When former Penn State assistant coach Maren Walseth took over the program two years ago, it was expected the Bison wouldn’t be making any runs to the NCAA tournament in the first few years. It takes time to build a program as a new head coach and instill new philosophies while recruiting for the future.
For a team that went 6-24 in 2013-2014, an 11-18 record with a 7-9 mark in Summit League play was seen as an improvement for Walseth’s first year.
Turn the page to this year, and the team is still looking for its first Summit League win halfway through the season.
That might seem alarming to those not paying attention to the NDSU women’s program, but let’s pump the breaks on that train and play some defense for this year’s team.
A few weeks back, South Dakota State came to Fargo in a game many people might have written off, with the Jackrabbits being preseason favorites to return to the NCAA Tournament for the Summit League.
In a game of runs, the Jackrabbits were only up by four points at half. The Bison responded out of the break to tied it up just before SDSU went on another run. NDSU again answered the run to come within one point with seven minutes left in the game.
SDSU then finished the game on a 19-2 run, and the final score wasn’t entirely predictive of the full game the Bison played.
Two weeks later, the Bison took the University of South Dakota, a team sitting atop the conference standings, to double-overtime in the Benson Bunker Fieldhouse last week, losing 96-94. NDSU held a 93-88 lead with less than three minutes left in the second overtime, but couldn’t hold on late.
Following its narrow victory, the Coyotes went into Frost Arena to play the perennial power and preseason favorite South Dakota State and came out with the win.
Quality losses aren’t going to get a team anywhere in the conference standings, but for the Bison to play the Jackrabbits tough and compete with the Coyotes for 50 minutes finishing with only five players in the game, it goes to show this team hasn’t given up on the season or second-year head coach Maren Walseth.
That’s the problem this year’s Bison women have faced the entire season, starting with seven healthy players to begin the year. That number has fluctuated to nine for a few games, but it’s dwindled back to seven since the start of conference play.
Frankly, it’s hard to play and compete for a full 40 minutes at the Division I level with only seven players.
As long as the five are healthy, the Bison have stuck with the same starters for the majority of the games this season, and all five of those starters are averaging between 29 and 35 minutes per game.
For sophomore guards Taylor Thunstedt and Brooke Yaggie, that number has ballooned since conference play started to 38 and 37 minutes per game, respectively. Thunstedt played every single minute of the games against USD and SDSU.
The Bison have already locked down seven recruits for next season, but none of those girls can be of much help to Walseth’s team this year.
However, NDSU has the perfect opportunities to get their first win in conference play this season, as Western Illinois and Indiana University-Fort Wayne come to the Benson Bunker Fieldhouse on Thursday and Saturday.
IPFW is also looking for their first win of the conference season, and Western Illinois only conference road win was a narrow defeat of the Mastodons 78-74 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.