Has USD softball developed into a title threat?

(Photo by Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)
(Photo by Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

Every once in a while I’ll come across something in my USD coverage that surprises me. It happened again Monday.

While typing some softball notes, I realized that Coyote softball coach Amy Klyse is in her eighth season as head coach. I mean, I realized she had been in Vermillion for a few seasons, but eight years makes her the fourth-longest tenured coach at USD – behind Dave Gottsleben (31 years), Lucky Huber (21) and Jason Mahowald (10).

Klyse, a former pitcher at Augustana College, has guided the Coyotes through an interesting Division I transition. From independent status in 2009, to a pair of seasons in the Great West Conference, now to year three in the Summit League, USD has tried to establish itself as one of the premier programs in two leagues.

That’s an easy thing to do, by the way.

As most college baseball programs in the Upper Midwest would tell you, life can be tough in South Dakota. You never really develop a routine as far as a home schedule (USD plays 10 home games this season) and you’re constantly having to go play the best teams on their home field – USD, for example, is going to find it even more challenging to land a home-and-home series with a mid-major power than, say, women’s basketball.

Adding to the challenges in USD’s case is that it now has to compete with North Dakota State, which has won five of the last six Summit League softball championships. As you know, certainly not easy.

Through it, all, however, Klyse has developed a program that quickly became competitive in the Summit League. The Coyotes have a 33-27 in conference games since joining the Summit League in 2012, and have qualified for the post-season tournament each of the past two seasons.

And with a veteran and potent lineup, USD is again proving to be a legitimate title contender. The Coyotes (15-21-1) have a 6-3 league record following a sweep of Fort Wayne in this past weekend’s series – one in which USD slugged 14 home runs and out-scored the Mastodons 42-7.

Let’s, for sake of argument, just assume the Coyotes again qualify for the 6-team Summit League tournament in Fargo, North Dakota. That would mean, again, USD would have to beat NDSU on its home field if the Coyotes are to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Based on what I saw over the weekend in Vermillion, I’m not discounting the Coyotes. Not with the lineup they boast.

Junior leadoff hitter Yvon Minogue ranks first in the Summit League in hitting (.481) and was Monday named Player of the Week. Senior Matley Jones ranks fifth in hitting (.410) and leads the conference in both home runs (13) and runs batted in (45). And then there are seniors Allie Daly (.356, 10 HR, 41 RBI) and Katie Dinning (.352, 8 HR, 26 RBI), as well as junior Katie Cochran (.320, 4 HR, 22 RBI).

The key, of course, will be pitching. The Coyotes boast junior Madison Frain (8-8, 4.50 ERA) and sophomore Rachel Cue (6-12, 5.84 ERA), who aren’t exactly going to blow you away but were nonetheless incredibly effective over the weekend.

The fact, though, that the Coyotes are even in the ‘title contender’ conversation is a credit to what Klyse has built in her tenure. Klyse has recruited within the region, from South Dakota to Nebraska to Iowa, as well as some additions from the likes of Colorado and California.

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