College women's basketball: Jackrabbits hoping Haleigh Timmer’s breakout continues into NCAA Tourney

South Dakota State guard Haleigh Timmer drives into the paint during a game against Northern Iowa at Frost Arena in Brookings on Dec. 4. Timmer has broken out in her sophomore year, averaging 12.3 points per game. (Andrew Holtan/Brookings Register)

Over the last couple of weeks, Haleigh Timmer has been one of the key parts of the South Dakota State’s offense. The sophomore guard has scored in double figures over her last 17 games and won the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2023 Summit League Tournament.

For most players, it could be peaking at the right time. For Timmer, it could create a unique marketing opportunity.

“Yeah, [it’s] Timmer Time,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston chuckled. “That sounds like a good T-shirt if Haleigh can find a way to market that.”

While it might be early to see Frost Arena filled with t-shirts adorned with her new marketing slogan, we might be able to definite “Timmer Time” as anytime the sophomore guard is around a tournament.

Timmer won a pair of state championships at St. Thomas More and she won two national championships with the North Tartan AAU team in 2018 and 2020. After leading the Jacks to the WNIT title last year and a Summit League championship this season, Timmer’s confidence has only grown and she looks for that to continue in the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable in the offense and getting used to playing with the team and settling in more,” Timmer said of her recent success. “I think I’ve really expanded my game the past couple of years and a lot of that has to do with how my coaches and teammates have helped me.”

The uptick in production started one year ago when Timmer was averaging 6.3 points per game over her first 31 games. While she was trying to adjust to a new level of play, she was also trying to find her role on the team. But once her role expanded, she took advantage of the opportunity beginning with WNIT.

Timmer erupted for a career-high 24 points in the Jacks’ opening win against Ohio on March 17, 2022, and followed it up with a 22-point performance against Minnesota three days later. Over six games, Timmer averaged 16.6 points while leading SDSU to the WNIT title, which served as a springboard into her sophomore season.

Through 33 games, Timmer is averaging 12.3 points this season, but she has turned it on during conference play. Since Timmer’s double-digit scoring streak began against North Dakota State on Jan. 5, she’s averaged 15.2 points per game since and she hit another gear with 17.6 points per game during SDSU’s run through the Summit League Tournament including a career-high 25 points against Oral Roberts on Mar. 6.

“I think Haleigh has always had that in her,” SDSU senior Paiton Burckhard said of Timmer’s performance in the conference tournament. “I’m not surprised that she had the tournament she did and we’ve seen glimpses of that all season. For her to be able to just come out and really just have a phenomenal conference tournament, it was awesome to see. … It will be really fun to continue to see what she can do.”

Johnston also credited Timmer on her ability to build off her freshman season.

“I think I see that a lot where freshmen have really good years or maybe good finishes to a year and in their sophomore year it doesn’t quite pick up exactly where it left off,” Johnston said. “Haleigh went through November and December and had some really big games, but some didn’t go so well and I think it’s a part of growing and maturing as a player. …As the season went on Haleigh’s confidence continued to grow and I thought watching the Summit League tournament, she’s where we thought she would get to this year.”

Fellow SDSU guard Dru Gylten has also noticed a change in Timmer’s play. Gylten has known Timmer dating back to their days in elementary school and was in the crowd to watch her score 15 points in last year’s WNIT semifinal win over UCLA. While her increase in production isn’t a surprise, Gylten said it’s been fun to see Timmer step up to the challenge.

“Just seeing her able to take advantage of the moment and just go with it has been nice,” Gylten said. “I think she is just a competitor at heart and she hates losing more than she loves winning. She’s just always going to give 100 percent so I think watching her this year’s she’s just taken advantage of the moment and she’s played fearless.”

Timmer is quick to deflect credit for her breakout, which has resulted in Gylten has jokingly referred to her as “MVP” during practice, but it’s clear she’s ready for another big moment. The Rapid City native is the daughter of two SDSU alums and is looking forward to the opportunity to lead the Jacks into the tournament – and maybe create her own t-shirt in the process.

“I’ve always dreamed about this moment,” Timmer said of Friday’s opening matchup against USC. “It’s a big deal, but especially last year, not making the tournament just makes it even more special this year. It’s about just taking advantage of the opportunity and making the most of it and I’m super excited.”