Former Coyotes stand out in Sweet 16 race
SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Mandy Koupal proudly wears Red Monday.
And the former University of South Dakota star and current Wagner teacher can just wear red or other Coyote gear the rest of the week until the USD gets its way in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
“I’m so proud right now,” Koupal said. “It’s always a great day to be a Coyote, but when something this big happens, you have to admit there’s an extra bounce in your step.”
Koupal, who averaged more than 20 points per game from 2001 to 2004 and helped USD reach the Division II playoffs two years in a row during her career, said she was delighted to see how far the program has come since transitioning from USD to Division I in 2006.
“Congratulations to the coaches and players and everyone at the university for making this possible,” Koupal said. “It feels like a big family. It doesn’t matter when you graduate, you always feel part of it.
Ciara Eastmo (Duffy), another former Coyote star and recent alumnus, was cheering on the Coyotes from Omaha, Nebraska, with her 10-month-old daughter. Eastmo, a Rapid City native and St. Thomas More star, was teammate with many current Coyotes and hopes to make the shortest trip to Wichita, Kansas to watch USD play in the Sweet 16.
“It’s just a huge statement for basketball in South Dakota in general,” Eastmo said. “They took an 11-0 lead, but then they were able to increase that. This proves that it was not a coincidence or a one-time thing. They’re just a really, really good basketball team in South Dakota and they keep proving it.
During the 2019–20 season, Eastmo was named Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year, espnW Mid-Major Player of the Year, and Summit League Player of the Year. This USD team finished the season at No. 17 in the Associated Press and No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches polls. The NCAA Women’s Tournament was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The seniors on this 2020 team have been so excited to see this group have a run,” Eastmo said. “Being part of USD basketball makes you feel like you’re part of that legacy and part of something bigger than yourself. I think it just proves that.
Eastmo, who is expecting a second child, said he has followed the team closely this year and watched all of USD’s post-season games this year.
“They played so well in the conference tournament,” Eastmo said. “They just pulled this off and it was so fun to watch.”
Eastmo and Koupal are still very involved in the sport of basketball. Eastmo currently works for a youth basketball development company started by a former assistant women’s basketball coach from Ceighton. Koupal is an assistant coach for Wagner’s basketball team that finished third in the Class A state tournament.
“All those people who have worked so hard to build this program and now we can see it flourish on the national stage,” Eastmo said.
The Coyote defense locked Baylor
Baylor, which has won three NCAA Division I championships including a title in 2019, was limited to 47 points by the Coyote defense on Sunday.
Eastmo said it wasn’t hard not to notice how hard the women played.
“Coach P (Plitzweit) is doing such an amazing job,” Eastmo said. “The defensive scheme was clearly so effective and so well executed. As a team, their overall defense is so good.
The Bears had won 66 straight non-conference home games and 17 straight NCAA Tournament games in Waco, Texas until they were eliminated by the Coyotes. Koupal said the Coyotes aren’t afraid of Baylor’s height advantage.
“It was one and it was done. Baylor got a shot and if he didn’t come in we got the rebound,” Koupal said. “I know that this team has put in the time and worked. They deserve it.
Eastmo said watching former team-mate Hannah Sjerven wreak havoc on Baylor players called her up a few days or practiced against the 6ft 2in centre. Sjerven led the Coyotes with 16 points, four rebounds, four steals and a block before committing a foul in the final minutes.
“I still remember having to go against it in practice, going into the lane and I remember being stuck in the cheap seats in practice,” Eastmo said.
Looking ahead to Saturday, when the 10-seeded Coyotes take on 11-seeded Villanova or third-seeded Michigan, Eastmo said nothing from the Coyotes will come as a surprise to her.
“It wasn’t like it came out of nowhere. People who have watched this team know that they have always been so good and played at a high level,” Eastmo said. “I’m just going to keep watching and cheering. I don’t want to spoil anything.