BY CHRIS RILEY
VERMILLION — Since I had the privilege to attend almost every singe Coyote women’s basketball home game this season – along with their road game in Brookings and the Summit Tourney games – I wanted to take a little time to break down the 2012-13 season for the Coyotes from my own perspective.
I have to believe that finishing the year 19-16 (10-6 Summit Regular Season), including a semifinal Women’s Basketball Invitational appearance and near-miss at the Summit Championships for a spot in the Big Dance, has to be considered a successful season for a new coach with so many new faces on the sidelines this season.
The 10 individuals that made it happen for the Coyotes this season:
Alexis Yackley – G – Onida, SD: Yackley played her third season for the Coyotes after coming off the bench for a 27-9 Iowa State squad in ’08-’09. Yackley started all 35 games this season, and 94 of 98 during her career in Vermillion. The former Sully Buttes star never got her shooting nailed down during the year (31% FG, 9% 3’s, 35% FT), but 5-7 senior finished third on the club in rebounding (5.2 RPG) and recorded one of the top Turnover-to-assists ratios in the nation. Yackley finished the year with 187 assists (5.3 APG) – two more per contest than her closest teammates, and sits 4th in assists on the All-Time USD list. It was obvious from the press table that Alexis was the leader of this team vocally on the court and she was extremely well-spoken off of it as well.
Tempestt Wilson – G – Elk River, MN: Wilson, who came to USD from Iowa Western via a self-professed “packaged deal” with Charlie Westbrook and made an immediate impact on the Coyotes that carried own through all three years as USD’s shooting guard. Wilson started 96 of her 98 games for the ‘Yotes, including the final 82 over the last two-plus seasons. This year, Wilson finished second on the club in scoring (12.9 PPG) and converted the most free throws (100-of-130) while scoring double-digit points in 26 of 35 games, including 23 of the final 25 games of 2012-13. Wilson was a rare talent who was equally impressive shooting the three as she was attacking the rim and drawing a foul. Her production will be missed as she accounted for 20% of the team’s offense in her final year.
Sam Mehr – G – Apple Valley, MN: Mehr will go down in my memory as the Steve Kerr of the 2012-13 USD Coyotes – coming off the bench to drain a three-pointer when called on – and also making the hustle play that might not show up in the box score but certainly had a positive effect on the outcome of the game. Mehr never started at USD – although she did appear in more games (117) than anyone else on this year’s roster – and the next closest returner (Lisa Loeffler – 53 appearances) is 64 games – essentially two full seasons – behind that mark. Mehr, a 5-9 guard, will be most remembered for her play in the first two rounds of the initial Summit League Tournament appearance by USD, both second-half comeback wins. In those two games – wins again NDSU and IUPUI – Mehr combined for 23 points (her highest back-to-back total of the year), going 7-of-11 on threes. In the conference finals loss to SDSU, Mehr took just one shot, a two-pointer from the corner just a step inside of the three-point line. She drained it.
Pam January – F – Richfield, MN: January started the first 17 games of the season at forward before moving to a bench role in favor of Loeffler. Not that I would have heard it anyone, but I would bet the house that January did not grumble for one moment about the move. Finishing her career with 100 total games played, Pam took few shots during her senior campaign (just 81), instead dishing the ball for 32 assists and grabbing 82 rebounds – not bad numbers for someone who averaged 13 minutes per game. January provided needed muscle in the lineup at coach Amy Williams did not seem to hesitate to put her in during any situations throughout the season. She was another player who came up big when it mattered most, grabbing six rebounds in just 12 minutes of action against the Bison in first-round Summit League Championship play.
Polly Harrington – F – Kansas City, MO: Harrington, a junior who spent her freshman year playing for Louisville (yes, that Louisville) before transferring to Johnson County CC and then onto USD for the 2012-13 season, was a bit of an anomaly during the season. She scored double-digit points in 23 games and recorded four double-doubles. Harrington also finished third on the team in scoring average (11.1 PPG), second in FG percentage (49%), first in 3-point percentage (42%), third in FT percentage (78%), and second in rebounds (5.8 RPG); but at times she seemed to almost completely disappear from games, scoring six or fewer points on six occasions. When hot however, Harrington (who started all 35 games) was excellent at putting the ball up off the glass down low and grabbing rebounds, especially with second-chance put-backs. With a little more consistency, Harrington will have a big senior season next year.
