MORGANTOWN — Dawn Plitzuweit and Kyah Watson have had success in the NCAA Tournament before, and now West Virginia’s coach and redshirt sophomore guard will try to repeat that with a new program.
Plitzuweit and Watson made it to the Sweet 16 last year with South Dakota before the duo arrived in Morgantown, and will now try to help the Mountaineers advance in the Big Dance.
WVU is scheduled to play a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Arizona at noon Friday at Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland.
“I think the excitement for this time of year is something that’s really special,” Plitzuweit said Monday. “Every year you go through it, it’s special. For this group to be in a position to play in the Big Dance is something that is really exciting.”
Plitzuweit is no stranger to postseason play.
In her 15 seasons as a head coach prior to her arrival at WVU, her teams reached a postseason tournament 14 times, including four NCAA Tournament berths in six seasons at South Dakota.
Under Plitzuweit’s lead, the Coyotes compiled a 158-36 record and won three regular-season and three Summit League Tournament titles. She was the league’s Coach of the Year three times.
Prior to that, Plitzuweit was the head coach at Northern Kentucky from 2012-16. The Norse played in the Women’s Basketball Invitational all four years. She also spent five seasons at Grand Valley State — her first head coaching job — and led the Lakers to a Division II national championship in 2006.
“I just think her and the coaching staff do a pretty good job of preparing us for the opponents that we’re playing and just making sure we go into every game playing hard and have that goal as a team to be in the postseason, the NCAA Tournament,” said Watson, who spent two seasons with Plitzuweit at South Dakota before following her to WVU. “Having that in the back of our heads helps, too, for motivation.”
The two are coming off a successful run in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
South Dakota won its third straight conference tournament title and entered the event as a No. 10 seed. The Coyotes opened with a 75-61 victory over Ole Miss at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas, where they upset No. 2 seed Baylor two days later on the Bears’ home court.
South Dakota’s run came to a close in the Sweet 16 with a 52-49 loss to Michigan in a game that was tied with 22 seconds left.
“I think ultimately your young ladies have to be really excited and really hungry, and I think our young ladies will be. I do,” Plitzuweit said. “I think last year we were a 10 seed, too, so in some way we are the underdog at that point in time because that’s what our seeding tells us that we are. So that’s who we are. Now, let’s go out and let’s battle and let’s compete.”
After the season, Plitzuweit became the sixth coach in WVU history. Watson followed her coach, and now the two will try to take lessons from last season into this year’s tournament.
“I probably would say [it will take] just playing every game as hard as you can,” said Watson, who has started all 30 games for WVU this season and averaged seven points and five rebounds. “Going into the tournament, you don’t really know if it’ll be your last game, so just focusing on that one game and doing what you need to do [is important].”
WVU was unsure of its postseason status following a buzzer-beater loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals last week, but saw its name on the screen Sunday during the selection show.
The Mountaineers had played their best stretch leading to the conference tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, with wins in five of their final seven games. The selection committee ultimately deemed WVU deserving of an at-large bid, so now the Mountaineers will prepare for Arizona, while Plitzuweit and Watson will aim for another postseason run together with a new team.
“Every experience is new, it’s different and you’re learning a whole new group and trying to bring everyone together and trying to teach a new system, but also modify your system to fit the players that you have,” said Plitzuweit, whose 19 wins are the most for a first-year coach in Mountaineer history. “Throughout the course of the entire season, I think our coaches have really been diligent about trying to continue to work on basic, simple fundamentals to help us get better and, at times, we’ve seen that.
“We’ve seen our young ladies really grow and play well down the stretch, and that’s going to be, hopefully, important for us to build upon now that we have a chance to keep playing.”