Mid-summer Q&A with Dawn Plitzuweit

BY JEREMY HOECK

jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

Dawn Plitzuweit
South Dakota women’s basketball coach Dawn Plituzweit shares a light moment before a youth camp Tuesday morning at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Photo by Jeremy Hoeck)

After just over two months on the job as head women’s basketball coach at the University of South Dakota, Dawn Plitzuweit has certainly been busy.

A staff had to be assembled. She and her family had to get settled into Vermillion. Youth camps were run. Recruiting trips had to be organized. And an upcoming trip to Australia had to be planned.

I caught up with her Tuesday morning before a junior high camp at the DakotaDome.

Over two months, what’s it been like?

It’s been really busy. We’ve got an incredible staff put together, so it’s been fun to work with all of them. All of our players came back in the middle of June, so we’re in the middle of week three of workouts with them. Getting ready to hit the road for recruiting and finishing up these camps.

July is a busy month, isn’t it?

It really is. We get on the road recruiting, we’ll watch kids, and then we’ll come back and start our practices for Australia.

So, when is that trip?

We leave Aug. 7. That’s 40 days from now, approximately.

Obviously with international travel, there are certain things you’ve got to get organized.

There’s a learning curve we’re going through right now. That is figuring out what we need to take, how we need to travel, what all the plans look like. There’s a lot of prep work going on right now, but Alex (Antonen) is doing a great job of getting that figured out.

These are unique trips to take, aren’t they?

It’s really a great opportunity for us, basketball while we’re there is good, but the bonding is outstanding. The practices before we go, we really expect those to be helpful for us.

During summer workouts, have you seen some improvements there?

It’s been really good. Our kids, their energy has been very good, their attentiveness has been very good. We’re tweaking, we’re teaching the same kinds of work ethic and commitment, but maybe the terms are a little bit different. The vocab for the kids have been different. They’ve been grinding. It’s been challenging, but they’ve responded really well.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far, or maybe even the thing that stands out the most so far?

We’re still trying to figure out who we are. We’re trying to put togetghetr our identity right now. Today’s our first day with Abbi back,t his morning we had a conditioning workout, then camps. That’ll still take some time.

That’ll take some time even beyond Australia, won’t it?

Exactly. But if there’s a question, that’s probably what it is right now. Where do we go? Who do we give the ball to? We’ll be known for our toughness and our grit, all those things our kids have been a major part of it int eh past. That culture remains the same, but yet, how are we going to put the ball in the basket? How can we score more points than our opponents? Those things are yet to be determined.

Especially when you turn the page from where they were, everything is new, isn’t it?

I think certain players really respond, their roles change when you graduate five kids and you have a new system in play. That’s something we haven’t even scratched the surface on yet.

Even just getting outside of Vermillion, have you been able to meet people and develop some contacts?

Not a whole lot yet. July we have an opportunity to get out and watch more kids. We’ve been fortunate in being able to bring some of those high school kids and teams into Vermillion for camps. The numbers have been outstanding. That’s allowed us to meet some coaches and players from outside this area.

What…A…Weekend!

image1
The South Dakota connection in Salisbury, N.C. — (left to right) Steve Morgan was the S.D. Sportscaster of the Year, Logan Anderson (Aberdeen radio), me, and John Thayer (Yankton radio). 

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

I was on the same flight as Carlton Fisk, a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, last week as I embarked on a 4-day trip to North Carolina.

But that wasn’t even the coolest part of the journey.

Not even close.

No, the people I met and conversations we shared while at the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) awards weekend out in Salisbury, North Carolina, was one of the best moments of my young – as I came to realize – career in this business.

While yes, I was out there to receive my South Dakota Sportswriter of the Year award, the trip was more so about the experience. “Enjoy yourself” was the advice Sports Editor James Cimburek (who had won the same award and made the same trip two years earlier) gave me.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Salisbury is a town of about 30,000 residents and it’s located along Interstate 85 about a 45-minute drive northeast of Charlotte. It’s far from a town of ‘nothing,’ but when you’re there, you definitely get the small-town feel. But yet, it’s the headquarters of the NSMA. It’s where prominent sports journalists (across TV, radio and print) gather each year to honor each other and to have a good time.

It’s not a typical convention in the sense that you sit through hours of talks and seminars (which I would’ve been fine with, honestly, given the names in attendance). No, it’s more of a social weekend. Vans and buses transport people all over town to various events, such as a ‘Legacy Night’ panel, a brunch, a bus tour, a stop at a sports book shop, a BBQ dinner, a golf tournament, a tennis tournament, plenty of shopping and the big awards banquet.

And plenty of schmoozing.

