MITCHELL, S.D. – As the buzzer sounded and the confetti fell, a dream became a reality as the 2017-18 Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team won the first team national championship in school history. But as the 2018-19 season looms, the Tigers realize they must turn their attention to a new year and prepare for each team's best effort every night.
After beginning last season ranked No. 8 in the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Poll and picked second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, DWU understood the expectations. However, coming off a national championship victory against a fellow GPAC team, and beginning the 2018-19 season ranked No. 2 in the NAIA, the Tigers will have a target on their backs throughout the season.
"I'm sure the expectations will be high," head coach Jason Christensen said. "We have to make sure we take it one game at a time and try and get better night in and night out."
The Tigers reset the DWU women's basketball record books as they broke or tied 16 of the 25 season records. The records that were tied or broken include: points in a season (3,054), point average (80.4), field goals made (1,096), field goals attempted (2,274), field goal accuracy (48.2) 3-point field goals made (303), 3-point field goals attempted (803), assists (743), assists per game (19), games played (38), wins (32), winning percentage (84.2), opponent point average (59.2), opponent field goal percentage (35.8), opponent 3-point field goal percentage (27.4) and margin of victory (21.2).
DWU finished the season 32-6 overall and 16-4 in the GPAC, while climbing as high as No. 6 in the NAIA coaches' poll. Five players were named All-GPAC, while Rylie Osthus was named Co-Defensive Player-of-the-Year. After winning the national championship, Kynedi Cheeseman was honored as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, as Osthus joined her on the All-Tournament Team. Christensen was also tabbed the Coach-of-the-Year in NAIA Division II Women's Basketball after leading his team to 32 victories, tied for most wins in program history.
With so much success a season ago, new faces will have to fill leadership roles after graduating two All-Americans in twin sisters Ashley Bray and Amber Bray, and losing a four-year member in Chesney Nagel at point guard. But, the players who will be looked upon to step up have already been doing so for a few seasons.
"We have always prided ourselves on our defense," Christensen said. "We will have to find out who can set the tone for us defensively."
Ever since her freshman season taking the starting role at point guard, Osthus has been a floor general and will look to cap off a storied career as she enters her senior campaign. Cheeseman will also lead the Tigers following a breakout season where she was named All-GPAC Second Team and was honored as the National Tournament MVP.
Cheeseman led the team last season in points per game with 14.9, while averaging 3.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. She shot 42.8 percent from the field and 87.8 percent from the free-throw line, ranking fourth in the NAIA in free-throw percentage. The Alexandria, S.D., native also ranked 17th nationally with 567 total points on the season.
Osthus led the team with 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. She also recorded 4.6 rebounds per game and shot 48 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from 3-point range. The De Smet, S.D., native ranked third nationally with 203 assists on the season and seventh nationally in assists per game. Osthus finished her junior season reaching 1,000 career points as she tallied 1,014 points, good for 25th in DWU women's basketball scoring history.
"I think we have some very quality athletes in Sarah (Carr), Kynedi (Cheeseman), Makaela (Karst), Madison (Mathews) and obviously Rylie (Osthus)," Christensen said about players he will turn to this season. "They will have to step up and become leaders."
Mathews was a new member to the Tiger roster last season after transferring to DWU from the University of Sioux Falls. She made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor coming off the bench, shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc. She snagged 50 rebounds and made her presence known on the defensive end, recording 14 steals on the year. She found her rhythm at the national tournament last year as she recorded career highs with 13 points, five made field goals and three made 3-point field goals against Indiana University East.
Carr was another critical component to the Tiger success last season. She came off the bench and averaged 7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and tallied 17 steals throughout the season. The Huron, S.D., native shot 49.8 percent from the field and tallied a season-high 19 points, eight made field goals and nine defensive rebounds against Morningside College.
Karst found her way into the rotation in her second season as she averaged 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. She notched 17 points against Presentation College last year, good for a career high.
Other returners with varsity experience for the Tigers are Sam Schuh and Meghan Travis. Christensen also brings in a talented and deep recruiting class that will look to make an impact. Incoming freshmen that look to dress for the varsity roster include Kaylee Kirk, Rebecca Buchholz, Kathryn Parsley, Natalie Gottlob, Shannon O'Malley and Sydney Halling.
"We have some youth on this year's roster," said Christensen. "Hopefully by the end of the season, we can find a couple of players who can step into some roles and make a difference."
The Tiger schedule will be another difficult one as they kick off the season with a matchup against North Star Athletic Association member Valley City State University who begin the season ranked No. 16 in the NAIA . DWU will travel to Iowa City, Iowa, for a showdown against NCAA Division I opponent, the University of Iowa, and begin conference play against Northwestern College a day later. The Tigers head to West Palm Beach, Fla., in December to take part in the West Palm Invitational before returning to GPAC play in 2019.
"I think we will be competitive night in and night out," Christensen said. "We are trying to give ourselves a chance. And if we stay in the top four or top five of the conference, then there is a good chance we will make it to the national tournament."