VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO)- The USD women had a historic season last year as the Coyotes finished runner-up in the Summit League tournament and earned a spot in the 2019 NCAA tournament.

“They can go one of two directions and they can just kind of expect it to happen again or they can see that as such a great opportunity and challenge to even get better and I think number two is the direction that our young ladies have taken in the approach that they’ve taken. What we’ve noticed as a staff is when you talk to them, they’ve always been very coachable, but they’re locked in at a different level,” USD Head Coach Dawn Plitzuweit said.

The Coyotes graduated only one Senior and return 11 of their 14 players from last season’s team.

“I think we’re all very excited. Losing Allison was obviously a big part of our team, but having the Senior class come back and a strong junior and sophomore class too, it’s exciting,” USD Junior center Hannah Sjerven said.

“The fact that we do have a veteran squad this year is something that certainly is an asset to our program and certainly something that helps us in continued growth,” Plitzuweit said.

One of the returning players for USD is leading scorer, Ciara Duffy. Duffy averaged nearly 15 points per game last season, which led to her being named the 2019 preseason Summit League Player of the Year.

“Well Ciara has had a tremendous level of success during the course of her career. She’s someone who not only leads us in so many ways on the court. She’s someone we rely on to take big shots, she’s someone we rely on at the end of the shot clock, she’s someone we rely on to get to the free throw line. She’s been very versatile in our system. She’s played anywhere from our point guard position to our primary post,” Plitzuweit said.

With the Coyotes returning a majority of last year’s team, they are able to build on last season and the success that they had.

“Last year at this time, we had a lot of our foundation laid going into the season and we were much farther ahead last year than we were the year before. This year, we may not have as many things in, but what we do have in right now, we’re better at,” Plitzuweit said.

“I think every year, it changes regardless because you have some underclassmen that have gotten better and they’ll get more opportunities. I think they’ll be little changes but it’ll still be Coyote basketball,” Sjerven said.

Following last season’s historic success, USD was selected as the preseason favorite to win the Summit League.

“It’s a really cool thing. Again, I’ve never been on a team that has gotten picked for that in my four years at USD, but at the same time, we know the Summit League is really good and going into each year, it’s anybodis game. Last year, like you saw, there were a lot of good teams and anybody could beat anybody on any given night and I think that this year is probably going to be no different,” USD Senior guard Ciara Duffy said.

USD and SDSU were picked to finish first and second in the Summit League preseason poll, but the Coyotes know that the Summit League will have much more competition than just the Yotes and Jacks.

“I certainly believe that there are some very good teams in the conference. I really believe that Oral Roberts has been one of the top teams defensively in our league. They were third in the country in field goals made, last year. I think they’re going to be really, really good. I think Denver is another team that can really fill it up. They finished fifth in the country in three pointers made,” Plitzuweit said.

This season, USD will play one of their toughest non-conference schedules in school history, including a trip to Columbia, South Carolina, to play one of the top teams in the country.

“South Carolina is historically incredible and I think it’s going to be a great test for us and it’s going to be a great learning experience for us. It’s going to build a lot of toughness playing in that environment and playing that caliber team and I think we’re just excited for the challenge,” Duffy said.

“A team that has been one of the top teams in the country. They’ve been ranked in the top ten in the nation in the last three years. They’ve actually had the best home attendance over the last four seasons and 2017 national champions,” Plitzuweit said.

It has been nearly seven months since the Coyotes played a game and the team is eager to return to the court.

“Postseason, summer, preseason, all that stuff is really fun, but at some point, we’re ready to get back on the court and start playing games and I think we’re slowly getting to that point,” Duffy said.

The Coyotes open their season with a trip to Boston and a game against Northeastern on November 5. The first game in Vermillion for USD will be on November 13 against Drake.