By Jace Denman
Spring is finally here and so is the time where our neighbors and friends seem to wake from a long winter hibernation. People are now in their driveways and front lawns after what has felt like years. We don’t recognize the neighbor kids who sprouted a few inches since the fall or the new family that moved in down the street. Similarly, the North Dakota State athletic program has been evolving and many things seem unfamiliar.
The Bison changed last winter, but some things remained the same. The men’s basketball team was undergoing changes with a new coach and players in new roles with the team. What remained the same were the results.
Picked to finish fifth in the increasingly difficult Summit League, the men accepted the challenge and new roles the same way the football team had this fall. The Bison were tied for the conference regular season title and went on to win the conference tournament and punch their ticket for their second straight appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament, otherwise known as the Big Dance.
While the Bison haven’t yet won the NCAA Division I basketball championship, they have, much like the football team, built a winning tradition for the program that will reap the benefits for years to come. Not only did the Bison have success that was recognized with a bid into the NCAA tournament, individual performances were awarded beginning with Dexter Werner winning Sixth Man of the Year, Lawrence Alexander earning as Summit League Player of the Year and first year head coach Dave Richman claiming Coach of the Year. All these accolades are another set of awards for an athletic program that seems to add more to its trophy case by the month.
I couldn’t help be proud of all three of the schools from the Dakota’s, since each were not picked to do any better than fourth, while watching the Summit League tournament. Honestly, it was surprising looking back at those preseason projections, especially after the way the Bison and Jackrabbits dominated during the regular season.
In fact, all three were in the tournament semifinals with NDSU taking down SDSU for the title.
The Bison women’s basketball team finished an unsatisfying campaign; however, it was a year of improvement and growth under new head coach Maren Walseth.
Walseth led the Bison to a five-win improvement from last season and the most victories in five seasons. Senior guard Brooke LeMar led the way and was chosen to the All-Summit League first team for her accomplishments. Following her were junior forward Holly Johnson, who was named to the All-Summit League honorable mention team, and freshman guard Taylor Thunstedt, who was named to the All-Newcomer Team. 2014-15 was a great start for Walseth and I believe there will be with many more highlights to come.
While we love watching football and basketball, we should not forget about the softball and wrestling teams this season. The Bison softball team is off to a great start to the season with highlights including wins over five Power 5 conference opponents.
The Bison grapplers have added another conference championship to the hardware collection and sent a school record six wrestlers to the 2015 National Championships.
As this issue of Bison Illustrated hits the stands, the focus will begin to shift back to the football team as it prepares to defend its four-straight FCS National Championships with its spring practices culminating with its annual spring game.
The Bison will have multiple practices leading up to its annual Green and Gold Spring Game on April 25. What new wrinkles will the coaching staff start to implement for its latest title defense? We will have to pay close attention to the position battles and hope for good health come April 26.
What does all this mean? It means Fargo isn’t just the home of championship football teams, but champions in all sports.
Beware the Herd!