Nicole Seekamp – G – Renmark, South Australia: The biggest questions mark entering the season was what were the Coyotes going to get out of Seekamp, who sat out last year as a redshirt. An outstanding prep player in South Australia, Seekamp did not disappoint in her NCAA Division I debut season for the Coyotes. The 5-10 guard started all 35 games and led the team in scoring (14.9 PPG), FT percentage (84%) and steals (1.6 SPG). Seekamp drove to the rim and picked up fouls seemingly at will, and has a killer pull-up jumper that she can use from anywhere on the floor, including behind the three-point arc. Seekamp became just the eighth Coyote in school history to record more than 500 points in a season and was named the Summit League Tournament MVP as well as an regular season honorable mention All-Summit League team selection and the All-Newcomer team selection. With two years of eligibility left, Seekamp will have the chance to turn her sometimes scary-good game into one of the elite scorer/defender combos in D1 hoops – she has that kind of talent.
Lisa Loeffler – F – Maplewood, MN: The emergence of Loeffler, as well as underclass teammate Margaret McCloud, had to be one of the highlights and bright surprises for the 2012-13 Coyotes. Working her way into the starting lineup for the final 18 games of the regular season after a year and a half off the bench, Loeffler was a force to be reckoned with down low and on the boards as the season wore on. The 6-1 sophomore grabbed 173 boards and scored 192 points a year after finishing with 22 total rebounds in limited action as a freshman. Loeffler averaged nearly 10 points per game after being inserted into the starting lineup and grabbed over five rebounds per contest during that starting stretch. I would look for Loeffler and McCloud to form a 1-2 punch in the post for the next two seasons.
Margaret McCloud – C – Rapid City, SD: McCloud, one of three true freshman (all of whom played at SD AA schools) to see action this year, has perhaps the most upside of any individual that saw action for the Coyotes this season. The 6-2 former Rapid City Stevens Raiders standout played even taller than her height, leading the club in rebounds (6.9 RPG) despite playing just over 18 minutes per contest. McCloud also led the team in FG percentage (52%), while averaging 6.8 points per game. Margaret posted three double-doubles, and despite missing three of the final four conference games with an injury (she played in all other 32 contests), McCloud hit double-digit points on seven occasions and grabbed 10 or more rebounds seven times, including a whopping 19 against Peru State in December. As Margaret continues to get conditioned to the college game and 20-minute halves, look for her to make an even bigger impact for the Coyotes.
Heidi Hoff – F – Brandon, SD: Hoff, the former Brandon Valley star, saw fairly limited action throughout the season, averaging 9.8 minutes per game, but she made the most of her opportunities. Although struggling from the field (30% FG’s), Hoff hit some big shots in big spots throughout the season, including scoring a season-high 16 points against Seton Hall. Take away a 1-for-10 shooting performance against Idaho State in only her seventh ever college game and Heidi’s numbers improve greatly. Standing at 5-10, Hoff showed some definite three-point shot abilities while also possessing the size to get in the paint. Heidi also demonstrated a knack for reading plays on defense and came up with a few timely steals throughout the season. Look for Heidi to improve and play a key role of the bench next season.
Tia Hemiller – G – Watertown, SD: Call Tia Hemiller what you’d like, but don’t call her boring. The 5-6 guard from Watertown had 10 games during the season where she did not even attempt a shot, and averaged just 6.8 minute per game, but that can mostly be attributed to the amount of minutes that Alexis Yackley played at the PG position all season long. Head Coach Amy Williams frequently referred to Tia as a “firecracker” when she would come off the bench in short spurts. That analogy seems pretty accurate, as Hemiller was never short on energy. Hemiller plays with a great court sense, always with her eyes up and looking around, whether with the ball, rotating around the wing, or on defense. Her future role with the squad is definitely a mystery to me, especially after her minutes peaked back during the second month of the season, but hopefully she finds a niche on this club.
That does it for my breakdown of the 2012-13 USD Coyotes. Next sure should be full of excitement, with plenty of talent returning, including four players who did not even get on the court this season due to injuries. That is like one whole recruiting class in itself, and that does not even count next year’s true freshman.
I predict that 2013-14 will see the Coyotes possibly rise up the challenge SDSU for the regular season league title. The Jackrabbits do lose some talent to graduation (glaringly, Ashley Eide), but SDSU also returns plenty of key players from their fifth consecutive conference championship team. Hopefully the State/U rivalry will once again be featured at the Arena in South Dakota’s own brand of March Madness in the Summit League title game.
Feel free to leave a comment, drop an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or shot out on Twitter (@ChrisCRiley)
*All Photos Courtesy of Yankton P&D and available for purchase at spotted.yankton.net