Matt Mooney had plenty of suitors for his talents over the past seven weeks.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Chicago had received his release from the Air Force men’s basketball program and began looking for a new destination – somewhere where he could spend the next four seasons, one as a redshirt and three as a difference maker.
One of the first schools to jump on the Mooney train? The University of South Dakota.
Fast forward to last week when Mooney visited the Vermillion campus for three days, a visit that eventually led him to verbally commit to the Coyote program on Monday.
“After visiting South Dakota, I just realized that it was the place for me. It sunk in right away,” Mooney said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Mooney, who listed Colgate (N.Y.) and Evansville on his final list, played in 29 games last season for Air Force, which competes in the Mountain West Conference. He averaged 6.9 points in 19.2 minutes per game.
Mooney will have to redshirt the 2015-16 season at USD, but will then have three seasons of eligibility. He will join fellow transfer Trey Dickerson (Iowa) as eligible additions for the 2016-17 season.
While on his visit last week to Vermillion, Mooney was able to see first-hand the ongoing construction of USD’s 6,000-seat basketball and volleyball arena, which will open in time for the 2016-17 season.
“The new facility looks like it’ll be phenomenal,” he said. “That’s exciting. The campus is really nice, and being a school of ten thousand is pretty cool.”
As part of his visit to USD, Mooney was also able to spend time with current Coyote players Casey Kasperbauer and Logan Power, which no doubt helped attract Mooney to the program.
“It’s a place I could see myself for a couple years, with those kind of people,” he said.
Spending time, even if for a few days at the time, around USD head coach Craig Smith – known by now to Coyote fans for his energy and enthusiasm – certainly didn’t hurt Mooney’s decision. Smith guided the Coyotes to a 17-16 record last season and the program’s first-ever win in the Summit League tournament.
“There’s no doubt he’s bringing the program in the right direction,” Mooney said. “His drive and commitment, and he believes in his players and himself and his coaching staff.
“He’s one of those guys you want to be around every day.”
What does Mooney bring to the table?
“I think I can score the ball, and I know they want me to score the ball; be a playmaker,” he said. “I’ll try to get stronger, but we’ve got some guys coming in. I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces.”
As for what he’ll be coming into at USD, Mooney said he was at least a little familiar with the Summit League. Not only did he joke that he’s well aware of the USD vs. South Dakota State rivalry, Mooney was an AAU teammate with Kory Brown, a standout at North Dakota State.
Also Monday, USD officially announced the addition of Tyler Borchers, a 6-foot-6 forward from LeMars, Iowa. He had previously committed to the program two weeks earlier.
BY JEREMY HOECK
Trey Dickerson will finally get his chance to play for Craig Smith and in the process will reunite with his former junior college coach.
Dickerson, a 6-foot guard from New York and former member of the University of Iowa men’s basketball team, announced Monday night that he will transfer to the University of South Dakota.
A former top-ranked junior college point guard, Dickerson will redshirt the 2015-16 season with the Coyotes and will then have two seasons of eligibility with Smith – who had originally tried to recruit Dickerson to Nebraska while Smith was an assistant in Lincoln.
“In my next decision, I wanted to go somewhere where I could trust the staff, and they believed in me,” Dickerson told the Press & Dakotan on Monday night.
“It’s definitely nice to have a fresh start.”
Dickerson spent the 2013-14 season at Williston State (North Dakota) where he was a standout point guard for coach Eric Peterson, who is now an assistant at USD. Dickerson averaged 2.7 points in 15 games last season at Iowa.
He then attracted interest from a number of high major Division I programs, such as Clemson, Ole Miss and Seton Hall, as well as Iona. Dickerson eventually, though, decided on USD.
“It wasn’t really that heard, just because of the connections I had,” he said.
Dickerson will join a Coyote program coming off a 17-win campaign, with a Summit League tournament victory, in Smith’s debut season.
“I feel like they’re an up and comer,” he said. “Coach Smith did a great job last yearand it’s only going to keep getting better.”
Dickerson’s first season (2016-17) as an eligible player will also mark USD’s first season in its new 6,000-seat arena. And yes, that played a factor, Dickerson said.
“I like the old dome too, but getting to play in the new arena will be a fresh start,” he said.
(Photo by Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)
BY JEREMY HOECK
Every once in a while I’ll come across something in my USD coverage that surprises me. It happened again Monday.
While typing some softball notes, I realized that Coyote softball coach Amy Klyse is in her eighth season as head coach. I mean, I realized she had been in Vermillion for a few seasons, but eight years makes her the fourth-longest tenured coach at USD – behind Dave Gottsleben (31 years), Lucky Huber (21) and Jason Mahowald (10).
Klyse, a former pitcher at Augustana College, has guided the Coyotes through an interesting Division I transition. From independent status in 2009, to a pair of seasons in the Great West Conference, now to year three in the Summit League, USD has tried to establish itself as one of the premier programs in two leagues.
That’s an easy thing to do, by the way.
