SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota coach Amy Williams is excited to be taking the school to its first NCAA tournament, but she says the team shares that honor with all of the former players and coaches who helped build the program.
The Coyotes topped Denver 82-71 on Tuesday to capture their first Summit League crown after knocking in-state nemesis South Dakota State off its five-year throne a day earlier. The victories are thrusting the university onto the national stage, and Williams said she couldn't be happier.
Williams was hired two years ago to help raise the bar, and the Spearfish native said was fortunate to walk into a situation in which previous coaches put together some great pieces.
"I'm proud for all of the 'Yotes that kind of came before this team that paved the way for us," she said. "You know, we haven't lost sight of all those kids that never got the opportunity to play in this tournament as we were going through that transition."
South Dakota made the jump to Division I athletics in 2008-2009. The Coyotes advanced to the Summit League finals in 2013, but lost to South Dakota State 56-53 in the championship when Alexis Yackley's 3-point attempt bounced off the rim in the final seconds.
Polly Harrington, a senior who scored 16 points in the title game to take tournament MVP honors, remembers how tough it was last year to watch the Jackrabbits celebrate.
"When we were battling, it was just like I don't want this feeling to end so we're going to push until we can't push anymore until we see the results that we want," she said. "And I think collectively as a group, that's what we did because we didn't want that taste in the back of the mouth again."
Coyote Nicole Seekamp, who contributed 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the title game, said South Dakota had to scrap for every victory in the tournament.
Seekamp called the semifinal against South Dakota State the Coyotes' best defensive game of the year, and Denver proved to be another tough foe in Denver. In the opener, the Coyotes fought back from a 17-point deficit against Western Illinois before Raeshel Contreras sunk a 3-pointer in the final seconds for a 96-94 victory.
"We stuck together," Seekamp said. "We knew we weren't finished fighting, and we came back and we won that game."
The Coyotes will learn who they will play in the NCAA opening round on Monday.
"I think I'm just going to cherish this moment for a few days while we can and then we'll get back on the road and hopefully get a few more wins," Seekamp said.
Williams said the team will benefit from playing and advancing in last year's Women's Basketball Invitational. As a sixth seed in the west region, South Dakota knocked off third-seed Utah and second-seed Lamar before losing in the semifinals to McNeese State.
"Any postseason experience that your team can get is so valuable," Williams said.