Composed Coyoteswere prepared for title game

Composed Coyoteswere prepared for title game
Ashley Robinette was laughing. Jeana Hoffman was smiling.

And Chad Lavin was leaning back in his chair, while fiddling with a water bottle.

For a coach and a team playing in unchartered waters, things were sure relaxed during the Friday, March 28 championship game press conference in Kearney, NE.

But that's been the story for this team all season: Composure.

No matter the atmosphere, opponent, venue, or other circumstances, The University of South Dakota women's basketball team has come out on top.

All that the team could do was wait for Saturday, when all of the storylines that have made this a magical season would be broadcast to a national television audience on ESPN2. The Coyotes (33-1) were prepared to face Northern Kentucky Saturday, March 29, in the Division II championship game at 5 p.m. in Kearney.

"This whole experience has been unbelievable. It's amazing for our team to get this far," said Robinette, one of four senior starters who lead USD to its first-ever championship in women's athletics.

It's been a year of firsts for the Coyote women: The first conference tournament championship. The first unbeaten conference season. The first Elite Eight berth.

Yet, on the flip side, it's been a year of lasts. The final year of the North Central Conference. The final year at the D-II level. And Lavin's last year at the helm.

Asked what it would mean to win a national title in his final season, Lavin said without hesitation, "That'd be every coach's dream. But our whole season has been a dream."

This dream was put to the test against a Northern Kentucky team (27-8) that won a national title in 2000 and lost in the title game in 2003 to South Dakota State.

"I've always felt that the road to the national championship goes through that region," Northern Kentucky coach Nancy Winstel said. "If you're going to get the prize, you need to beat some really tough teams.

"I guess it's appropriate that they're here. We can't seem to get away from these guys."

The Norse upended Wingate and Alaska-Anchorage on their way to March 29's championship matchup, and faced their biggest test of the season against the Coyotes.

"They force you into some things defensively that you're not used to," Winstel said of USD. "All of their players can put the ball on the floor and

drive to the basket."

NKU has three players averaging double figures, with senior Angela Healy (14.1 ppg), and juniors Cassie Brennan (13.5) and Jessie Slack (13.3).

"It should be nothing short of physical," Healy said of what she expected in the championship game. "Both teams are going to leave it all out on the court."

Yet, whether the game turned out to be physical or perimeter-oriented, high-scoring or a low-scoring slugfest, the Coyotes had one major aspect going for them: An ability to search within themselves for a victory.

"It always seems like our team finds a way to get it done," said leading scorer Jeana Hoffman, who has scored 27 and 19 points in USD's two Elite Eight victories.

"Every team in the nation probably sets this game as a goal. But to get here is amazing," Robinette said. "It gives you goosebumps."

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