VERMILLION — Monica Arens wants more.
She’s not one to be satisfied.
And neither are her teammates, the Crofton, Nebraska native will tell you.
“There’s a feeling of, ‘Yes, we had a great season, but it’s unfinished,’” said Arens, a junior guard on the South Dakota women’s basketball team.
“There were certain goals we wanted to reach that we didn’t attain.”
Which is certainly saying a lot for a team that won 28 games and reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
The Coyotes, Arens matter-of-factly admits, are motivated to not only return to last season’s heights but exceed them.
Put another way, they want to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit League Tournament title. They don’t want to go the ‘at large’ route again.
Last season, USD put together an impressive regular season: The Coyotes beat two ranked teams, jumped into the Associated Press top-25 rankings for the first time and then made a run to the championship game of the conference tournament.
Once again, however, South Dakota State defeated USD in the title game, but the Coyotes nonetheless reached the ‘Big Dance’ — they eventually lost to Clemson in the first round.
“It was kind of mixed feelings,” Arens said.
While the Coyotes were fairly sure the day of the selection show that they’d see their name called, it wasn’t quite the same, according to Arens.
“We want to have it solidified that, we’re definitely going because won the games we needed to win,” she said.
A team that got a taste of what it takes to reach the NCAA Tournament and what it’s like to play on that stage can then venture one of two directions, according to head coach Dawn Plitzuweit.
“They can just expect it to happen again or see that as a great opportunity and be challenged to even get better,” said Plitzuweit, whose squad opens the season Nov. 5 at Northeastern.
Without having even played a game yet, the coaches have seen the latter direction, Plitzuweit added. The players are asking questions they haven’t before, they’re making adjustments on their own and they’re understanding things at a faster rate.
“They’ve always been coachable, but they’re locked in at a different level,” Plitzuweit said.
The preseason favorite to win the Summit League this season, USD returns four starters: Senior Ciara Duffy (14.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), junior Chloe Lamb (9.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg), senior Taylor Frederick (8.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and senior Madison McKeever (7.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg).
And then there’s a group of reserves that includes junior Hannah Sjerven (11.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Arens (6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
In Arens’ case, she’d tell you that it feels like her college career has flown by.
“I still feel like a freshman,” she said. “My roommates and I talk about that all the time, that we shouldn’t be upperclassmen already.”
Still, in Arens’ two seasons at USD, plenty has happened.
The Coyotes went undefeated in the Summit League, reached the tournament final and then advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT during her freshman season. They then, of course, reached the NCAA Tournament during her sophomore campaign.
“Each year holds its own significant moments, but it all blends together into this one amazing experience,” Arens added.
The adage of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ is certainly applicable in her case, she said.
“That’s 100 percent true for me, and I think my teammates would say the same thing,” Arens said. “It’s just been such a great experience here.”
Arens, who led Crofton High School to three state championships during her career, arrived at USD in 2017 in a unique position: She had been around the Coyote program when her sisters Bridget and Allison were suiting up in Vermillion — Allison was USD’s starting point last season.
“Yes I wanted to have those same experiences, but because they’re mine and unique to me, it’s better than anything I could’ve ever imagined,” Monica said.
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