State-U rivalry renewed Fans on both sides excited for game By Jeremy Hoeck
Yankton Media, Inc. Fans of a once storied and heated rivalry breathed a collective sigh of relief last week. Although set to eventually resume anyway, the State-U showdown was given a specific date. On June 4, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State women's basketball programs announced that the Coyotes and Jackrabbits will meet in Brookings on Feb. 15, 2010. And for former players and those familiar with the back-and-forth battles, the date could not have come soon enough. "The thing I thought right away was, 'it's about time,'" said former USD women's standout Meghan Woster who graduated in 2007 after a three-year career. "Especially with women's basketball, it makes perfect sense. It shows a lot about these schools that they got it worked out." After a six year hiatus, the one-time members of the North Central Conference (NCC) will continue a basketball showdown that was recently selected the state's top rivalry by The Sporting News. "No matter what, it's important for this state," Woster added. In April, USD accepted an invitation to join The Summit League, a Division I conference that includes former foes SDSU and North Dakota State. The Coyotes begin league play in 2011-12 and will be postseason eligible in 2012-13 — meaning the State-U rivalry would have resumed within three seasons. But that's where the early surprise came into play. USD head coach Ryun Williams and SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston were able to work out an opening for the upcoming season. And so, the Coyotes — in the second year of the Division I transition — will take the court at Frost Arena against a SDSU squad coming off an appearance in the second round of the NCAA national tournament. "It was going to happen anyway, so why not get it going early," said Mandy Koupal, a USD women's graduate assistant and former Coyote, who finished her career as the top scorer (2,142 points) in school history. "It's just great for the whole state. People always talk about the rivalry with the Jacks; somehow it gets brought up." State-U Relationships As with most in-state athletic rivalries, there are bound to be incidents of friends playing against each other, or even families divided in their loyalties. Yet, entangled in USD-SDSU lore are stories just like Dave Cornemann's. The 1984 SDSU graduate, and one-time NCAA national wrestling champion, is the father of Ketty Cornemann — who will be a senior starter on the Jackrabbits' women's basketball team next season. The former Jackrabbit knows all about the rivalry with the Coyotes. "To be completely honest, that rivalry was the best part of my college career," the Yankton man said. "We had a lot of friends in Vermillion, and we'd go down there quite a bit. It was all in good fun." Cornemann, a member of the Yankton Jackrabbit Club, recalled the days in which he would take a group of Yankton girls — including his daughter Ketty, Kara Iverson, Andrea Walsh and Maggie Youngberg — up to the State-U games in Brookings. "It was five girls in our van, and I'd be explaining to them how fun those games were," he said. "I wanted them to see that excitement. And that was even before we knew they were future 'Yotes and Jacks." After graduating from YHS, the girls went their separate ways: Cornemann to SDSU, Iverson to USD, Walsh to Augustana (now at Minnesota State-Mankato), and Youngberg to St. Cloud State (then to USD). By the time Ketty arrived in Brookings, the in-state rivalry was long gone, with no sure sign that it would resume. Then came last Thursday's announcement that the two schools will meet in women's basketball this upcoming season. Not only will Ketty face USD, she'll take the court against good friend and former high school teammate Kara Iverson, who will also be a senior in 2009-10. "I was so sure Ketty would never get to play the Coyotes," Dave Cornemann said. "Now that she will, I guarantee you the intensity at their summer workouts has picked up since (the announcement)." That's the beauty of the rivalry, Woster said. "It'll be like a game at the 'Y,'" the current USD law school student said. "When I was playing, half of the State girls were on my traveling AAU team. That's what made it so much fun; we knew each other really well." Defeating someone you don't know is satisfying, but beating someone you do know — and often times, someone you know well — is more gratifying, Koupal said. "Even at this (D-I) level, both schools recruit a lot of in-state girls," said Koupal, a Wagner native who was a two-time national player at the year at USD. "I know, for me, there was a lot of pride involved. We wanted to beat the Jacks in everything." Future In The Summit The last time the Coyotes and Jackrabbits faced off in women's basketball was Feb. 28, 2004 in Vermillion, a game SDSU won 61-58. Since that date, SDSU ventured out into the D-I waters, while USD would later join them in the transition four years later. In the meantime, the question of 'when will the rivalry resume?' was always one in the minds of sports fans in South Dakota, said Steve Imming, sports director at WNAX in Yankton. "I think we all expected it would come back," said Imming, who has been broadcasting SDSU football and men's basketball games for 17 years. "They've been playing in other sports, but it was just a matter of availability for the other programs." And now that USD will join the 10-member Summit League in 2011-12 in all sports except football (the conference does not sponsor football), the rivalry will once again become an annual event. And for Williams, who will enter his second year as USD head coach this season, that's good news. "Once we got accepted to the Summit League, it made perfect sense," Williams said in a recent Associated Press report. "We're going to play in '11-12 anyway, why wait? Why make the players wait? A lot of people in this state wanted us to play it, so let's play it." When it comes down to actually getting on the court in Brookings and playing the game, the Jackrabbits will be favored to win. But as Woster — who has fond memories of getting police escorts into Frost Arena — said, with the State-U rivalry, expectations don't matter. "SDSU will want teams to come to them, and thankfully USD was willing to go up there," she said. "Frost is one of the toughest places to play in the nation, hands down. But you can throw everything out the window, especially with this rivalry. "It'll be fun to see what happens."