VERMILLION, S.D. | Not many college basketball teams can say they have a fourth, fifth and sixth-year senior on their roster.
Such is the case for the University of South Dakota women, who will rely on veterans Caitlin Duffy, Jasmine Trimboli and Kate Liveringhouse to be leaders for a still young, but talented squad.
Duffy, a 5-foot-10 guard, was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA after battling injuries the past couple of years. Trimboli, a 5-9 guard from Australia, missed all of last season because of injury and is a fifth-year senior while Liveringhouse, a 6-foot post, is a fourth-year senior.
It’s the second season for the Coyotes under Coach Dawn Plitzuweit, who guided her first USD team to a 23-9 mark and fourth-place finish in the Summit League at 11-5.
South Dakota lost most of its inside presence with the graduation of Abigail Fogg and Bridget Arens, but a deep and versatile backcourt returns intact and with the addition of Caitlin Duffy and Trimboli, neither of which played last season.
At this time last year, the program was in complete overhaul after losing four starters and a head coach (Amy Williams) from a team that won the Summit League and WNIT. Not to mention, there was a new coach (Plitzuweit), new system and new arena.
“There is familiarity and it’s a lot smoother because there’s continuity,” Plitzuweit said. “It’s a lot easier when you don’t have a whole team of freshmen because you have some kids who have been through it before and understand.”
Juniors Allison Arens and Jaycee Bradley, along with sophomore Ciara Duffy (Caitlin's sister) started all 32 games last season. The 5-10 Arens (Crofton, Nebraska) is the top returning scorer with a 17.1 average and earned first-team All-Summit League honors
Bradley, a 5-10 guard, was second on the team with 12.9 points per game and shot a sizzling 45.3 percent (86 of 190) from beyond the arc. Ciara Duffy, a 6-footer, did most of her damage from outside last season, scoring at an 11.2 points-per-game clip.
“This year we’re bringing back a little bit more experience overall and I think that’s really going to be advantageous for us,” Bradley said. “We just go into every single practice with the mindset that today we have to get better and just focus on what’s in front of us.”
The Coyotes got off to a torrid start under Plitzuweit, winning 18 of their first 21 games, but dropped six of their last 11, including their last three Summit League contests.
“Our non-conference schedule this year is really tough but we look at it and smile because it’s a great opportunity for our program,” Bradley said. “Going through those games is really going to prepare us for our conference season.”
Four of the first six opponents reached the NCAA tournament last season. The Coyotes host last year’s Big East Conference champions in Creighton, have road games at Iowa State and Wichita State and play Oklahoma State and Tennessee in the Cancun Challenge over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Athough Ciara Duffy played mainly at guard last season, she may move inside some this year when the need arises. Versatility, Duffy said, is one of the team’s strong points.
“Obviously we lost two great seniors last year and we’re kind of a position less offense, so anybody can play anywhere,” Ciara Duffy said. “I think that’s definitely going to be prevalent this year in everyone’s diversity and ability to play multiple positions.”
Madison McKeever, a 5-7 sophomore, gained valuable experience as a freshman, averaging 7.6 points in just over 27 minutes per game, mainly at point guard. Liveringhouse and Taylor Frederick, a 6-foot sophomore from Harlan, Iowa, will be tasked with a lion’s share of the inside duties, while 6-1 sophomore Megan Bonar also saw action last season.
Caitlin Duffy was named Summit League transfer of the year in 2015-16, leading the team in 3-point shooting while averaging just under nine points for the conference and WNIT champs. Duffy missed last season because of a foot injury and also had to sit out the 2014-15 season after transferring from Colorado State.
“I learned a lot and grew a lot going through all of last year, but the whole time not knowing if I was going to get this year,” Caitlin Duffy said. “This sounds cliché, but truly every day it’s a blessing that I get to be on the court with these guys, especially my sister. I’m so excited.”
The Duffy sisters, each of whom starred at St. Thomas More High School in Rapid City, South Dakota, but at different times, will finally get the opportunity to play together.
“I think on a broad scale, being able to represent a university from the state we’re from, but also the day-to-day, getting to shoot together, the little things we took for granted,” Caitlin Duffy said. “We feel so blessed each and every day to get to play together, it’s really special.”
The newcomers are Monica Arens -- the third member of her family to don a USD uniform – Liv Korgable, Claudia Kunzer and Chloe Lamb. Lamb was a standout at Sully Buttes High School while Plitzuweit said it will be hard for fans to distinguish between Korgable and Kunzer, since they look, act and play a lot alike.
“Our goal is to continue to continue to compete for conference championships on a year-to-year basis,” Plitzuweit said. “In order to prepare for that it was really important to have the opportunity to play the best non-conference schedule we could put together.”