Coyotes Headed To Creighton

University of South Dakota volleyball players and coaches anxiously await the announcement of the Coyotes' matchup for the NCAA Tournament during a watch party on Sunday in Vermillion. USD will face Creighton on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

VERMILLION — Elizabeth Loschen was back home Saturday to cheer on her best friend at her volleyball match.

The Omaha, Nebraska, native was there to support her friend who plays for Creighton. Sure enough, the friend’s team won the Big East Conference tournament championship.

Loschen, though, had a secondary interest in the match.

“I was kind of taking notes just in case we play them,” she joked Sunday night.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

Loschen’s own team, South Dakota, learned Sunday night that it will face No. 9-seeded Creighton in Friday night’s first round match of the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska.

When the pairing was announced during the selection show, the USD players, coaches and fans in attendance at a public watch party in downtown Vermillion went crazy.

“Our whole team was hoping we drew either Creighton or Nebraska, because both atmospheres are super fun to play in, and they’re both great programs,” Loschen said.

Now, the Coyotes (21-9) — in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the Division I era — will get to experience that atmosphere in Omaha. Friday night’s match will be played at 6 p.m. at Creighton’s D.J. Sokol Arena.

“We’ve been watching them this year,” USD senior Taylor Wilson said. “We know a couple of the girls.

“Once we found out we knew we could play them, we definitely started scouting just for fun.”

Based on regional opportunities, there were strong possibilities that the Coyotes could have been sent to Lincoln, Nebraska or Minneapolis, Minnesota, but Omaha was just fine with them, according to head coach Leanne Williamson.

“We were secretly kind of hoping for Creighton,” she said. “There’s some familiarity with the program.

“I do think there will be a decent amount of red in the stands, and we’re excited to play in front of them.”

In total, USD boasts two players from the state of Nebraska: Loschen and redshirt freshman setter Madison Jurgens.

“We have a lot of players from the Omaha area, so we should get a good crowd there, and fans from Vermillion,” junior Anne Rasmussen said.

“A two-hour drive is really not bad, and I think they’ll come out and support us.”

After having beaten top-seeded Denver in the Nov. 18 Summit League tournament final, USD had a week to await its opponent and location for the NCAA Tournament. Now that it’s all settled, the Coyotes can zero in on Creighton, Rasmussen added.

“We have it in our hearts that we can maybe come out with a win,” she said.

Of course, that’s going to be a big challenge.

Creighton (28-4) has reached the NCAA Tournament for a seventh straight season and features many of the players who helped the Bluejays reach the 2016 Elite Eight — including senior outside Taryn Kloth, a Sioux Falls native.

For now, though, USD is excited for the opportunity.

Especially Loschen.

“I think it’s definitely more special,” Loschen said. “We’ll be able to get more fans down there from South Dakota, and for me, having family and friends from back home at the game will be really nice.”

The winner between Creighton and USD will play the winner of Friday’s 3:30 p.m. match between Saint Mary’s (19-9) and Washington (18-2). The second round match will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. at D.J. Sokol Arena.

Denver, the Summit League tournament runner-up, received an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament. The Pioneers will play Utah on Friday. It marks the first time in Summit League history that two teams reached the NCAA Tournament.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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