After playing against each other for years in high school, a contingent of Wyoming girls basketball players have joined forces on the court at Black Hills State University.
The eight former Wyoming players comprise almost half of the Yellow Jackets’ roster. And they’ve helped lead a resurgence at the Spearfish, South Dakota, school as Black Hills State (24-7) will play in the NCAA Division II Championship on Friday in Lubbock, Texas. The Yellow Jackets will take on No. 4 seed Angelo State in the South Central Region.
“Those girls are the nucleus of our team,” Black Hills State head coach Mark Nore said. “We’ve found that a lot of our players haven’t received the notoriety that some Division I players get, but having them on our team is an ingredient for success.”
The Yellow Jackets’ top three scorers this season all hail from Wyoming: senior Rachel Erickson from Cheyenne East, freshman Lyndzi Rich from Worland and redshirt junior Julia Seamans from Gillette. The 5-foot-11 Erickson, who leads the team with 12.3 points, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game, was a first-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection. Rich and Seamans were both RMAC honorable mention honorees.
“Rachel is the ultimate competitor,” Nore said. “She is a great leader and she has gotten better every year.”
Erickson was recognized primarily for her prowess on the soccer pitch, where she helped lead the Thunderbirds to back-to-back state Class 4A state titles (2013-14) and was twice named the state’s Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year. Erickson also found success on the hardwood, earning all-state honors as both a junior and senior.
All-state accolades is something the eight players from Wyoming have in abundance as they totaled 17 first-team honors during their prep careers. Sophomores Haley Schneider (Worland) and Hannah Cass (Newcastle) were both four-time selections, while Rich and junior Dani Noble (Cheyenne South) joined Erickson as two-timers. Seamans, sophomore Abby Switzer (Natrona County) and redshirt sophomore Dylan Wright (Sheridan) also earned all-state honors.
“There are a lot of good programs and really good coaches in Wyoming,” said Nore, who is in his 15th year at Black Hills State. “I’ve been able to build relationships with the coaches over the years and I got to see a lot of these girls when they would come to our team camp in the summer.”
That includes the 6-foot Cass, whose high school career was limited by two knee injuries. Those injuries likely played a role in Cass winding up on the Spearfish campus.
“There’s no doubt she was on her way to being a DI recruit when I saw her as a sophomore,” Nore said. “When she’s healthy she does things no one else on the team can do.”
Rich, who teamed with Schneider to lead the Warriors to the 2016 Class 3A state championship, is another player who has flashed DI potential. Despite not starting a game all season, the 6-1 guard finished second on the team in both scoring (10.7) and rebounding (4.9). She was named to the RMAC all-tournament team, where the Yellow Jackets advanced to the championship game before losing to Colorado State-Pueblo.
“Lyndzi understands angles and she has a knack for catching and finishing in traffic,” Nore said. “There are going to be a lot of schools kicking themselves for not recruiting her.”
Their loss is Black Hills State’s gain.
And with Erickson the only senior on the roster, the Yellow Jackets are poised to continue their recent success. Friday marks the second time in three years they have qualified for the NCAA DII Championship after recently making the transition from NAIA to the next level.
“I think we have an idea now what DII is about,” Nore said. “The ball is rolling and I feel good about the direction of the program.”
Especially when the direction is west ... to Wyoming.