10 Reasons Dakota State Should Be Proud
The NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship officially came to a close March 18 after Clarke (Iowa) defeated defending champion Thomas More (Ky.) in Sioux City, Iowa. The tournament was filled with highs and lows, dominant performances from many higher seeds, and some big upsets in the early rounds. One team that stood out was sixth-seeded Dakota State University which played its way to the final four after being the underdog in all but one game of the entire tournament. Here are 10 reasons why Dakota State should be proud of what became a breakthrough year for the school from Madison, S.D.
After finishing with a 29-7 record and in first place in the North Star Athletic Association, the Trojans earned a No. 6 seed placement in the NAIA Tournament. This is the highest seed they have earned in the past three years of making the tournament (10 seed in 2022 and nine seed in 2021) under the 48- and now 64-team, one-division format. This year also was the farthest the Trojans have gone in the tournament in the school’s history, bettering a pair of runs to the national quarterfinals in NAIA Division II in 2000 and 2006.
2. A Record-Breaking Season
As mentioned above, the appearance in the final four is the farthest the Trojans have gone in the NAIA tournament in school history. Their 29 wins in the regular season are also the most wins the program had in a single season, breaking their own previous record of 27 in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
In the regular season, the Trojans won the NSAA for the third consecutive year, the first school to accomplish that feat in over 20 years. This was also the first time Dakota State had two players selected for NAIA All-America teams with senior forward Elsie Aslesen named to the third team and junior forward Savannah Walsdorf an honorable mention. Head coach David Moe was the NSAA Coach of the Year for a fourth consecutive year and became the third-winningest coach in program history.
3. Upsets Upon Upsets
Not only were the Trojans the lowest seed in the final four, but their journey through the tournament also had them defeat schools from each of the top three seeds. After a 78-65 win over 11-seeded Morningside (Iowa) in the first round, Dakota State continued to coast through the tournament defeating both No. 3 seed Eastern Oregon and second-seeded Carroll (Mont.) by 10 or more points in the next two rounds.
The Trojans then faced top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan in the national quarterfinals in a tight back-and-forth game. DSU overcame an eight-point third-quarter deficit to take a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, only for the Wildcats to rally back and retake the lead. With 18 seconds left, freshman guard Caitlin Dyer sunk what was the game-winning three-pointer to give Dakota State a 71-70 victory and send the Trojans to their first-ever semifinal. This historic tournament run also put Walsdorf and Aslesen on the NAIA All-Tournament team.
4. Players’ Personal Accolades
Several student-athletes for Dakota State had stellar seasons this year putting their names in the school’s record books. Senior guard Courtney Menning finished fourth on the single-season record list for steals with 93 and climbed to fifth all-time in career assists with 351. Aslesen made a name for herself putting herself third on both the career (211) and season (88) record lists in blocked shots. But no one played the game better than Walsdorf, who is now third all-time in points for the Trojans (1,538) and rebounds (792). She also is now tied for the most steals in school history (305).
5. A Commanding Offense
The Trojans in 14 of their 29 wins this season scored 80 or more points including two games where they reached the 100-point mark. Nine of those wins had a point differential of 30 or more points including a game against Bacone College where they won by a whopping 56 points. A balanced team featured just two players (Aslesen and Walsdorf) averaging in double figures, but nine Trojans averaged at least 5.9 points per game and the team as a whole averaged 78.9 points per game, 10th best in the NAIA. They also averaged 79.3 points in their four wins in the NAIA tourney to advance to the national semifinals.
6. Dominant Defense
During the regular season, the Trojans held their opponents to an average of 59.8 points per game. Along with their 78.9 point-per-game scoring average, the Trojans outscored their opponents by nearly 20 points per game. Dakota State also was disruptive defensively, finishing fifth in the NAIA nationally in both steals per game (13.8) and blocks per game (4.8).
7. Head Coach Success Early On
In just his sixth season as head coach, Coach Moe is already the third-winningest coach in the program’s history with 116 wins. He tied the school’s record for most wins in a season for two consecutive years only to break that record this year. The three-time coach of the year has coached several all-Americans, as well as school record-breakers.
“It’s a testament to having really good players,” Moe said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity, I’m very thankful to be here but it goes back to having good players. Just having really good people that work really hard, that care for each other, and are talented. It can lead to some great success on the basketball court.”
8. Hometown Heroes
Dakota State couldn’t play any better when they were home. The Trojans went a perfect 12-0 in the DSU Fieldhouse including their win over Presentation College in the NSAA Tournament’s opening round where they scored 116 points. In fact, Dakota State has only lost 16 games at home in the past five years with a record of 49-16.
9. Recruitment Excitement
Athletes are always looking to go to a program that can win and be a part of that culture. After three straight seasons of 27 or more wins, Dakota State has become that program. Their most recent season adds to the fire of being a desirable destination.
“Most athletes want to go somewhere they’re going to have a chance to be successful and win games,” Moe said. “The fact that we made the semifinals, we’re right there. We’re right there from competing for a national championship which is the ultimate goal in all sports.”
Moe has a lot of faith in his team to win it all in the next few years. The confidence only grows with the majority of the team returning next year.
10. Walsdorf’s Return
The Trojans' leading scorer this year will be returning for her fifth season. Walsdorf is already third all-time in school history in scoring and rebounding. The NSAA all-conference player is not done yet and is eager to win that national championship.
“The mentality will not change at all,” Walsdorf said. “The biggest thing we said this year was ‘Get one percent better every day.’ There’s always something that you can get better on and I think that’ll be a great approach for us. Just always focusing on getting better even if it’s something really small.”
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