BY JEREMY HOECK
The title defense begins Monday for the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team.
Coming off a Summit League tournament crown and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Coyotes officially start practices for the 2014-15 season on Monday.
Women’s teams can begin practices 40 days before the season opener — which for USD is Friday, Nov. 14 — and have 30 practices to fit in during that span.
“It’s always exciting when you get back into that routine with everyone, knowing that the season is around the corner,” head coach Amy Williams said Thursday.
An NCAA rule change a year ago now allows women’s coaches to spend two hours each week during the summer on the court with their players.
“So at least it’s not like we haven’t been doing anything,” Williams joked.
Between all the rules and dates, it’s a constant juggling act, Williams said.
“We’re so lucky that we have a great compliance staff,” she said.
Winners of 19 games last season, the Coyotes will return four starters from the NCAA Tournament run: Seniors Nicole Seekamp, Raeshel Contreras and Lisa Loeffer, and junior point guard Tia Hemiller.
Junior Heidi Hoff returns after missing all but 12 games (all starts) last season with a knee injury.
South Dakota also brings back nearly every reserve (two left the program): Juniors Margaret McCloud, Kelly Stewart and Taylor Moore, and sophomores Jaylah Jackson and Bridget Arens.
Kate Liveringhouse, a 6-foot-1 center, is the only freshman on the roster.
The Coyotes face two key issues as practices begin: Only 11 players will be eligible for 2014-15 and USD must replace starting center — and team leader — Polly Harrington.
Thirteen players are on the roster, but two (Abigail Fogg and Caitlin Duffy) will redshirt this season as transfers.
“It’s a little scary,” Williams said. “It makes staying healthy extremely important.”
Fogg, a 6-foot-4 post, came to USD from American University (Washington, D.C.), while Duffy, a 5-foot-11 guard from Rapid City, transferred from Colorado State — where she was the Mountain West Conference Sixth Player of the Year.
“It’ll be good for us to have them in practice, they’ll make us better,” Williams said.
When it comes to replacing Harrington (last season’s Summit League tournament MVP), the Coyotes are likely to move McCloud into a starting role, Williams said.
McCloud, a 6-foot-2 Rapid City native, played 17 minutes a game last season and led the Summit League in field goal percentage (59.9).
“That’s the good thing, Margaret has played significant minutes for two years,” Williams said. “We’ll ask her to step into a new role, so she’ll have to have more sustainability with more minutes.”
The Coyotes open the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 at Drake, and will play four road games before the Nov. 24 home opener with UC Irvine.