By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY --- The South Dakota School of Mines women’s basketball team hasn’t played a game on its home court since Nov. 25, 2006, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by looking at their record.
The Lady Hardrockers are currently 10-5 on the season and have won eight of their last 9 games, picking up a large chunk on the road.
“We were a little bit apprehensive obviously being on the road for such a long time,” said Lady Hardrocker head coach Barb Felderman. “The teams we played were high quality teams.”
Back in the middle of November, SDM dismantled two nationally ranked teams in Menlo College (Calif.) and Northwestern College (Iowa) and earned big wins over Rocky Mountain College (Mont.) and the University of Sioux Falls. The Hardrockers continued with the momentum in December, posting two lopsided victories over Johnson and Wales (Colo.) and NCAA Division III Colorado College. Mines also earned victories over Midland Lutheran College (Neb.) and Concordia University (Neb.). Most recently the Lady ‘Rockers split a pair of games at the NAIA Shootout in Las Vegas, Nev. SDM defeated Madonna University before dropping an exhibition bout with Oklahoma City University – an NAIA Division I powerhouse --- falling by just seven points.
“We have played six GPAC schools (this season) and the teams in Las Vegas were very good as well,” Felderman said. “Oklahoma City is ranked second in NAIA Division I and has won the national tourney several times.
“The kids played very well and played together. The lights are turning on every day for the freshmen, which makes us much more balanced.”
The Hardrockers roster just three juniors leaving the rest of the lineup with first-year players (seven freshmen).
“They have picked things up quite quickly. They are not always cognitive of what’s going on but they are getting a lot better,” Felderman said of her young players. “We are 16 games into the season. A lot of freshmen on other teams don’t even see the court and we have some that are starting and all of them play.”
With the seven-game road trip over and with the Hardrockers coming through that stint with a string of impressive wins, SDM looks poised to handle the remainder of the schedule --- which consists only of Dakota Athletic Conference games.
“The kids stayed focused and they knew why we were traveling those great distances,” Felderman said. “They just got down to business and played basketball. I think we are prepared for anything that the conference is going to give us because of the competition we’ve played.”
The Hardrocker have received honorable mention in the Top 25 poll for the third consecutive week. Junior Melanie Vedvei is on pace to have another All American season. She not only broke the 1,000-point mark during the second game of the season this year, she is also close to the top of the conference for most points scored. Heading into the weekend she has amassed 301 points and is averaging well over 20 points a game. Fellow junior Amber DeWeerd is having a breakout season for the Hardrockers putting up almost 12 points a game while freshman sharpshooter Madi Hotovec is averaging 11.80 each time out. The Lady ‘Rockers will get their mettle tested right away this weekend as they play host to Dickinson State and Minot State at the King Center.
The Lady Blue Hawks take on SDM Friday in a 5:30 game. DSU has a record of 3-11 but that doesn’t mean the Hardrockers will be favored to win.
“They have a new coach and there will be some transition for them,” Felderman said of the Hawks. “They have made giant strides at the beginning (of the season) and they have been in a lot of close games, so they are much better than what their record indicates.”
The Blue Hawks are paced by 6-foot junior Brittany Mesa, who is the only player that is averaging over 10 points a game. The forward/junior averages 12 points every time out and seems to be a force in the paint. Freshman LaDonna Downs, a 6-3 center is also useful underneath averaging almost seven rebounds a game.
“They have some good inside players and they shoot the three. They are very aggressive defensively,” Felderman said.
Saturday’s matchup will be quite a challenge for the Hardrockers as they face the No. 6 NAIA Div. II rated Minot State. The Lady Beavers are an impressive 14-1 and bring in a lot of momentum.
And while Dickinson’s 3-11 record may not hold true for the Blue Hawks, Feldman said she isn’t intimidated by the Beavers’overall record as that may also be misleading. She did give Minot credit for being a veteran squad that has experience some recent success, wining the DAC tournament a year ago.
“They are a seasoned team. They were at the national tournament last year,” Felderman said.
The Beavers have four players that average over 10 points a game. Junior guard Kendra Meyer is averaging 17.93 points a game while teammates Brittni Walker, Jenny Castro and Kim Ramirez all put up about 10 points a game.
“They have an excellent post on the inside with Jenny Castro. They have a very good shooting guard (in Kendra Meyer),” Felderman said. “Defensively, we will see some zone as well as man-to-man. (Minot) has some numbers (on the roster).”
But no mater how man offensive weapons or how good a defense is of any of the teams have in the DAC, Felderman feels that all eight teams have the potential to beat each other on any given night.
“I think this is the most parody I have ever seen (in the conference) on the women’s side,” Felderman said. “I don’t care who it is that wins (the conference), they are going to have several losses.”
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