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How South Dakota, South Dakota State used in-state talent to become basketball powers

South Dakota’s Chloe Lamb is guarded by Oregon’s Taylor Mikesell in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

South Dakota State and South Dakota have met in the championship game of the Summit League tournament three times since Myah Selland and Chloe Lamb arrived on their respective campuses in 2017. Of the three championship meetings, Selland’s Jackrabbits have claimed two tournament titles, Lamb’s Coyotes one. The only year that the two seniors did not meet in the finals was 2021, when South Dakota State, playing without an injured Selling, bowed out in the first round and Lamb and South Dakota claimed the title to even the four-year score at two apiece.

Yet for the two in-state seniors, it goes even deeper. They faced off twice in high school, and in the final game of their prep careers, Lamb’s Sully Buttes High School team topped Selland and Sanborn Central, 63-48, in the South Dakota Class B state championship game.

“We lost in that game, but it was one of those really cool environments, and Chloe has gone on to have a really good career at USD,” says Selland. “She had the opportunity to stay home and represent South Dakota, too. For the two of us to play in the smallest class and in the Class B South Dakota state tournament together, I think it’s really cool for small town kids and South Dakota kids.”

Selland’s graduated in a class of 12 students, Lamb in a “really big” class of 25.

“Her [Selland] and I kind of had similar stories,” Lamb adds. “We were both going off to play college basketball in-state, staying home and repping our home states, but she was a handful for sure. That was our main focus defensively. We knew we were doing to have to limit her, and I say limit because there was no way we were going to stop her.”

That championship game was a preview of what was to come over the next four years. 

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South Dakota State forward Myah Selland (44) grabs a rebound against Syracuse in 2019. (Gregory Fisher/Getty Images)

Selland has scored over 1,000 points in a Jackrabbit uniform and was named the 2020-2021 Summit League Player of the Year. Lamb enters the 2021-2022 season with over 1,300 points and was named to the All Summit League first team a season ago while also collecting the league’s tournament MVP award. The two are only the latest in a long line of in-state stars who vaulted both programs into the national conversation and turned the mid-major Summit League into a consistent two-bid representative in the NCAA Tournament. 

In just their fifth season as a Division I program, with a roster that included six South Dakota natives, Coach Aaron Johnston guided the 2008-2009 Jackrabbits to a 32-3 record and a first round NCAA tournament victory. Johnston’s 2018-2019 Sweet Sixteen roster also carried six in-state players, including future WNBA draftee Macy Miller, who hails from Mitchell. 

Down in Vermillion, Dawn Plitzuweit coached the Coyotes to a 30-2 record and top-25 finish during the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season with three homegrown kids, including Lamb and Summit League Player of the Year Ciara Duffy, a Rapid City native. Both teams have four South Dakota players on their 2021-2022 rosters — an impressive Division I track record for a state of less than a million people.

“I think people are always surprised about how talented these young women from the state of South Dakota are, because I think when they see us have success, they always think that ‘Well, they are probably doing it with overachieving players and just kind of found a little lightning in a bottle,’” says Johnston, who is entering his 22nd season as head coach of the Jackrabbits. “In reality, some of the players that come from the state of South Dakota could play at most of the Division I schools out there.”

Both Johnston and Plitzuweit cite versatility as a byproduct of the small town upbringing of many of their players. A 6’0 collegiate guard might be the tallest girl in her hometown, and thus be expected to play in the post — or at the net. Both Selland and Lamb also played volleyball and ran track for their high schools.

“A lot of the schools here are limited in how many girls are in the school, so the girls are competing in volleyball or cross country or soccer, and then basketball and then track, so they’re well-rounded athletes,” says Plitzuweit, who took over at USD in 2016. “They are exposed to a lot of different types of coaching and experiences. I think one of the things is that they are very competitive young ladies.”

The state of South Dakota has a deep appreciation for girls’ basketball, says Selland. You can see it in the well-supported youth leagues, in the packed high school gyms on Friday nights, and in Frost Arena and Sanford Coyote Sports Center on Saturday afternoons each winter. 

But nowhere is the fervor more evident than the annual Summit League Tournament, held annually in Sioux Falls. While the regular season matchups between USD and SDSU are usually the highest-drawing home games for both teams, the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Summit Tournament championship game matchups pulled 8,704, 7,871, and 7,833 fans, respectively.  It is not uncommon for the arena to be full 30 minutes before tipoff. Back when the two teams squared off in the obscurity of the Division II hinterlands, Johnston saw everything from carrots to a dead coyote head to dead jackrabbits thrown on the floor.

“Some of these things sound over the top, and they are, and for the betterment of the game those things have kind of gone away, but that speaks towards that intensity,” says Johnston.

Now that the rivalry has moved out of the shadows and onto the Division I mainstage, the rest of the country has taken note. South Dakota State hosted top-25 programs Iowa State and Gonzaga in Brookings last season, and Kansas State will make the trip this year. Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks and Jennie Baranczyk’s Oklahoma Sooners will both make the trek to the Mount Rushmore State this month to play USD.

“It certainly is a great opportunity for basketball in our region to continue to grow,” says Plitzuweit of bringing top programs to South Dakota. “When we are fortunate enough to bring in teams like Oklahoma and South Carolina the first week of the season, to be playing teams at that caliber… to have those type of teams coming here gives young girls in this region an opportunity to continue to learn about our sport and continue to build that excitement around women’s basketball.”

Lamb says that the increased visibility of the two programs will only strengthen the in-state recruiting pipeline.

“We don’t have a professional sports team here, so it’s kind of like Division I basketball is the closest you’re going to get,” she says. “The success that we’ve had, the national recognition that each team has had, people follow that. As a young girl, seeing that on TV, or seeing a poster or something and seeing girls who are just like you get that kind of recognition and those experiences, that’s something you seek after, too.”

The state’s symbiotic system of allegiance keeps the oft frozen plains a fertile ground for hoops talent: the small communities support their young athletes, who in turn want to stay home to play in front of those who helped them along.

“There are players who are on our roster or who have played here in the past that could have gone anywhere to play, they really could have, they’re that talented, but what keeps them here is that sense of connection to people: family, community, people that they grew up with, aunts and uncles, and wanting to represent all of them on a national stage,” says Johnston. 

“I really feel like that connection and relationship piece is really important and certainly something we’ve tried to build with our program and also helps us attract the next group of really good South Dakota players.”

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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