South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston was surprised that his team hadn’t been in the poll for the last 11 years.
He had a lot of really good teams over that time period, but somehow they just couldn’t crack the Top 25. That drought is over as the Jackrabbits entered The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday, coming in at No. 22.
“It’s a great recognition piece and I’m excited for the team,” Johnston said. “Not knowing it had been that long is a good reminder that we don’t over value it either. It’s great recognition and I appreciate the heck out of it and we’ll fight like crazy to stay there.”
The last time the team was in the Top 25 was the 2008-09 season and then stayed in the poll for 10 weeks after first appearing on Dec. 22, 2008. South Dakota State reached as high as 16th in the final poll that season.
Johnston knows how difficult it can be to get top programs to play his team and his squad benefited from some late schedule changes to have the opportunity to get ranked. The Jackrabbits beat Top 25 teams Iowa State and Gonzaga so far this season which helped South Dakota State enter the poll.
“I always felt we had some good teams, this year we beat some ranked teams early. Every November and December we play a tough schedule, but for a team in the mid-major world to be ranked you have to be perfect in those months it seems,” said Johnston, who is 495-166 since taking over the program as an interim coach in 1999-00. “We’ve had a good team in the past, but had some bumps in the road there.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Jackrabbits with their next game at Kansas State on Thursday. After that is a trio of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We’re as good as our last game and that was a good win against Gonzaga,” he said. “We have no easy games coming up.”
The Jackrabbits have been led by Myah Selland. The redshirt junior only played in nine games last year before suffering a season-ending injury. This year she’s averaging 18 points and seven rebounds.
“Myah is one of those elite players that could play at any level in college,” Johnston said. “She’s really talented and is one of those players who can elevate your entire program. We have some really good players around her, people who can make shots. Early on this has the making of a team that has a lot of potential for what we like to do at SDSU.”
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