South Dakota State women’s basketball is winning the hearts of women’s basketball fans in the state and beyond one player, one game and one season at a time. In his 15th season at the helm of the Jackrabbit program, head coach Aaron Johnston has created a mid-major powerhouse by working hard daily to earn a prominent spot among the country’s elite women’s basketball programs. Johnston has guided SDSU to eight postseason appearances, including five NCAA Tournaments, since the program turned Division I.
In 2009, the Jacks made history at the NCAA Tournament. SDSU had the most wins by any mid-major team heading into the tournament and the highest seed and ranking by a Summit League team. The Jackrabbits entered the tournament as a seven seed. The Jackrabbits took Baylor down to the wire in the second round, after beating TCU 90-55. It was the largest margin of victory in a No. 7 vs. No. 10 seed match-up, and they tied the NCAA record with 16 three-pointers in the win.
Johnston laid the foundation to a successful transition to Division I by leading SDSU to three consecutive NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances, including the 2002-03 national championship, the program’s first.
During their championship run, which culminated with a 65-50 victory over Northern Kentucky in the NCAA Division II championship game in St. Joseph, Mo., the Jackrabbits compiled a school-record 32 wins with just three losses. SDSU also earned a share of its first-ever North Central Conference title with a 14-2 record in league play.
To say South Dakota State made a smooth transition to Division I is an understatement. From the first bounce of the basketball, the Jackrabbits took over The Summit League and set their sights on the NCAA elite. The Jacks have posted a 148-62 (.704) Division I record, made five NCAA tournaments and three Women’s NIT tournaments. The Jackrabbits are the only Division I program to make the NCAA Tournament in its first five years of eligibility. Under Johnston SDSU currently has a .645 winning percentage in postseason play (20-11) and has a 15-1 mark in The Summit League Championship tournament.
SDSU women’s basketball over the years has developed a winning tradition. The Jackrabbits have had 28 consecutive winning seasons, including 20-plus win seasons in 11 of the past 13 seasons, including seven of the last eight years. After the 2013-14 season, head coach Aaron Johnston complied a record of 363-126 (.742), winning 26 games.
One of the most memorable seasons in the 49 years of SDSU basketball was when it tied a school record for victories in a season with 32 during the 2008-09 campaign and gained national attention by vaulting into the top 25 in December after nonconference victories over the likes of Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota and Gonzaga. The Jackrabbits were ranked in the final 13 USA Today/ESPN regular-season coaches’ poll, climbing as high as 14th. In the Associated Press poll, the Jacks ranked as high as 16th. SDSU finished the 2008-09 season ranked 19th in the coaches’ poll. On the way to a 32-3 overall record, the Jackrabbits received national media coverage from CBS Sports, USA Today, ESPN.com and The New York Times.
On January 10, 2013, head coach Aaron Johnston became the all-time winningest head coach in SDSU history with a 64-43 win over Oakland. Earlier in the season, the Jackrabbits took down No. 15 Nebraska at home and beat The Big East’s Georgetown on the road.
In 2013-14, Johnston led the Jackrabbits to a 26-10 overall record, including a 13-1 mark in The Summit League. SDSU won its fifth Summit League regular-season crown but lost in the league championship. The Jacks accepted the program’s third Women’s NIT bid and made history by winning a school-record four postseason games while beating a pair of Big Ten and Big East foes en route to the Women’s NIT semifinals in El Paso, Texas. South Dakota State ended its season with a 66-63 loss to UTEP April 2, the latest date a Jackrabbit women’s basketball team has played.
SDSU also became just the second team in school history to go undefeated in Frost Arena during the 2013-14 regular season, posting a 14-0 record and an 18-0 record after the WNIT. The Jacks enter the 2014-15 season on a 21-game home win streak.
SDSU has not shied away from top-level competition, entering the 2014-15 season, with winning records against a number of conferences, including the SEC, Big East, Missouri Valley, Big West, Horizon League, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt and the Pac-12.
Johnson, a four-time Summit League Coach of the Year (2008, 2009, 2012, 2014) has guided the Jackrabbits to a winning record in all 14 years at South Dakota State, and has led SDSU to seven regular season conference titles in both The Summit League and the North Central Conference.
Jackrabbit women's basketball has had great success in Frost Arena, holding an all-time record of 411-104 (.798). The fans play a big role in the environment of “The World's Largest Rabbit Den.”
The attendance record for Frost Arena was set vs. Indiana in 2007, with 6,053 fans cheering on the Jackrabbits. SDSU won the game 60-53. When the Jacks play at home they have averaged over 2,100 fans in seven of the past eight seasons. There have been 14 BCS teams that have played in Frost Arena, most notably No. 12 Penn State in 2013-14.
The Jackrabbit faithful also cheer on the team in the Summit League Tournament, which has been held in Sioux Falls, S.D., the past six seasons, and continue to be held through the 2016-17 season. During the 2013-14 Summit League basketball championships, the Jacks played in front of a record crowd of 5,871 during the semifinal game.
Not only have the Jackrabbits found success as a team, but also on the individual level. Head coach Aaron Johnston was named the Division II National Coach of the Year in 2003. In 2008-09, he was a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association national finalist for coach of the year. Within 14 years, Johnston has been named a coach of the year six times, including four times in The Summit League.
Under Johnston, numerous Jackrabbits have earned postseason honors, including Jennifer Warkenthien who was named the 2008-09 Summit League Player of the Year.
Since joining The Summit League in 2007, the Jackrabbits have had four Summit League Championship MVP’s and four Summit League Sixth Woman of the Year awards. Twenty-one student-athletics have been named to league all-conference teams, 2 players have earned to the all-newcomer team and 11 players have made the all-tournament team.
During the 2011-12 season, Jill Young not only set a school record, but also a Summit League record for career three-pointers made with 305.
In the middle of the 2012-13 season head coach Aaron Johnston won his 300th game as head coach of the Jackrabbits. Johnson is also posed to coach his 500th game in 2014-15.