South Dakota women find losing hard to accept

South Dakota women find losing hard to accept
Jenna and Jeana Hoffman, twin sisters from Mitchell, helped drive the USD Coyote women's basketball team to the NCAA Elite Eight Division II basketball tournament in Kearney, NE, March 26-29.

They contributed to the team's two wins in the tournament that brought them to the championship matchup with Northern Kentucky on March 29.

And after every win, they spoke eloquently of the performance of their teammates, of the key plays that eventually lead to victory.

Saturday, they faced the media one last time, in an effort that was more difficult than a high pressure game on the basketball court.

Moments earlier, they Coyotes helplessly watched as their shooting grew cold. They watched as their 12 point lead over the Northern Kentucky Norse began to melt away in the second half.

They watched as the Norse eventually took control of the game for good, defeating the Coyotes 63-58.

The USD women, their dreams shattered, watched the Northern Kentucky team hoist the trophy high in celebration.

All season long, the Coyotes had lost only one game. They had strung together 31 consecutive victories.

Experiencing a loss was a faded memory for the team. Saturday, however, it all came crashing down.

"Obviously, losing a basketball game is disappointing," coach Chad Lavin said. "I can't tell you how gut-wrenching it is to lose in this venue. We have no complaints; we played our game. We got off, quite frankly, 30 wide open threes (three-pointers). That's the way we play.

"We had our chances and had a 10 point lead and couldn't hold on to it, but I give credit to Northern Kentucky," he said. "They did some things in the slip screen, and the off screen, that we've seen but obviously didn't do a very good job on it."

The Coyotes are used to facing diversity in the waning moments of a basketball game, and overcoming it. Similar situations during other games of this special season only added to the team's growing confidence that they would be crowned champions.

"We put ourselves in a good situation with about seven minutes left in the game," Jeana Hoffman replied when asked about the cruel twist of fate the Coyotes had just experienced, her voice barely audible. "We had opportunities to score to extend the lead, and we didn't do it. And they (Northern Kentucky) were getting shots that they probably wanted to get, and they were finishing theirs.

"This is a real hard time for our team," Jeana, who scored 19 points and grabbed four rebounds during the contest, said, "but I'm sure that, looking back we'll see a good team that we really have."

South Dakota's Bridget Yoerger, who stands at 5-11, had to battle taller Northern Kentucky opponents under the boards the entire game, such as Cassie Brannen and Angela Healy, who each stand at 6-1, and Nicole Chiodi, who is an even 6-0 tall.

"I've been going against tall players all season," Yoerger, who scored four points and made nine rebounds, said, "but they were going after everything. They were jumping … our game was better sticking to the outside, and in the second half, we were open on the outside but the shots weren't falling that usually fall."

Jenna Hoffman said the aggressive play that gave the Coyotes a large lead with seven minutes left in the game began to wane.

"Give them credit, they made some tough shots," she said, speaking of the play of the Norse, "and I guess we just never really got back into the game to stop the run."

Jenna scored nine points, and contributed with six rebounds and four assists.

Following the game, she appeared more emotionally than physically drained.

"This is a bad feeling. I don't know if I'd wish this upon my enemies, but, you know, sometimes that's how basketball goes. You're prepared, you're ready to go, but sometimes things just don't fall your way."

The USD team members said they will always remember the support they've received this year from their fans, particularly during the championship game in Kearney.

Most of the seating in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Health and Sports Center was filled with people sporting bright red USD sweatshirts and caps.

The decibel level of the cheering USD fans surpassed the sound levels usually heard in the DakotaDome.

"I just can't say enough about our fans; they did such a great job," Jenna Hoffman said. "They were so supportive of us throughout the whole game and throughout the whole season. It's just too bad we couldn't bring home a championship for them."

Saturday marked the last game of Lavin's coaching career. He struggled emotionally for a moment during the press conference, but he wasn't thinking about his upcoming retirement.

"For me personally, to see my kids in misery is tough," he said. "I think that will be my memory. I don't really care about this being the last game that I've had (as coach).

"I wish I could have found a way for them," Coach Lavin said, "but I also know enough to know that we've had some games go our direction through the year."

Lavin said that, no doubt, some people who analyze the game's stats will point out the Coyotes' problems from the three-point arc.

"They'll lose sight of how we actually played extremely well," Lavin said. "We had seven turnovers, and they are an incredibly big team. They had five offensive rebounds is all, and we held them to 48 shots. We did everything we wanted to do."

The crowd that drove from Vermillion down to Kearney, he said, reminded him of how USD's traditionally rival teams would boost attendance and spirit at games.

"Our seniors are tough," Lavin said. "They understand that this is the consequence of competing in athletics, and sometimes it doesn't go your way. I know Bridget will come back and have an incredible senior year. She's an outstanding player."

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