South Dakota State Is Ready To Reach New Heights
Last season was a season to remember for South Dakota State, as the Jackrabbits won their first conference championship and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Led by Cylie Halvorson, Grace Glanzer and Tori Kniesche's production, SDSU finished first in the Summit League and knocked off Stanford in the program's NCAA Regional debut.
"It was just crazy, just because it's never been done before," Halvorson said. "To have such a young group of us kind of take over a program and do so well was really cool for us. It was worth it, all of our work we put in all season, it was worth it in the end."
Led by the trio's success, SDSU captured its first Summit League championship, finishing with a 21-1 record in conference play. As a result of the historic season in 2021, all three players took home awards. Halvorson hit .352 with 19 home runs and 59 RBI winning Player of the Year, Kniesche earned Pitcher of the Year honors after posting a 21-2 record with a 1.57 ERA and 186 strikeouts and Glanzer was the Freshman of the Year after finishing with a 19-5 record, a 1.78 ERA and 106 strikeouts.
"We had a ton of girls on our team that made it and probably more that could have, in my opinion," Glanzer said. "But I think it was so much fun to be surrounded by everyone who had such good accomplishments."
The success kept coming for SDSU. After an early loss to Kansas City in the conference tournament, the team rebounded to capture its first conference championship in program history and earned a spot in the Fayetteville Regional. Halvorson said that the team felt no pressure heading into its opening game of the NCAA Tournament against Stanford, which South Dakota State won, because it didn't have anything to prove.
Halvorson and Glanzer played a big part in the victory over Stanford, as Halvorson hit two home runs and Glanzer allowed just one run. The victory was the first regional win in program history and proved SDSU could compete with and beat Power Five opponents.
"I think it not only proved that we're able to compete with them, but that we're able to win against them," Kniesche said. "We can play those big schools, and they don't have to look at us like we're a little team or anything like that."
While all three players had an enormous impact as freshmen, Glanzer and Halvorson are helping build the program as homegrown stars.
"For me, personally, I don't necessarily feel pressure, but I feel the support," Halvorson said. "Everyone here supports you, everyone in Sioux Falls supports you, everyone in South Dakota supports you. So it's really nice that you have people behind you and rooting for you."
For Glanzer, the idea of playing for the hometown school and reviving the program drew her to SDSU.
"I always like a good underdog story," Glanzer said. "With travel ball, our team was kind of the same way, and so I realized that it's not so much about the name. It's about where you fit in, where you love to be at, and that's why I think it's so important to kind of show some of the younger girls that I know and coach that it's not all about the name. You can be a smaller school from South Dakota and go compete with big teams that you see all the time on TV."
Kniesche adds that they're not going to settle and that the three of them will work to get better as the conference improves.
"Now that we have some experience under our belts, we're able to learn from that," Kniesche said. "We did have some failures at times, but we learned from times of failure. We are now more prepared for the next years and will strive for higher goals."
All three will attempt to keep up their success from last season to prevent a sophomore slump and further South Dakota State's progress.
"We won't forget about our accolades and what we did last year," Halvorson said. "But we will move on from it, and just be prepared for a new year because it's not the same year. The same things aren't going to happen, but we're going to just keep improving."