Two student-athletes from the University of South Dakota who graduated from area schools were named South Dakota Athletes of the Year by the University of South Dakota’s Athletic Department on Friday, June 25.
2016 Rogers High School graduate Hannah Sjerven, a redshirt senior center for South Dakota’s women’s basketball team, was named the Catie Tobin Female Athlete of the Year. 2019 Elk River High School graduate Zach Kopp was named the Dr. John Van Why Male Athlete of the Year.
Sjerven is the second-consecutive women’s basketball player to be named the Catie Tobin Female Athlete of the Year. Sjerven’s former teammate, guard Ciara Duffy, was the Catie Tobin Female Athlete of the Year in 2020. Kopp becomes the first Coyotes swimmer to win the Dr. John Van Why Male Athlete of the Year Award since the late 1990s.
Sjerven said that she is honored to receive the award and that it means that South Dakota’s athletic programs have depth.
“It’s really cool,” Sjerven said. “On the women’s side, there are a lot of good athletes, too, that easily could’ve [received] this award.”
Sjerven transfered from the University of New Mexico to South Dakota following her 2016-17 freshman season and sat out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Sjerven transferred to South Dakota after former Lobos head coach Yvonne Sanchez, who recruited Sjerven out of Rogers High School, was fired after the 2015-16 season. She played 13 games in 2016-17 under current New Mexico head coach Mike Bradbury, scoring 37 points with 24 rebounds and nine blocks and didn’t think playing for the Lobos would be a good fit. In 2018-19, she played 34 games for the Coyotes, scoring 146 field goals, four three-pointers and rebounded 199 shots.
Sjerven said she wanted to play for a campus closer to Minnesota with a family culture than ran a motion offense.
“I came to USD on a visit and within 4-5 hours, I had decided that this was going to be the place that I go to finish out my college career,” she said.
Coyotes head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said Sjerven is a winner at the highest level.
“She is someone who has developed a great deal during her time at the University of South Dakota and is a great example to what it can look like should you decide to put everything into it and be [an] incredibly hard worker and incredibly coachable,” Plitzuweit said. “She had done those things to an extreme level since she’s been here.”
In two seasons with the Coyotes men’s swimming team, Kopp has been a freestyle swimmer. In 2020-21, he was named the Summit League Men’s Swimmer of the Year and Men’s Swimmer of the Championships after leading South Dakota to the program’s first Summit League title in April. He won the 50-yard freestyle during day one of the 2021 Summit League Swimming and Diving Championships on Thursday, April 15, at Hulbert Aquatic Center in West Fargo, North Dakota. He finished first in the 100-yard backstroke during day two of the Summit League Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday, April 16.
Kopp said he was shocked when he was named the Dr. John Van Why Male Athlete of the Year for 2021.
“I knew I was in contention for it,” Kopp said. “There was a lot of other great male athletes up for it, too, so I wasn’t expecting to get it. It was awesome. I had a handful of people reach out to me at once, saying, ‘Congratulations,’. I got a call from my parents. I picked up the phone, and I was like, ‘What’s going on right now? Why is everybody reaching out to me? My parents [said], ‘You got Athlete of the Year.’ It was an exciting way to find out.”
Coyotes men’s and women’s swimming head coach Jason Mahowald said he wasn’t surprised that Kopp received the honor of being South Dakota’s Male Athlete of the Year for 2021. In addition to coaching Kopp, he has also coached his older brothers Ben Kopp and Nick Kopp.
“He’s a great athlete and he’s a great person,” Mahowald said. “He comes from a great family. He does the work it takes to perform at his best. He’s not a person who’s into the individual accolades or anything like that. He’s into swimming fast and wants to swim fast. Fortunately for us, those accolades come along with all that hard work that he does to do it. It’s a huge honor to be named an Athlete of the Year like that. That’s a great honor to have.”
Before coming to South Dakota, Zach swam for the Elk River High School boys varsity team and was a member of five consecutive Section 8-2A regular-season championships under head coach Denise Green from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Kopp was a two-time All-American in the 1,500-yard freestyle during his 2017-18 junior season and his 2018-19 senior season and was a captain in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Green said Zach was already an important part of the Elks when he joined the team for his eighth-grade 2014-15 season.
“[Zach] was a great role model for everyone on the team in and out of the pool,” Green said. “[He was] a competitor, but kind, cared about everybody and [was] very coachable. For some of his eighth and ninth-grade years, he was a distance swimmer. He came to us and said, ‘You know, I want to do the sprints.’ [Assistant coach] Doug Bloom and I said, ‘Well, if you want to do the sprints, we’re going to have to change up your stroke up a bit. It’s going to be hard and he worked hard at the sport to get where he wanted to be.
“It doesn’t surprise me [with] how well he’s doing in college. I’ve been in touch with him and his parents [Steve and Melora Kopp]. It’s been a joy to watch his success continue.”
Sjerven graduated from South Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. The NCAA granted all Division I Winter 2020-21 athletes an extra year of elegibility due to COVID-19, so although she has already graduated, Sjerven will get to play one final season for the Coyotes in 2021-22.
Sjerven said her goal for 2021-22 is for South Dakota to win the Summit League regular-season championship, win the Summit League championship and win a first-round game of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Division I basketball tournament, better known as “March Madness.” South Dakota made the first round of the 2019 NCAA Division I tournament during her redshirt 2018-19 sophomore season, but the Coyotes lost to Clemson 79-66 on Friday, March 22, 2019, at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Mississippi. South Dakota’s 2021-22 regular season begins on
Friday, Nov. 12, against South Carolina at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The time of the game has yet to be determined.
“That’s [winning an NCAA tournament game] something that we haven’t been able to do yet,” she said. “I would like to give confidence to the coming classes and become more versatile this year.”
Heading into his junior season, Zach said he wants to enjoy his 2021-22 season as much as possible. He said COVID-19 has taught him to appreciate the little things in life.
“You don’t know when it’s going to stop,” he said.