By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY ---- Last season the South Dakota School of Mines women’s basketball team accomplished a lot of things. They finished the season with a winning record of 20-11, took second in the Dakota Athletic Conference standings, earned a Top 25 NAIA ranking in the final poll of the season, won two postseason games, made an appearance in the DAC tournament title game and was just short of advancing to the national tournament.
That’s pretty impressive considering they didn’t have a single senior on the team.
This year, the Lady Hardrockers have three.
With a little more experience and playing time from the underclassmen to draw from, and with a solid group of new comers, South Dakota Mines looks to reach and perhaps surpass what they did last season and Hardrocker head coach Barb Felderman feels she has the right personnel to accomplish that goal.
“It’s so hard right now to (assess our team) because of the youth. We kind of have to get everybody acclimated to college ball --- let alone learning the system,” Felderman said. “I think we have added some energetic, quality freshmen. The kids are working hard and considering our second-place finish last year (in conference), this year’s team mirrors that one very much, and we are excited.”
Mines top returnee is that of senior guard Melanie Vedvei. The Lake Preston, S.D., native earned the DAC MVP for the second consecutive year after the 2006-07 season and earned NAIA All-American First Team honors as well. Vedvei was also named to the conference first team and received DAC scholar honors as well. She finished out the year with 598 points, which put her well over 1,000 in her career and is currently listed as the No. 6 all-time scorer for South Dakota School of Mines.
“She does things that are just unbelievable,” Felderman said of Vedvei. “She’s got fantastic ball sense. Obviously she is getting double and triple teamed and she has just learned to adapt. “Other teams know who she is. They will put one or two people on her or rotated people on and off her. She gets beat up every game.”
Vedvei (5-foot-7-inches) also holds records for career steals (333), steals in a season (124) and steals in a game (11), free throws made in a game (17) and field goal attempts in a game (36).
Amber DeWeerd and Jennie Malone also return to the Hardrockers team as seniors.
DeWeerd ended last season with 379 points, averaging 12.2 a game. Felderman said the 5-10 forward from Rock Valley, Iowa, is excited and should have another productive year.
“She’s all charged up and this will be her best year,�� the coach said.
Splitting time between volleyball and basketball once again, senior Jennie Malone (5-10, guard from Rapid City, S.D.) will join the Lady ‘Rockers once volleyball season draws to a close. Malone missed a handful of games last year, but still managed some impressive stats. She tallied just over 300 points on the season and averaged 11.6 a game. Malone is a threat from the outside and provides another weapon the Hardrockers can utilize.
“We hope she will come in and do what Jennie does. She plays a fantastic wing spot for us both offensively and defensively,” Felderman said. “She has great backside help and is a kid that has a great knack for the game.” The Hardrockers have no juniors on this year’s squad, but return a core group of sophomores that all got a healthy dose of playing time last season.
Bethany Holyoak (6-0 post from Moorcroft, Wyo.), Leah Sundby (5-11 post from Williston, N.D.), Nicole Martin, (5-11 post from Missoula, Mont.) and Kayla Goshorn ( a 5-9 forward from Rapid City, S.D.) were all thrown to the wolves so to speak and had to learn the difficulties of college basketball right away. Now they all have a little experience and should be much improved as sophomore hoopsters.
“I call it the freshman fog,” Felderman said of playing freshmen and the overwhelming situations they are sometimes exposed to. ��Having gotten that one year of college basketball under her belt, Bethany’s a lot smarter and knows what she has to do now. And with Leah, Nicole and Kayla --- you can’t duplicate a year of experience in drills or practice. You have to experience it.”
Holyoak, Martin and Sundby provided some quality minutes in the paint, while Goshorn honed her skills on the perimeter. Holyoak managed 273 points on the year to go along with 165 rebounds. Sundby dished in a total of 216 markers and came down with 109 boards and Goshorn contributed mostly on defense, but still averaging two points a game.
The Hardrockers welcome six newcomers to the team, five freshmen and a sophomore transfer. Felderman feels it’s a group that will solidify the lineup and make the Lady Hardrockers a well rounded team.
“It gives us depth at more positions now,” Felderman said. “I feel good about these freshmen because of the energy that they have. They are doing those extra little things and they have just great personalities.”
Jessica Tsingine comes in as the sophomore transfer. She is a 5-9 guard/forward from Tuba City, Ariz.
Add to the roster some promising freshmen that had outstanding high school careers. The list includes: Cayla De George, a 5-6 guard from Colorado Springs, Colo., Stephany Bjustrom, a 5-8 guard from Algona, Iowa, Loryn Schuetzle, a 5-10 wing from Pierre, S.D., Jerika Ihnen, a 5-11 forward from Tea, S.D., and Whitney Ashford, a 5-6 guard from Littleton, Colo.
“We have more depth and balance. We are really stronger in all positions,” Felderman added.
The Hardrockers are going to have to be strong in all positions when looking at the rest of the conference. Up and down the line it is hard to pick a clear cut favorite. Last year, things were so close that a win or loss could’ve move a team up or down five spots in the standings. This year will probably result in a similar fashion.
“There’s not a weak one in the bunch,” Felderman said of the other seven DAC teams.
And with the heavy competition, the Hardrockers success from the past season is just that --- in the past.
“It has to be in the past. This conference is so tough,” Felderman said. “Our schedule is as tough as it was last year. We have many GPAC teams and there isn’t an easy weekend.”
The Hardrockers have a difficult non-conference schedule with bouts against Rocky Mountain College, Dakota Wesleyan, Mount Marty, Northwestern Washington, University of Sioux Falls, Chadron State, Northwestern (Iowa) and against a pair of NCAA Div. III school in a tournament in Hawaii (Finlandia University from Michigan and Wheaton College from Illinois). Once the DAC schedule starts it will be a dash to the finish to see who ends up on top and to see who can make a run into the postseason and have an opportunity to advance to the NAIA tournament. The Hardrockers last visit to the national tournament was in 2005.
“Every year our goal is to win the national tournament. If you don’t have that as your goal then you and your season could fall short,” Felderman said. “The seniors have gotten to play in a national tournament their freshman year. It was a game that didn’t sit well for them --- we shot so poorly. That’s been in the back of their minds.”
Felderman added that those seniors are hungry for a return trip.
But, the Hardrockers will probably approach this season as they have the previous few --- with inexperienced players that aren’t very tall.
“We are still not very big as far as height and again our youth (is an area of concern),” Felderman said. “It’s hard to draw on experiences when you haven’t had them yet.”
Despite that fact, South Dakota Mines has made a name for themselves in the conference as well as the NAIA. Felderman and the Hardrockers have a recipe and it has cooked up quite a bit of success.
“I don’t change too much. Obviously we believe in what we do,” the coach added.
It helps when the athletes and the coaching staff are great to work with. Felderman’s assistant coaches are Lori Coble, Ann Konechne and Maria Caldwaller.
“I have got some great assistant coaches and it’s nice to have the ability to rely on any of them --- I trust them so much,” Felderman said. “We are excited about this team just from the energy and the personality that (the players) have --- I think it’s going to be a fun year.”
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