As you do in a setting like that, you tend to become close with certain people. And I happened to get to know George Wallace (the D.C. Sportscaster winner) throughout the four days. Here was a guy from a big city where he helps cover the Washington Redskins and Washington Nationals hanging out with a small-town South Dakota guy who covers (among a handful of things) mid-major Division I athletics. As it turns out, we had quite a bit in common.

There were many other names I could mention of people I got to know throughout the trip, but the opportunity to hang out with them and talk shop was awesome. In South Dakota (and Nebraska), you tend to talk with the same media members. Rarely do you get the chance to stand around and chat with journalists from around the country. And that’s what I enjoyed the most.

And I’m just now realizing I should have counted the number of times I described to people where Yankton is located. “Southeast corner” or “right on the Missouri River” or “on the border with Nebraska” or “an hour from Sioux Falls.” It would’ve likely been 95 times.

But one encounter in particular stands out, as I sit here a day after I returned to Yankton.

It was early Tuesday morning in the lobby of our hotel. I was waiting for the bus to pick a handful of us up for the trip to the Charlotte airport, and up walks Cal Fussman (Esquire Magazine). He had been in town to honor and introduce his friend Gary Smith into the NSMA Hall of Fame during the previous night’s banquet. Cal walks up to me, shakes my hand, asks me where I’m from and hands me a copy of a book entitled ‘Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories by Gary Smith.’ He looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to sign this for you.’ Completely out of the blue. And as someone who subscribes to Esquire (it’s the only magazine I subscribe to anymore), it was a huge treat to meet Cal. After he signs a message that reads ‘To Jeremy, And a very good night it was!’ he tells me he’ll look me up online when he returns home.

I had the opportunity to meet people like Tom Verducci (who presented me my award), Bob Ryan and Leigh Montville and Vince Doria, and spend time up close with names like Chris Berman, Doc Emrick and Rick Reilly, but here was a famous author and reporter coming up to me completely on his own.

That was all capped off by a bus ride two rows in front of Fussman and Reilly, who spent the 45 minutes talking about their craft. I just sat and listened, and it was probably the best bus ride I’ve ever experienced.

It was awesome.

If it sounds hokey to hear me say what an incredible honor it was to be included in that fraternity, you’ll have to excuse me. Because that’s exactly what I felt, coming home Tuesday. I had been surrounded by people who have done this for 20 or 30 (or even more) years, and they are still passionate about it. They obviously love what they do. And so do I.

You don’t get into the journalism field for the awards. I’ve been lucky enough to win a few of them in my career, but when you come back from an awards ceremony, you’re right back at your desk. You’re right back to planning your next amateur baseball feature or touching base with a source for an upcoming story.

And those are the things I love about this job.

The opportunity to talk with people. ‘Everyone has a story’ is something James and I tell our staff all the time. If you approach any assignment with that in mind, you’ll come back with some great material. Everyone’s got a story.

I experienced that over four days in North Carolina.

Everyone has a story. And I was just lucky enough to be there to hear them.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

A Season With The Highlanders

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

The journey.

From the bottom of the standings into respectability. From years of frustration into one of hope. The hope of a turnaround. The hope that maybe, just maybe, this is the year.

Bat Man
Scotland manager Jason Vaith wraps tape around a new bat before Tuesday night’s amateur baseball practice in Scotland. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D

That’s where the Scotland amateur baseball team finds itself this summer. And that’s exactly why the Highlanders make for a perfect focus for a summer series in the Press & Dakotan.

We’re calling it a ‘Season With The Highlanders.’

We will be taking you, the reader, behind the scenes with Scotland during the South Central League (SCL) season. I will be attending practices, hanging with the team during an occasional game and profiling the players. Put simply, you’ll see what it’s like for a small-town amateur baseball team.

And that one that has struggled the last few years.

There’s no ignoring the fact that the Highlanders – typically one of the youngest teams in the SCL – haven’t been competitive for some time now. Truth be told, they haven’t won a game against a SCL opponent since June 6, 2013. That’s a string of 54 consecutive losses (including district tournaments), heading into tonight’s (Thursday) home game with Crofton.

That’s why, in our opinion, Scotland is the best option for this series. It’s a team looking to turn a corner; looking to gain a foothold. It’s the kind of story you hear about far too often in the amateur baseball ranks; a small town struggling with numbers but still finding a way to keep a team. Scotland could’ve folded up shop and stopped fielding a team. Some towns have. But not Scotland.

Teams like Crofton and Wynot, for example, have historically found success in the SCL and at the South Dakota state tournament. Those are teams that have recently captured state championships. They are perennial contenders. But when you come into every season knowing you’ll likely be right there near the top of the standings every summer, there’s not much of a climb.

Scotland, on the other hand, has the steepest climb of anyone.

And we’ll be taking you inside that journey all summer.

Will this be the summer the Highlanders win a game or two? Come along for the ride and find out.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter