In season of adversity, Rylee Rosenquist powers DWU women into Sioux City

Mar. 19—MITCHELL — Throughout the Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball season, there have been moments in which the Tigers have fought through adversity, making way for the players to step up in big spots.

No one exemplifies the Tigers' season more than Rylee Rosenquist, who has also performed at a high level essentially on one foot.

Having torn two ligaments in her right ankle prior to the start of the season, the sophomore out of Dakota Dunes admitted it was hard to fathom her injury during a developmental year for her skills as a player at the beginning. Upon overcoming the initial dissatisfaction, it was back to work.

"That's been a major thing in my head is I just got to play through it," Rosenquist said. "The coaches are constantly reminding me (over the season) that I really can't make it worse. They're already torn ... once I kind of got over the mental part of it, it hasn't changed my game much."

Rosenquist has been through a lot of rehab with the Tigers' trainers to help build strength in her right ankle, getting it stronger as the season progressed. She'll have surgery to repair the torn ligaments in her ankle at the conclusion of DWU's run in the NAIA tournament.

In the mean time, Rosenquist has stepped up with the spotlight at its brightest. She turned in a career-high 36 points on Friday, March 15 in the round of 64. Rosenquist followed it up with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds the next day, helping the Tigers topple No. 5 Clarke (Iowa) to reach the round of 16 for the first time since the women's tournament was expanded to 64 teams. The Tigers are back on the court at 1 p.m. Friday against third-seeded Cumberlands (Ky.) for a spot in the national quarterfinals.

Due to the injury, a lot of work in practice this season was figuring out a new approach to playing basketball, as Rosenquist learned to execute her skill set differently. Even a simple skill such as jumping had to be relearned given her limitations, but Rosenquist never used her ankle as an excuse during practices and games.

"Rylee's found a different way to help her team out," Tigers head coach Jason Christensen said. "That's when you learn those parts of the game and understand what your weaknesses are to make them better. You become a steadier player, and that's what she's done."

Rosenquist has also found a way to elevate her game through the learning process. This season, she has averaged career-highs in points (10.3), rebounds (5.1), and assists (2.2) in 31 games for the Tigers, including 15 starts. Rosenquist also earned Great Plains Athletic Conference honorable mention honors for the second year in a row.

While Christensen points to her improved free-throw shooting, as Rosenquist is 78.6% from the foul line compared to 69.3% last year, she points to her rebounding as a big improvement, part of defensive adjustments and overall learning to become the steady hand in the Tigers' lineup.

"Rebounding is going to make a difference in the game," Rosenquist said. "We just emphasize that we box out, have discipline on fundamentals, work for each other, do it for your teammates because that one board could make the difference."

While her performances over the last two games are notable, Rosenquist simply wants to win.

"I think winning was the ultimate goal and we accomplished that," she said. "It wasn't just me that accomplished that. It was the team working together ... we wanted to win and we went out there and did everything we could to win."

Wanting to win is second nature, as Rosenquist grew up in a family that thrives on competition. Her father Randy Rosenquist led the University of South Dakota men's basketball team to the Elite Eight in Division II multiple times in the 1990s. Her brother Randy Rosenquist Jr. won back-to-back state championships with Dakota Valley and was recently named GPAC freshman of the year for the DWU men.

Even in a game as simple as playing cards, the competitive spirit comes out in Rylee, which Christensen says drives the rest of the team to reach that level. She also responds to challenges well, coming from anyone around the floor.

"The start of that first game (in Dubuque), there was a girl that got chippy with her and kind of pushed Rylee's buttons," Christensen said. "And she goes off and scores 36 points. She responds to stuff like that, and she's a fun kid to coach."

DWU heads to Sioux City, Iowa for the round of 16 in the NAIA tournament this weekend. For Rosenquist, it will be a de facto home game for the Tigers, as she grew up and played minutes away from the Tyson Events Center, the site of the remaining rounds of the tournament. Remembering the college basketball games she went to as a little kid just across the border, the opportunity will be special to those around her.

"Growing up in the area, I went and watched these games ... the fact that we are going and the amount of family and friends that have reached out, it's exciting," Rosenquist said. "It's going to be awesome to play a home game basically for us."

Above all else, her determination on the court and being challenged by those around her has helped overcome the adversity Rosenquist and the Tigers have faced throughout the season. It's a trait that's led DWU to being only one of 16 teams left in the tournament, and for the players to enjoy their current run.

"The one thing I want to take away (this season) is I just want Rylee to be happy," Christensen said. "There's a lot of kids that wouldn't be able to do what she's doing ... on top of it, she's playing on one foot."

As for the rest of the season and beyond, DWU plans to keep proving to themselves they can go out and compete with the best of the NAIA.

"We were an underdog this season, and I think a lot of people doubted us," Rosenquist said. "But we pushed through, we shocked people, and we beated a lot of teams that might've doubted us ... we're going to continue to do it and we're going to go and shock the world."