Connect with us
Subscribe Today!

Women's Basketball

Burckhard savoring final season with SDSU

South Dakota State University’s Paiton Burckhard, center, looks for a teammate during last year's WNIT Championship game at Frost Arena in Brookings. Photo by John Davis taken 4/2/2022

BROOKINGS – For six years, Paiton Burckhard has experienced the highs and lows that come with collegiate-level basketball. Now, she wants to internalize one last dance.

Burckhard, an Aberdeen Central graduate, recently set a new South Dakota State women’s basketball record for most career games played, and along the way ran through a gamut of emotions.

There was the high of an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance as a sophomore. There was the frustration of an NCAA tournament snub a year ago. There was the uncertainty of the Covid season, the sweetness of a WNIT championship in front of a home crowd, and the anticipation of one last NCAA tournament appearance this week.

“My whole career here has been a very special one,” Burckhard said. “I’ve gotten to play with some awesome people, made some awesome friends, played in some pretty special games. To think it’s all coming to an end, it’s crazy.”

Burckhard and the Jackrabbits are coming off an undefeated Summit League season and a postseason Summit League tournament title, regaining the crown they haven’t worn since Burckhard’s freshman season. They’ll head to the NCAA tournament as a ninth seed, and Burckhard is just trying to live in the moment one last time.

“That’s the fun of it, right?” Burckhard said. “You just get to soak it all in. See who you play, where you go.”

It’s a fitting cap to a career that has seen Burckhard settle into her spot in Jackrabbit lore. She has played in 163 career games, a feat that heads a top-five list that includes other South Dakota natives Myah Selland and Macy Miller.

She’ll add at least one more to that total next weekend.

“That number, oh my gosh, that’s a lot of games,” Burckhard said.

But the overwhelming emotion for Burckhard when she looks back on that many games is gratitude. 

Grateful, she said, for the opportunity to play close to home, to play with teammates that became friends, and to play for a fanbase that added an extra bit of sweetness to every step.

One of those steps was last season’s WNIT championship run with every game, including the title tilt, played in Frost Arena.

Paiton Burckhard poses with the WNIT championship trophy after South Dakota State defeated Seton Hall in the title game last spring in Brookings. Photo by Dave Vilhauer

“That was something nobody is going to forget, playing that WNIT in the Frost,” Burckhard said.

It was a balm of sorts, soothing an NCAA snub they didn’t feel they deserved.

“Obviously it was a little sad that we didn’t make it (to the NCAAs), but after that, we set our minds that, well, there’s only two women’s basketball teams that can finish off the season with a win and we want to be one of them,” Burckhard said.

It’s also part of why Burckhard came back for one last run.

“I just wasn’t ready to be done,” she said. “Coming off that WNIT championship, I just knew we had a special team. I still felt like I had some gas in the tank to give, so why not? I’m not going to have a chance to do it again.”

South Dakota State University’s Paiton Burckhard, right, looks to go up with a shot under the basket as Seton Hall’s Andra Espinoza-Hunter, left and Sidney Cooks, back center, defend during last year’s WNIT Championship game at Frost Arena in Brookings. Photo by John Davis taken 4/2/2022

Mission, then, at least in part, accomplished. The Jackrabbits have won 21 straight games heading into the tournament, tied for the third longest active streak in NCAA women’s basketball.

“Obviously, you don’t know that when you’re making that decision,” Burckhard said. “You’re just really going out every game and giving it everything you have.”

Burckhard and the Jackrabbits will take on eighth-seeded Southern California in Blacksburg, Va. Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Purchase a Photo

Browse By Category

Browse By Month

More in Women's Basketball