BY JEREMY HOECK
(I’ll try to get back into blogging more for 2014, I promise. Between frequent Daily Dose mini-columns and Twitter updates, there are plenty of chances to opine.)
Having spent most of Saturday at the DakotaDome for USD’s basketball doubleheader, I figured now is the best time to share some observations and notes from both sides.
Although the Coyote women defeated previously-unbeaten Wyoming 82-78, this is probably the best time to talk more about the Coyote men. Saturday was their home opener; their first chance to play in front of the hometown fans — the USD women had already played at home and had already played regional games in Sioux Falls and Omaha (with fans getting a few chances to see them).
Saturday was the first chance we got, in person, to see the three USD men’s redshirts that the program has been raving about for a year. Not to mention the first home game under interim head coach Joey James.
My initial observation while watching the Coyote men was size. The guys looked on first glance like they put in some extra time in the DakotaDome weight room this summer — guys like Tyler Flack, Brandon Bos and Casey Kasperbauer, especially, looked noticeably bigger.
And run too. They certainly got a chance against NAIA Graceland, leading the fast break points 21-2. In a fast-paced affair like Saturday, seeing USD record 24 assists to only 12 turnovers was rather impressive.
Said James: “The fact that we had 24 assists shows that we’re an unselfish basketball team. We have guys that can score the ball, not just two or three.”
Every player who came into the game for USD scored a point, led by eight in double figures. Yes, EIGHT. Just imagine a game where the Coyotes would break that record. To put NINE in double figures would mean you’re probably dropping 120-plus points on some lower-level team.
On those three redshirts from a year ago I referenced, point guard Trey Norris, to me, was probably most impressive.
It’s obvious he’s a ‘pass-first’ point guard, which means from a literal sense, he was out there to get everyone else going. Norris still finished with 11 points, but most notably, he dished out nine assists and didn’t turn the ball over. Granted, he wasn’t facing the best of defensive squads, but he looked under control, never seemed like he looked lost or out of system.
That’s really going to be something to watch for USD, once they get into the Summit League and face the kind of defensive pressure of a North Dakota State or a Western Illinois — both of whom can make you look pretty bad on a given day.
Adam Thoseby, the second of the three redshirts in the starting lineup, finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, with eight rebounds. It’s obvious with his size, at 6-foot-5, that Thoseby will be able to rebound in the paint against some Summit League bigs. The Coyotes had no issues at all on the glass against Graceland, but USD has some athletic, long guys who can help posts Trevor Gruis and Tyler Flack hold down the fort in the paint.
Another one of those athletic wings is Tyler Larson, the third redshirt. He came off the bench to scored three points, grab seven rebounds and dish out four assists in 22 minutes Saturday. You can tell that Larson is still getting back into the flow of the game following a knee injury, but in time you could see where he will be a significant weapon off the bench for the team.
Other than that, the Graceland game didn’t give you much to chew on (other than USD being handed a significant wakeup call before figuring things out in a 27-point win).
Monday night against Utah Valley will be a better challenge.
Utah Valley (2-4), a former member of the Great West Conference like USD, will be finishing a 5-game road trip in Vermillion. Coyote fans will remember names like Ben Aird and Holton Hunsaker (son of coach Dick Hunsaker).
BY JEREMY HOECK
A chance meeting with a legendary South Dakota coaching figure ultimately landed the University of South Dakota women’s basketball program a prized recruit for 2015.
Megan Bonar, a 6-foot-1 forward from De Soto, Kan., verbally committed to the Coyote coaching staff on a visit to Vermillion on Sunday following USD’s win over Boise State.
According to Bonar’s high school coach and father, Jim Bonar, the family ran into former Northern State men’s coach Don Meyer on the street in Estes Park, Colo. The coach’s advice to Megan Bonar?
“He gave her the advice to block out all the other stuff and go where she felt at home,” Jim Bonar told the Press & Dakotan. “That’s good advice from a great coach, and she listened.”
As a sophomore last season for De Soto High School, Bonar averaged 15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 3.75 blocks per game. Academically, she ranks first out of 188 students in her class.
Ultimately, her early college choice was based on comfort, Jim Bonar said.
“It came down to relationships,” he said. “USD was a late entry into the recruiting process, but the coaches and team felt like family to her.
“There was a comfort level beyond what she had experienced on any other visit she has ever taken.”
Bonar becomes USD’s first known verbal commit for the 2015 class, and comes from a familiar area. De Soto is located between Lawrence and Kansas City, near the same area where current Coyote freshman Jaylah Jackson hails from — nearby Olathe, Kan.
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — One month ago, South Dakota State was in danger of seeing its season fall short of the well-stated goal: Getting back to the FCS post-season.
