BY JEREMY HOECK
It may sound odd, but there has always seemed to be a connection between Caitlin Duffy and the University of South Dakota.
The 5-foot-11 guard from Rapid City was recruited by USD out of high school, but she ultimately chose to attend Colorado State University — following former Coyote head coach Ryun Williams, who left for CSU in the summer of 2012.
And so when word came out last Friday afternoon that Duffy would be leaving Fort Collins for Vermillion, I wasn’t exactly surprised.
Somehow it just made sense.
And that was even before talking to Caitlin on the phone later Friday evening. You can read my story here.
In talking (at length; she’s a very well-spoken athlete) about transferring to USD, Duffy kept going back to the whole idea of looking for a “better fit.”
“It wasn’t even really all about basketball, it’s more just an overall fit. It’s hard to describe,” she told me. “I felt like for me, for the next three years, that USD is a better fit.”
We joked about proximity not really improving for her, personally. Fort Collins is about five hours away from her home in Rapid City, and it’s about the same distance from Rapid City to Vermillion.
Still, she said when she visited the USD campus two weekends ago, “it just felt like home to me.”
There was something about being back in South Dakota, albeit all the way across the state, that made her feel comfortable, Duffy said.
“Just being around the people and all the coaches and the girls, it made me feel like this was an easy decision.”
And certainly a welcome one at USD, which hasn’t officially announced Duffy’s signing.
Duffy came off the bench to play in all but one game this past season for the Rams, averaging 9.4 points and 4.1 rebounds to earn Mountain West Conference Sixth Player of the Year honors.
Keeping that in mind, Duffy’s decision had nothing to do with playing time (duh, she played in pretty much every game) or a relationship with the coaches (she continually lauded Williams and his staff), she said.
You could imagine, though, what USD head coach Amy Williams would say about adding a top reserve from a Mountain West team that won 25 games and reached the WNIT.
Especially because the Coyotes don’t exactly lose a ton from its 2013-14 squad that won the Summit League and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Next season, the Coyotes will return four starters: Nicole Seekamp (Sr.), Raeshel Contreras (Sr.), Lisa Loeffler (Sr.) and Tia Hemiller (Jr.). Duffy will have to redshirt next season as a Division I transfer.
Reserves coming back will include Margaret McCloud (Jr., who I would suspect would jump into a starting role), Kelly Stewart (Jr.), Heidi Hoff (Jr., she could resume her starting role), Taylor Moore (Jr.), Bailey Milne (R-So.), Bridget Arens (So.), Jaylah Jackson (So.), Maddy White (So.), Emily Smith (R-Fr.). I have not heard any changes to the group.
USD will also welcome freshman Kate Liveringhouse, a 6-foot-1 post from Bellevue West (Neb.).
If you go a year beyond that, when Duffy would become eligible as a junior, the Coyote backcourt could look something like this — Hemiller (Sr.), Duffy (Jr.) and Allison Arens (Fr., Crofton, Neb., a verbal commit).
And then you’d still have McCloud (Sr.), Hoff (Sr.) and Bridget Arens (Jr.), plus Megan Bonar, a 6-foot-1 freshman post from De Soto, Kan., who previously verbally committed.
When I asked Duffy about the idea of having to sit out next season as a redshirt, she turned it around and pointed out the positives.
“There will be times next year where it’ll be really hard, definitely, but I’m pretty anxious to have a year to adjust to a new school and a new system,” she said. “You get a year to grow as a player.”
That, to me, stood out as a pretty mature thing to say.
It reminded me of the situation, in some ways, with Seekamp, who came to USD as a freshman out of Australia. She had to redshirt her first season with the Coyote program, but quickly jumped into a key role — with still a full season left in Vermillion.
The Coyote coaching staff at the time continually pointed out that Seekamp was “tearing up” practice, and that they couldn’t wait to get her on the floor. It’ll likely be the same thing with Duffy; you’ll have a legitimate weapon testing your kids in practices and scrimmages, but still a year away from taking the floor.
Time will tell how Duffy will pan out in the Summit League, but she’s certainly a huge addition to a program already riding a pretty big high.