SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- After being picked eighth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference preseason poll a year ago and finishing their season in the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship quarterfinals, voters were not going to make the same mistake of doubting the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team again.
This season DWU was picked along with Morningside College to win the conference before the 2016-17 season began. The Tigers did not graduate a single player from their roster a year ago and began the season as the No. 3 team in the nation. The season began on a 10-game win streak that resulted in a No. 1 ranking when the first regular season poll came out on Nov. 29, 2016. In their first game as the top team, DWU defeated then-No. 9 Morningside 91-81. The ranking was short-lived, however, as the Tigers dropped two of their next three games to No. 7 Concordia University and No. 14 Hastings College on the road.
DWU returned to its winning ways after reeling off eight consecutive wins. The Tigers hovered between No. 8 and No. 12 for the remainder of the season. The biggest win for DWU came on Feb. 12 against No. 2 Concordia, as the Tigers handed the Bulldogs just their second loss of the season 75-53 in front of a packed Corn Palace crowd. The Tigers finished the season 26-6 and second in the GPAC. They swept through their first two GPAC Postseason Tournament games against Briar Cliff University and Doane University, and they met Concordia for the third time this season in the conference championship game.
The game was one to remember, as the Tigers stormed back to force overtime, losing by one point in the closing seconds. Of the six losses, five of them came against ranked opponents and four of those were on the road. Seven of the victories came against top-25 ranked or receiving votes opponents. The berth in the NAIA postseason tournament marks Dakota Wesleyan's second consecutive appearance and fifth appearance overall. Because the Tigers reached the GPAC championship game and played against the conference winner, they earned an automatic bid to nationals.
The Tigers are the No. 2 seed in their section of the draw at the national tournament. They play the No. 7-seed Milligan College Buffaloes from Elizabethton, Tenn. Wednesday's contest will mark the first meeting between the two programs. The Tigers were led by a plethora of talent, including two All-GPAC First-Team selections, one All-GPAC Second-Team honoree and three All-GPAC Honorable Mention players. Erica Herrold, of Dimock, S.D., was voted to the first team for the second consecutive year. She was second on the team with 11.5 points per game. She also ranks fifth on the DWU all-time scoring list with 1,604 points in her career. Over her career, Herrold has averaged 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. She is joined on the All-GPAC First Team by Ashley Bray, of Anoka, Minn., in her first season with such honors. Bray leads the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game and is second with 5.6 rebounds per game, including just over one steal a contest. She is accurate from the free throw line, as she leads the nation in free-throw percentage at 93.6 percent on the season. Bray notched her 1,000th-career point this season against in-state rival Mount Marty College and has 1,106 in her career, which is tied for 16th in school history.
Rylie Osthus, of De Smet, S.D., is the only Tiger to be named to the All-GPAC Second Team after being named honorable mention a season ago. She leads the team in assists with 4.7 per game and steals with 1.4 per game. Osthus ranks sixth nationally in total assists with 150 and 12th in assists per game. She averages 10.5 points per game, which is third on the team. She scored 10 points or more in 20 games this season and recorded one double-double.
The three teammates named to the honorable mention team were Amber Bray, of Anoka, Minn.; Sarah Carr, of Huron, S.D.; and Kristin Sabers, of Mitchell, S.D. Bray leads the team in rebounds with 176 on the season and is tied with her sister, Ashley, in assists per game with 1.8. In her first season as a Tiger, Carr has made an immediate impact. She ranks eighth in the NAIA in free-throw percentage, shooting 87.2 percent. She is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game and averages 4.5 rebounds per game, which includes a double-double. Sabers averages 8.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. She netted her 1,000th-career point last season in the national tournament and sits at 13th on the DWU all-time scoring list.