BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — Wednesday will mark eight days since the University of South Dakota women lost in the Summit League championship game.
There was understandably a period of disappointment for the regular season champion Coyotes (25-7), but players maintain that feeling eventually gave way to motivation.
A new goal quickly emerged: Make a deep run in the WNIT.
“We had a couple days to get over the Summit League, but now we have that fire back in us to do something,” junior Heidi Hoff said Tuesday after practice.
“We want to finish the season a little better.”
Awarded a first-round home game Thursday night against Creighton (17-13), the Coyotes say they have re-energized themselves for a fifth consecutive post-season appearance.
As head coach Amy Williams put it Tuesday, there are two types of teams this time of the season: Ones that sulk over not making the NCAA Tournament and ones who tackle the next challenge.
Take a guess where the Coyotes see themselves.
“You can look at this as a new challenge and embrace it,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
If there is a formula for exactly that idea, it was created a year ago by South Dakota State.
After losing to USD in the Summit League tournament, the Jackrabbits went on to win four games — all at home — in the WNIT before losing in the semifinals.
Such a possibility, that their season could be extended by as many as six games, was all the motivation the Coyotes needed to get over their championship loss last week.
“I was upset after that game, but that next day it was like, ‘OK, that’s over,’” senior Nicole Seekamp said Tuesday. “You have to focus on the next thing, and the WNIT is that next thing.
“We all think like that, and our goal is to win this.”
To that end, the Coyotes aren’t alone in the WNIT.
Seven teams in the 64-team field, including USD, were either regular season champions in their league or co-champions. The Coyotes are joined by Central Connecticut State, Colorado State, Hampton, Hawaii, Maine and Texas Southern.
“The cool thing about this tournament is that there are so many good teams that fell a little short like we did,” Hoff said. “It’s still a competitive tournament and we get to keep playing.”
Even if it means a regular season league title didn’t result in an NCAA Tournament appearance, Seekamp added.
“I think this year the WNIT is going to be even tougher,” she said.
Only one other team, Wright State (25-8), in the field boasts as many wins as USD, which earned the Summit League’s automatic berth.
If the Coyotes get past Creighton on Thursday, they’ll face the winner of Colorado State (23-7) and Northern Colorado (20-12) in the second round — which could mean a potential matchup with former USD coach Ryun Williams, now at Colorado State.
First, though, is the matter of getting past a Creighton (17-13) team that has won the last two matchups with the Coyotes.
“We have an opportunity in front of us,” Williams said. “A new chance to write a different ending for ourselves.
“And we’d sure like it to go better.”