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Coyotes Celebrate Summit League Tournament Championship, Await NCAA Tournament Pairing

A lot has happened in two short years in Vermillion.

Very successful South Dakota women’s basketball coach Ryun Williams left the program after the 2011-12 season to take over the reigns at Colorado State, leaving behind a talented roster that was in the process of completing its transition into the Summit League.

Two seasons later, the Coyotes are the toast of the conference after winning their first ever Summit League Tournament title in Sioux Falls Tuesday and advancing to the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament for the first time.

USD vs Denver Women's Summit League Basketball Tournament
SIOUX FALLS, SD – MARCH 11: The University of South Dakota celebrate their 82-71 victory over the Denver Pioneers in the 2014 Summit League Women’s Championship Game at the Sioux Falls Arena on Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

After the championship game, second year head coach Amy Williams said this Coyote victory was more than just a celebration of the current USD players and coaches, but rather everyone associated with the program through those tough years of transition from Division II to Division I:

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USD vs Western Illinois Women's Summit League Basketball Tournament
SIOUX FALLS, SD – MARCH 9: The University of South Dakota celebrates their game winning basket with 1.1 seconds left to defeat Western Illinois 96-94 in their semifinal game at the 2014 Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

This year’s tournament featured plenty of high drama for the Coyotes, with a last second, come-from-behind win over Western Illinois in the quarterfinals, to a payback win over five-time tournament champ South Dakota State in the semifinals, after being bounced by the Jacks in the title game last year, to all of the emotions of a back-and forth championship match-up with Denver.

I asked coach Williams about managing that emotional roller coaster over the three days of the tournament:

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The obvious, immediate impact of the tournament crown is the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.  The fringe benefit to a win like that is the weight it will carry on the recruiting trail for coach Williams and her staff.  It’s something she plans to take full advantage of:

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When Williams came to Vermillion in June of 2012 from Rogers State in Oklahoma, she inherited a team that had won 23 games the year before, advancing to round two of the WNIT, but there was a major obstacle standing in the way of her first USD team:

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USD vs Denver Women's Summit League Basketball Tournament
SIOUX FALLS, SD – MARCH 11: Nicole Seekamp #35 of South Dakota drives around Morgan Van Riper-Rose #10 during the 2014 Summit League Women’s Championship Game at the Sioux Falls Arena on Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dick Carlson/Inertia)

Despite those injuries and the loss of starter Heidi Hoff 12 games into this season, the Coyotes are 5-1 in their first two Summit League Tournaments with back-to-back championship game appearances and now a tournament crown.

One of the things that has been a constant for the Coyotes the last two seasons is an intense, never-say-die attitude that junior all-conference guard Nicole Seekamp says comes from the top:

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USD vs Denver Women's Summit League Basketball Tournament
SIOUX FALLS, SD – MARCH 11: MVP Polly Harrington holds the trophy from Commissioner Tom Douple after The University of South Dakota defeated the Denver Pioneers 82-71in the 2014 Summit League Women’s Championship Game at the Sioux Falls Arena on Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

The on-the-floor leader of this team is USD’s lone senior Polly Harrington, who’s been making the most out of her final season in college with her determined play.

Harrington captured Summit League Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after going18-for-24 from the field over the three games during the Coyotes title run.

She says her MVP status caught her off guard:

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Not only has Harrington had plenty of basketball success to celebrate recently, she also had a big personal moment following USD’s regular season ending loss at home to South Dakota State – she got engaged, fittingly on the basketball court in Vermillion where she’s had so many memorable moments over the last four years.

Since that proposal, Harrington’s team is 3-0.  I asked the senior about that:

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The Coyotes now wait on Monday night’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show to find out where they’ll be headed in the ‘Big Dance’ and who they’ll be squaring off with.

Until then, the celebration continues…

ENTER THE 2014 MILLION DOLLAR BRACKET CHALLENGE!

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