As most college baseball programs in the Upper Midwest would tell you, life can be tough in South Dakota. You never really develop a routine as far as a home schedule (USD plays 10 home games this season) and you’re constantly having to go play the best teams on their home field – USD, for example, is going to find it even more challenging to land a home-and-home series with a mid-major power than, say, women’s basketball.
Adding to the challenges in USD’s case is that it now has to compete with North Dakota State, which has won five of the last six Summit League softball championships. As you know, certainly not easy.
Through it, all, however, Klyse has developed a program that quickly became competitive in the Summit League. The Coyotes have a 33-27 in conference games since joining the Summit League in 2012, and have qualified for the post-season tournament each of the past two seasons.
And with a veteran and potent lineup, USD is again proving to be a legitimate title contender. The Coyotes (15-21-1) have a 6-3 league record following a sweep of Fort Wayne in this past weekend’s series – one in which USD slugged 14 home runs and out-scored the Mastodons 42-7.
Let’s, for sake of argument, just assume the Coyotes again qualify for the 6-team Summit League tournament in Fargo, North Dakota. That would mean, again, USD would have to beat NDSU on its home field if the Coyotes are to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Based on what I saw over the weekend in Vermillion, I’m not discounting the Coyotes. Not with the lineup they boast.
Junior leadoff hitter Yvon Minogue ranks first in the Summit League in hitting (.481) and was Monday named Player of the Week. Senior Matley Jones ranks fifth in hitting (.410) and leads the conference in both home runs (13) and runs batted in (45). And then there are seniors Allie Daly (.356, 10 HR, 41 RBI) and Katie Dinning (.352, 8 HR, 26 RBI), as well as junior Katie Cochran (.320, 4 HR, 22 RBI).
The key, of course, will be pitching. The Coyotes boast junior Madison Frain (8-8, 4.50 ERA) and sophomore Rachel Cue (6-12, 5.84 ERA), who aren’t exactly going to blow you away but were nonetheless incredibly effective over the weekend.
The fact, though, that the Coyotes are even in the ‘title contender’ conversation is a credit to what Klyse has built in her tenure. Klyse has recruited within the region, from South Dakota to Nebraska to Iowa, as well as some additions from the likes of Colorado and California.
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – In his new role as special teams coordinator, Marquice Williams has lofty goals for the University of South Dakota football team.
He is at the same time, though, keeping things basic.
“Our motto is that we want to create and control field position,” Williams, also in charge of the defensive line, said after Tuesday’s practice inside the DakotaDome.
“The way we do that is with great effort.”
Williams, starting his fourth season with the program, took over special teams duties from Tim Triplett who left last month for St. Thomas (Minnesota).
Improving their protection and production on special teams – which would therefore help both the offense and defense – was a key focus over the off-season for the Coyotes. And for good reason.
Last season, USD ranked last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in scoring offense (19.4) and scoring defense (35.6), as well as last in punt return average (4.5) and ninth in kickoff return average (17.5).
“This year, I think it’s going to be a whole different ballgame, and I think special teams could be one of our stronger points,” said redshirt freshman defensive back Alex Coker.
“We have a lot of guys out here competing for spots they didn’t think they would get.”
Five practices through the 14-practice spring season, the Coyotes still haven’t put together an 11 on 11 for special teams. And that’s by design, Williams said.
No, instead, he wanted every area of the team to work on things like blocking, coverage, tackling and getting off blocks.
“Doing all that, we’re putting all the pieces together,” Williams said. “I have the puzzle, but the guys don’t see the final product yet.
“If we’re able to do techniques within the schematics then it doesn’t matter what guy we throw out there.”
That’s another change under the Williams regime: More guys will be involved in the ‘core four’ areas of punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
“I can’t expect receivers or tight ends to run around and be big contributors on special teams if we’re not implementing it in practice and teaching them,” Williams said.
The goal is simple, he added: Get the best 11 guys on the field, regardless of who they are.
“They want to be in a position to not want to take you off the field, because you’re making plays,” said senior Adam Juhl, a Sioux Falls native.
By involving everyone from senior on down to redshirt freshmen (and possibly true freshmen this fall), Williams’ effort also sparks competition.
“It really pushes you to dig deep and find that extra gear you didn’t think you had,” Juhl said. “If you’re not up there on offense or defense, you can be on special teams and you can ball out on special teams.”
Depending on injuries, the Coyotes had a pretty good idea a year ago who would be contributing on special teams. Now, as Coker pointed out, anyone could be pointed to for help.
“With coach Williams, he’s going to play the best players on the field,” Coker said. “That’s the beauty of it. If you come out here and give it your all, he’s going to notice it and put you in a spot.”
And in a spot to lessen the stress on the defense or set the offense up in a better spot.
“It puts you in a better position on offense and defense, because if you come out there and pin them back, it makes it easier on the defense,” Juhl said. “Or if you get a big return, the offense can start racking up points.