That’s why Saturday’s game at the University of South Dakota was more than just a rivalry showdown. It was a must-win.
“I’ve never seen our Jackrabbit team in my tenure maybe as down as the Missouri State game,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “That’s when they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.”
Since that point, on Oct. 19, the Jacks (7-4, 4-3) have been in cannot-lose mode.
Following that road loss, SDSU has scored consecutive victories over Northern Iowa, Indiana State and USD by a 27-12 margin Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
What seemed rather unlikely a month ago, the FCS playoffs are suddenly not all that far-fetched for the Jacks.
“I don’t know if, for us, it felt like a long shot,” junior running back Zach Zenner said. “We know the kind of team we are. We knew we let some go, not play to our potential, so this wasn’t out of the picture in our minds to do this.”
Though the Jackrabbits sit in fourth place in the league standings, they have the third-fewest losses. North Dakota State (10-0, 7-0) won the league title, while Youngstown State (8-3, 5-2) remains in the playoff hunt — Missouri State is out after finishing 5-7.
Put another way: Next Saturday’s showdown in Youngstown, Ohio, between the Penguins and Jackrabbits is a winner-in, loser-out scenario.
First, though, came the matter of beating a USD squad geared up to defend its home turf.
Looking across the table at his other three teammates, SDSU wide receiver Jason Schneider said when asked how big Saturday’s game was, “None of us are from South Dakota here, so it’s something new.”
“We knew it was a big game for the alumni, for the coaches, we just went out there and tried not think about the past,” he added. “Just focused on winning this game.”
Even having done that, SDSU wasn’t quite ready to talk about the Penguins yet.
“It’s good to get a win; definitely going to enjoy it, but then (Sunday) in film we’ll start getting ready for another must-win,” Zenner said.
Sold Out Crowd
Between the Fargodome at North Dakota State and the UNI-Dome at Northern Iowa, an indoor football setting is nothing new for South Dakota State, let alone its rivals at USD.
Even faced with a record sellout crowd of 10,845 at Saturday’s game at the DakotaDome, the Jackrabbits said they preferred such an atmosphere.
“I love when everyone’s against you,” linebacker R.C. Kilgore said. “It makes us play better when our backs are against the wall.
“It feels good to own the state one more year.”
The DakotaDome, did, however, cause some early issues for the Jackrabbits — as head coach John Stiegelmeier said it would.
On SDSU’s second drive of the game, the Jacks were whistled for three false start penalties in four plays. Two were flagged on senior Bryan Witzmann and the third on senior Alex Parker.
“I don’t think as a coach you can paint the picture of an environment like this,” Jacks head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “You have to be in it.”
The Coyotes, of late, haven’t played in front of such a home crowd. The attendance for Youngstown State and Montana the previous two weeks had been fewer than 7,000.
“As a football player, you always want to play in an atmosphere like that,” USD senior safety Devin Taverna said. “The Coyote Crazies on our side of the field were pretty loud.
“It creates an environment, gets everybody pumped up and ready to go.”
The loss was especially bitter for those Coyote seniors who were playing at the DakotaDome for the last time. USD travels to North Dakota State next Saturday.
“It would have been huge to get a win, going out in my senior year in the dome,” USD senior linebacker Tyler Starr said. “It’s a special place here, a special place to play. It just hurts right now.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck. Discuss this story at http://www.yankton.net.
SD Finals Picks
Doing this on the run a little, because I am getting ready to head over to Vermillion for today’s championship games. No analysis, just straight winners. Here we go.
Thursday: Leola-Frederick, Arlington, West Central
Friday: Avon, Parkston, Pierre
Went against the first-meeting winner in a couple of rematches there, so we’ll see if I outsmarted myself. Follow @jhoeck and @jcimburek for coverage of all 8 games from the Dome this weekend. (Including State-U)
This is when things get tough in the whole picks game, especially with all the area teams out in Class C2. I kinda know the teams a little bit, but this is where I might make mistakes that people who cover just one state wouldn’t. (As I’ve said before, not a pro picker.)
I have outlined the “upsets” (by power points).
Class C2: Doniphan-Trumbull over NPSP; Hastings St. Cecilia over Battle Creek; Malcolm over Centennial; Aquinas Catholic over LHNE
Class D1: Exeter-Milligan over Randolph. Creighton over Howells-Dodge; Overton over Twin Loup; Elm Creek over Hemingford
Class D2: Amherst over Wallace; Stuart over Medicine Valley; Falls City Sacred Heart over Humphrey St. Francis; Wynot over Giltner
Quarterfinal round is Tuesday, with the winners playing Monday (D1 and D2) and Tuesday (C2). Next week’s winners play on the hallowed turf of Memorial Stadium.