When talking about the elite programs in women's basketball, South Dakota State generally isn't included in the conversation.
The Jackrabbits are in elite company, however, as one of just 20 teams in the country to have reached the NCAA Tournament the past five seasons.
"It's not something that many people get the chance to do," SDSU senior guard Ashley Eide said of reaching the Tournament all four years of her career. "We're very excited about that and we're just trying to take it to the next level now and really take advantage of the opportunity that we have."
Seeded 13th in the Norfolk Region, the Summit League champion Jackrabbits (25-7) will face fourth-seeded South Carolina (24-7) on Saturday at Coors Events Center.
SDSU has built quite a resume of success under head coach Aaron Johnston. He took over the program with six games left in the 1999-2000 season and has a 315-106 record with the Jackrabbits.
Johnston led the Jackrabbits to the Division II national title in 2003. After that season, SDSU made the transition to Division I. This is now their seventh consecutive postseason appearance as a Division I school, including Women's NIT trips in 2007 and 2008.
"I think it has to do with the coaching staff and the players - just recruiting good players and people that have a hard-work mentality and instilling that in the program," Eide said. The coaching staff is just very good. They know what they're doing and they know how to get their players to play the best."
While the Jackrabbits have enjoyed their streak of NCAA Tournament appearances, they are hoping for a longer stay this time around. They are 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament and have been bounced out in the first round the past three years.
"We need to come into it with a different mentality this year," senior center Katie Lingle said. "Rather than just being happy to be a part of the field of 64, I think we've set our goals a little bit higher for ourselves this year. That's probably the biggest change for us."
SDSU isn't likely to be intimidated by facing a Southeastern Conference foe. The Jackrabbits have quality wins this season against Nebraska, Middle Tennessee and Georgetown. They played Penn State, ranked No. 8 in the last Associated Press poll, to a 10-point game on the road in December.
The Jackrabbits have played solid defense all year, but also have several players who excel on offense. Eide (13.9 points per game), Megan Waytashek (13.8) and Lingle (8.9) are all go-to scorers. SDSU has four other players averaging at least 4.8 points per game.
Johnston knows that getting past the Gamecocks won't be easy, but he also knows his team has a chance.
"We told our team that we'll have to play great, but we're capable of playing great," he said.
South Dakota State is 4-0 against the SEC since the 2004-05 season, going 3-0 against Alabama and 1-0 against Kentucky. Johnston expects a decent chunk of SDSU fans in the stands Saturday. "There are a lot of alums in this area," he said. "We've always had a good following with women's basketball."
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