“The energy out here is going to be wild and we’ll start getting those (wins).”
Over the past three years, the Coyotes have seen first-hand in the Missouri Valley the fine line between winning and losing, and it usually involves one play.
“It’s not really the schemes, it’s guys giving great effort and using their techniques,” Williams said. “If we can be consistent with those things, we’ll be fine.”
Senior Nicole Seekamp (P&D file photo)
BY JEREMY HOECK
One the areas that stands out most to me when thinking about the 2014-15 season for the USD women’s basketball team are the many taglines and lines of motivation.
One Team, One Dream.
‘Can you stand the rain?’ (a song introduced to the team by coach Amy Williams).
To name a few.
But now, the day after the season ended for the Coyotes in the second round of the WNIT, it’s clear: What stood out was the start-to-finish success; that “sustained success” Williams loved to talk about.
There was no up and down start to the season. There was no 0-4 start to the Summit League season. There was no need for a late-season push like previous seasons.
The Coyotes, in year three under Williams, were the top team in the conference from start to finish, all the way until the Summit League championship game when South Dakota State captured the title.
That’s what stands out to me: USD withstood the nerve-wracking moniker of “favorite.”
Sure, the Coyotes — with three all-conference players and significant depth — were the pre-season No. 2 pick behind SDSU coming into the conference season, but once league play rolled around, USD rose to the top (with SDSU, as expected, right there as well). Even back in November, you could’ve put good money down that the Jacks and Coyotes would meet for the league crown, and probably be rich today.
Truth is, you never really know how a team handles that kind of pressure.
USD had been to the previous two Summit League championship games, but suddenly (following a trip to the NCAA Tournament) there were expectations. A first-round loss in the league tournament wouldn’t cut it.
That’s what was facing the veteran team back in November. With five of the first six games of the season on the road (and later, five of the first seven league games), how would the Coyotes come out of the gates?
An 8-point loss at Kansas, followed four days later by a 14-point loss at Washington, followed 10 days later by a win at Marquette, proved that maybe USD would be a tick better than the previous season. Then came a 5-game homestand when the Coyotes proved that, if nothing else, their offense would certainly be better.
Thing is, that never really slowed down.
In reaching at least 80 points in nine of 16 regular season Summit League games, the Coyotes were ranked in the top-10 nationally most of the season — finishing with an average of 77.2 points a game. Seniors Nicole Seekamp (15.6) and Raeshel Contreras (14.9) led the way, but six others averaged at least five points.
The veteran nature of the team’s makeup led the Coyotes to also average 15.8 assists a game, which was something the players always seem to mention in post-game interviews: The team was unselfish. They certainly didn’t care who scored, as long as someone did.
Along the way, there just weren’t very many slip-ups. And when there were, the issues were similar.
In league play, a 16-point loss at Oral Roberts (USD shot 32 percent, 3-of-11 from deep, 21 turnovers), a 25-point loss at IUPUI (USD shot 33 percent, 2-of-13 from deep, 21 turnovers) and a 10-point loss at SDSU (4-of-21 from deep).
Ultimately, a cold shooting day in Sioux Falls doomed the Coyotes in the Summit League championship game. USD was 4-of-30 in a 19-point first half, and went on to lose to the Jackrabbits 72-57.
Suddenly, the season-long goal of a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament was gone. What was left to fight for?
How about the WNIT?
Players and coaches talked last week about needing some days to recover from that championship game loss and refocus on the next carrot at the end of the stick: The WNIT.
Having a home game in the first round, against Creighton, no doubt helped spark the Coyotes. They would beat the Bluejays by 10 points, but were then mysteriously sent to Northern Colorado in the second round — the reasoning was “huge travel issues.” That most likely had to do with flights coming BACK from Colorado.
The Coyotes ultimately saw their season end in Greeley, in a frustrating 1-point game in which Seekamp hit a shot with a second left that was ruled to be a two-pointer instead of a three. All accounts say the call was right, and the season was over for USD.
The final tally: 26 wins, 8 losses.
Because it’s never too early to look ahead: The losses of Seekamp and Contreras will be huge gaps for the program, as will the steady leadership of Lisa Loeffler (who I swear made 70 percent of her jumpers on the baseline this season).
And I also swear I’ve had a dozen people ask me, in some variation, ‘How are they going to be next season?’
USD will be fine. Remember, Caitlin Duffy (Colorado State transfer) and Abigail Fogg (6-foot-4 transfer) redshirted this season, and the program will bring Nebraska high school standouts Allison Arens and Jaycee Bradley into the fold. Then you’ve got Tia Hemiller, Margaret McCloud, Kelly Stewart and Heidi Hoff as seniors, and Bridget Arens and Jaylah Jackson as juniors.
Twenty-six wins will be hard to duplicate, but this isn’t a program tailored for short spurts. Momentum in recruiting, momentum with a new arena on the way, and momentum from three straight championship game appearances aren’t exactly going to allow for a step back.