Carley Duffney's timely emergence was inevitable for USD women's basketball team

The redshirt freshman has stepped in to fill holes for the injury-plagued Coyote team.

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Red-shirt freshman Carley Duffney during a recent University of South Dakota basketball game against North Dakota State.
Contributed / University of South Dakota

VERMILLION — Only a series of misfortunes could put a college basketball team in the situation the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team finds itself in these days.

Five players who were going to be counted on to make significant contributions are on the sidelines with injuries. A few got hurt before the season and a few more since then. More than likely they’re all done for the year.

Compensating for that demands a broader definition of responsibilities and a hardy attitude for making the best of it.

On that count, versatility is going to be a coveted quality to have. This means that a 5-10 redshirt freshman forward such as Green Bay, Wisconsin, native Carley Duffney, who was also a prep volleyball player and set the school record at Preble High School for the 300 hurdles, might be asked to shore up an area that wouldn’t have been part of the coaching staff’s plans for her back in August.

“We’re asking a lot of our players to play out of position right now,” said USD coach Kayla Karius. “We’ve had to ask them to slide over and guard different positions. For Carley, that meant she matched up against their point guards at the start of the game against Omaha. It just felt like the best matchup for us. As the game went on, she guarded their four and then later on she guarded their 6-3 post. She’s athletic enough to guard any spot on the floor.”


In addition, and just as important, Duffney has provided robust support on offense in recent weeks. She has scored in double-figures her last five games with a season-high of 22 points in a win over Omaha last week, establishing herself as the Coyotes’ second-leading scorer after Grace Larkins, who leads the team with a 17.9 points-per-game average.

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Red-shirt freshman Carley Duffney has been a solid contributor for the University of South Dakota women's basketball team.
Contributed / University of South Dakota

What we’re seeing is a freshman who has become a solid and versatile defender and has evolved into the Coyotes’ first scoring alternative after Larkins. Couple that with three more years and there is plenty to be excited about for USD fans.

Her emergence this year was inevitable but likely sped up some by all the injuries. Over the course of her life as a basketball player, however, there has been nothing speedy about getting to where she is now.

In truth, this has been a long wait. Two years of missing games would be a long wait for anyone but especially sluggish for someone who can’t play basketball at all her final year of high school then becomes a college freshman who sits and roots on her teammates on game days.

“Things are going awesome,” Duffney said. “It feels really good to be out on the court playing in games again after those two years. It’s a lot different than practice, which is also fun, but not quite the same.”

Duffney tore an ACL the summer leading into her senior season after she’d committed to USD. She heard from former Coyote coach Dawn Plitzuweit, who assured her she still had a scholarship, but the rest of it was very difficult. She averaged more than 16 points a game and earned conference player-of-the-year honors as a junior at Preble and then sat. She was not yet back to full-speed when she arrived at USD.

What do you do in a situation like that? If you’re Duffney, you take on the same attitude USD collectively is taking on this year with all the injuries. You make the best of it.

“My senior season was when COVID was really hitting its peak,” Duffney said. “My team didn’t play a lot of games and when they did play they had to wear masks. I tried to see the positive side of that – that if this was going to happen to me, this was the best year it could have happened.”


The rehab came at a slow pace by design. A complete recovery was going to take precedent over expediency.

“When I first got back on the court, it was like ‘I’m nowhere near how good I used to be in high school,’” Duffney said. “It kinda made me nervous that I wouldn’t get back to that, but the more time I’ve had on the court the more comfortable I’ve been.”

She remembers calling her parents at the beginning of workouts this season on a day when the team had made conditioning drills part of the practice. Afterward, she had good news.

“I felt like I was fast again,” the former hurdler said. “I told them I finally feel like I’m as fast as I was before I got hurt. It was a big moment for me.”

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Red-shirt freshman Carley Duffney during a recent University of South Dakota basketball game against Drake.
Contributed / University of South Dakota

She was back in business. When you’re away from something that means that much to you, every part of it becomes a reason to celebrate.

“It was weird — you forget what it’s like to go into a game and feel nervous about it,” she said. “Last year as a redshirt I knew I wasn’t going to play so it wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking. It really put a lot of things in perspective for me to realize how much I really enjoy playing the game and all the other things that come with it that I didn’t get to do for a while.”

Like a great percentage of people who grow up in Green Bay, what happens to the NFL team that plays there is a big deal. Everyone in the U.S. has people in their lives who zealously follow a pro football team, but it’s something else to have so many of them so tightly clustered in one community.

“I’ve been wearing Packer stuff since I was born,” she said. “It’s every Sunday during the season — everybody is in their house watching the game or they’re at Lambeau watching in person. When they play a big home game, I feel like I’m missing out a little bit because all my friends will be at the game.”


She has new friends, however. That includes teammates and, to a certain extent, a whole town. The small-town vibe of being a recognizable athlete works for her.

“I like knowing everybody around me,” Duffney said. “You have a family with the basketball team but this whole community feels like a family. I’ll be at a store and have someone come up to me and tell me I had a good game or want to talk about the next game. It’s pretty cool. I’ve never been in a community like this before.”

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