Feature photo by Paul Flessland
Older photos courtesy of NDSU Athletics
Prior to her current career as head coach for the women’s basketball team at Valley City State University (VCSU), Jill DeVries was the lone senior on a team primed for glory at NDSU. Alongside her teammates in 1991, DeVries laced up her white sneakers and felt the pressure to validate her last season in front of a championship crowd of more than 7,000 fans.
Fun No Matter What
With victory on the line, DeVries and her team, led by head coach Amy Ruley and assistant coach Kelli Layman, stormed out of the locker room only to be sent right back in. Before they could go on to take home NDSU’s first women’s national championship title, the Bison would have to wait for the third-place game to finish in overtime.
“At that point, we had a conversation in the locker room that had absolutely nothing to do with basketball,” DeVries said when looking back on the monumental moment. “It probably just lightened the mood to the point where we could go out and have fun.”
Describing her as having one of the longest and strongest three-point shots of her coaching career, Amy Ruley coached DeVries for her basketball career at NDSU.
As captain for the 1990-91 season, DeVries drew on her big sister mentality to guide the colorful cast of athletes, spring boarding the program to unprecedented heights for years to come. She would eventually be inducted into the NDSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007 and her 1991 national championship team would become the first-ever women’s team to be inducted into NDSU’s Hall of Champions in 2011.
“She was fun to coach as a student of the game enjoying the strategy as well as the entertainment value,” Ruley said about DeVries. “She enjoyed threading a pass and creating a scoring opportunity for others as much as she did scoring herself.
Presently in her 17th year as head coach for the women’s basketball at VCSU and also serving as assistant athletic director, DeVries still enjoys creating scoring opportunities, only this time from the sidelines. Approaching 300 career wins as head coach, she is the winningest Vikings coach in the program’s history, instilling an ironclad hunger for success and guiding the program to their first NAIA National Tournament appearances in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017.
“I’m proud of what we’ve built, it’s taken a lot of energy and there have been a ton of changes,” said DeVries about the tight-knit program she’s developed during her time at VCSU.
2016-17 was riddled with challenges for the VCSU program. Even with players sidelined with torn ACLs, stress fractures, broken ankles, feet, and even pneumonia, DeVries maintained a competitive edge.
Jill DeVries hoisted up the 1991 National Championship trophy after dominating the game as the lone senior on the team.
“It’s been a bizarre year, but we won 24 games and we can’t complain,” DeVries said. “They have persevered beyond anything that I could fathom as a coach or human being so I’m very proud of them.
Even in the midst of such a rocky season, DeVries’ 2016-17 team won two games with only seven players in uniform, proving a culture of determination can overcome any adversity. The women’s basketball team also received a bid for the 2017 NAIA National Tournament and went up against the only unbeaten team in the country, Southeastern University, in the first round of the Division II tournament.
“It is no surprise at all that Jill has established a highly successful women’s basketball program at VCSU,” said Ruley. “In every respect, Jill has been a student of the game. She starts the year with a group of individuals and ends the season as a confident and cohesive team.”
Playing the role of parent and coach, DeVries’ father helped shape her basketball career before stepping into the Bison spotlight.
The impact Ruley had on DeVries’ professional career would continue to guide her far beyond the college court she dominated. DeVries’ coaching career started at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as a graduate assistant under Carol Hammerle. While finishing her master’s degree at NDSU, DeVries served as a graduate assistant for Amy Ruley during the 1995-96 national championship campaign and 1996-97 season, experiencing more victory as a Bison.
Before arriving at VCSU, she served as a top assistant and recruiting coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. In her tenure at UNK, the Lopers were 52-8, two-time RMAC champions, and advanced to the North Central Region Tournament both years.
Keep On Striving
A native of Glyndon, Minnesota, DeVries had success as a two-time Class A All-State selection while at Glyndon-Felton High School. As the oldest of three, her passion for basketball was partially formed by her father, who even now continues to push and encourage her.
“My father was a huge basketball influence,” said DeVries. “He coached, taught me the game, and allowed me to play against the older kids. Always a big supporter, and comes to many games now or watches them online.”
With the help of her teammates in 1991, DeVries plowed a path of program culture that is still followed by athletes and coaches today
DeVries found ways to further her basketball skills by playing driveway hoops and going up against the college guys and older men at open gym in Glyndon. The same drive and dedication can be seen on her face at VCSU, with support at games from fans and athletes of all sports.
“It’s funny, people say there have been these huge changes in coaching in the past 25 or 30 years, but ultimately kids are the same,” said DeVries. “I mean nobody goes out on the basketball court, football field or the ice rink and tries to fail. Every kid is trying to be as good as they can be.”
During her time at VCSU, DeVries has coached 18 All-Conference performers, four Honorable Mention All-Americans, 27 NAIA ScholarAthletes, and received the 2011 DAC Coach of the Year. Among the countless awards and honors she’s acquired, DeVries values the mentors who guided her, like Ruley and Layman, and continues to build relationships, like Holly Jones, who DeVries is engaged to be married to in May of this year.
Even with enough high praises and accolades to fill a book, DeVries’ crowning achievement might just be two sentences from Coach Ruley: “She had one of the longest and strongest three-point shots of any players I was fortunate to recruit and coach. She is competitive in a positive way and brings out the best in those around her.