denver Pioneers
In her first season at the helm, head coach Dosia Woods turned Denver into a high-octane offensive team. Can Woods and the Pioneers, led by Preseason All-Summit League Second Team selections Meghan Boyd (junior guard) and Uju Ezeudu, (junior forward) again put up lots of points and, more importantly, earn a few more wins?
"I'm proud of the culture we were able to establish (last season), and we can continue to build going into year two." @doshwoods with @MidcoSports on the @summithoops Preview Show.#PioneerTogether | #ourHOUSE pic.twitter.com/kh0sa0K1KQ— Denver Women's Hoops (@DU_WHoops) October 29, 2021
6) Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Traditionally near the top of the conference table, the Golden Eagles finished seventh in the standings last season, their lowest finish since rejoining the Summit League in 2014-15. If Oral Roberts is to exceed its expected sixth-place finish for 2021-22, it will be because Preseason All-Summit League Second Team member and fifth-year graduate student Keni Jo Lippe (guard) saved her best collegiate season for last.
7) Western Illinois Leathernecks
An early season trip to South Bend to meet the Fighting Irish should serve as an interesting test for the Leathernecks. To make noise in the Summit League, much less against Notre Dame, Western Illinois will need transfers Jada Thorpe (Kansas State) and Addaya Moore (Cincinnati) to serve as contributors alongside the experienced senior trio of Evan Zars, Samantha Pryor and Elizabeth Lutz.
8) Omaha Mavericks
It was a nearly-perfect finish to head coach Carrie Banks’ first season as head coach of the Mavs, as Omaha made a surprise run to the 2021 Summit League conference tournament championship game. Will this momentum carry over? Can Banks and the Mavs marshal the good vibes needed to surpass preseason expectations?
As a coach your eyes light up when a Post Player wants to get some ball handling in after practice! @GardnerMorgann Wants to know everything! @CarrieBanks10 changing things around here! #Supercool pic.twitter.com/qn0BEyqk4Y— Coach Darryl Hudson (@hudson85734) October 9, 2021
9) North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Mallory Bernhard assumes control of the Fighting Hawks program, albeit still carrying the interim tag. To earn the permanent head coaching position, she will likely need to coax more than two conference wins (and two total wins) from her team, which was the number they earned last season. She will be looking to juniors Maggie Manson and Olivia Lane, last season’s third and fourth leading scorers, to raise their play.
10) St. Thomas Tommies
The Tommies could experience their share of challenges over the course of their inaugural season in the Summit League. Not only will the competition be tougher but longtime head coach coach Ruth Shinn must integrate 11 new players. St. Thomas also played only seven games during the 2020-21 season while their now-compatriots in the Summit League all played at least 20 games.
As voted on by the Summit League’s head coaches:
Player of the Year: Myah Selland (South Dakota State)
All-Summit League First Team: Naomie Alnatas (Kansas City), Paiton Burckhard (South Dakota State), Tylee Irwin (South Dakota State), Chloe Lamb (South Dakota), Myah Selland (South Dakota State), Hannah Sjerven (South Dakota)
All-Summit League Second Team: Meghan Boyd (Denver), Uju Ezeudu (Denver), Heaven Hamling (North Dakota State), Liv Korngable (South Dakota), Keni Jo Lippe (Oral Roberts)
Key conference dates
Dec. 20: Summit League season start (South Dakota vs. Oral Roberts)
Must-see Summit League matchups
Dec. 20: Omaha vs. St. Thomas. The Tommies’ league debut comes against the squad that made a cinderella run to the 2021 conference tournament title game.
Dec. 30: North Dakota State vs. South Dakota State. When they visit the Jackrabbits, the Bison will have an early opportunity to show that they are among the class of the conference.
Feb. 5: South Dakota vs. South Dakota State. The second contest between the Coyotes and Jackrabbits could determine which team takes the regular-season conference crown.