Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
With the football team’s miraculous run to a third straight national championship, there isn’t always room to highlight other Bison athletes that have been making themselves household names across the country. It was about time we give some winter and spring athletes some love. Here are three Bison athletes that have some amazing stories about their rise to excellence.
Women’s Track & Field
Class: Graduate Student
Hometown: Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Major: Business management with a minor in psychology
The Bison track and field team may have moved out of the Bison Sports Arena and into a beautiful Shelly Ellig Indoor Track Facility, but the success continues. For Deborah John, it has been business as usual this year.
John is running unattached this season, meaning her results have no effect on the Bison team as far as scoring. Even though John is not collecting any points for the Bison this year, over the past four seasons, John has been the fastest women’s track athlete in the Summit League.
The numbers don’t lie. John won three-straight Summit League Indoor
Championships in the 60-meter hurdles. John is only one of 14 women to ever win three Summit League Championships in the same event. She broke her indoor championship’s time in the last indoor meet of 2013, running the 60-meter hurdles in 8.23 seconds. But believe it or not, John didn’t come to NDSU as a hurdler.
“Her freshman year she sprinted for us,” explained women’s assistant coach Stevie Keller. “After her freshman year, head coach (Ryun) Godfrey and I visited about maybe finding more use for her. So we started working with her on hurdles and the heptathlon. Then from there, she picked up on the hurdles extremely fast.”
John spent her freshman season running the 60 and 200 meter dash. But the Bison hurdling coach knew there was more potential left to be tapped out of the sprinter from Trinidad and Tobago.
“I think there was a lot of natural ability there,” Keller said. “For her to run the times she did right off the bat was impressive. Her speed was a key component right away and now as we spend more time with her she’s really been able to focus on the technical side of things.”
[toggle_box title=”Unattached” width=”Width of toggle box”]
- In track and field, you get eight seasons of eligibility (four indoor, four outdoor).
- You can choose to run unattached for one indoor season and one outdoor season and it does not count toward your eligibility (like a redshirt) extending your college career to five years.
- Unattached means you can still compete, but your results and scores do not count toward a team score.
At the 2010 NDSU Holiday Invitational, John ran her first ever 60-meter hurdle event in 8.86 seconds. Then later that same winter, a much improved John blew away the competition, slimming down her time by an astounding .36 seconds, winning her first Summit League championship with running an 8.50 in 2011.
“I’m still working on my form,” admitted John last season before winning her third championship. “I have a tendency to go too high over the hurdles instead so I have to pick up most the race in between the hurdles and make sure I go fast enough.”
Learning the technical side of the hurdles event wasn’t the only challenge John has faced since starting her college career. John is from Port-of- Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, more than 3,000 miles away from Fargo. It usually takes an unusual twist of events that lead international athletes to come to NDSU and this is proven true with John’s recruitment story.
“It’s actually an interesting story,” Keller said. “My coach from Minnesota, Matt Ringle, was recruiting Deborah and some other girls from Trinidad, but he didn’t have a scholarship for her. He kind of referred her to NDSU.”
“I think Deb came in with the right attitude. She had an opportunity to come to the United States and get an education and compete in athletics.” -Stevie Keller
The NDSU women’s track and field team is allotted 18 scholarships each year, and in 2009, one of the scholarships had John’s name all over it. Godfrey recruited John diligently through phone calls and via Skype, finally signing the explosive runner.
John is quick to admit the coaches and atmosphere at NDSU determined her decision to change climates during her college career.
“I love Stevie,” John said. “I love working with him, he understands me. When I come to practice he asks how I feel and based on that he structures the workout to suit me.”
Keller agrees his connection with his athletes is why track is a unique sport, but he gives John all the credit for developing into the best hurdler in Bison history.
“I think Deb came in with the right attitude,” Keller said. “She had an opportunity to come to the United States and get an education and compete in athletics. From day one, I haven’t heard her complain about Fargo or being up north.”
John will be back scoring points for the Bison during the outdoor season as she sets her sights on her hurdling career after college. Keller believes she has an opportunity to run for her country in the World Championships. For John to make the Trinidad team, she has to cut her 60-meter hurdle time to 8.16 seconds. John’s positive attitude is shown when she says she is “keeping (her) fingers crossed.”
Weight Class: 165
Class: Graduate Student
Hometown: Wausau, Wis.
Major: Physical Health Education with a minor in coaching
Bison fans are well aware of the success of their wrestling program, but as far as national recognition goes, Bison wrestling has never experienced the notoriety that’s likely to ensue in the upcoming seasons. Some fans will argue the program landed on the national wrestling map years ago with Bucky Maughan at the helm and his plethora of all-Americans behind him. But since morphing into a Division I program, the wrestling team has witnessed limited success. Until now.
Beginning with the first Bison all- American, Joe McCormick, in 1966, the Bison tallied 172 all-American wrestlers – a list that includes 26 two-time all-Americans, 16 three-timers and seven four-timers.
The Bison were elite and untouchable among the programs at Division II. It seemed the accolades for the prolific Bison wrestling program were stacked to the rafters at the Bison Sports Arena and were only rivaled by the success of the football team.
But in the fall of 2004, the landscape changed when they joined the Western Wrestling Conference, becoming a full-fledged Division I program. Since then, the Bison have only placed a single wrestler on the all-American list.
“If you watch Steve wrestle, he isn’t your standard and typical flashy wrestler. He’s more of on his feet; he is very unorthodox. He does a lot of countering. He’s hard to take down and he scores from down there.” – Bret Maughan.
This season, senior Steven Monk has set out to become the second.
Monk has made it his mission to re-energize the Bison wrestling program, and bring it back to greatness. Monk won’t be the first Bison to claim the all-American prize, but to understand his passion for reaching the wrestling throne, you must understand where Monk has come from, and the resilience he possess within to earn everything he is given.
“If you watch Steve wrestle, he isn’t your standard and typical flashy wrestler,” explained Bison Assistant Coach Bret Maughan. “He’s more of on his feet; he is very unorthodox. He does a lot of countering. He’s hard to take down and he scores from down there.”
Maughan is coaching his 13th season at NDSU, after stints at Bismarck State College and Minnesota State- Moorhead. Maughan also wrestled at NDSU for his father, Bucky, where he was named all-American back to back years in 1990 and 1991.
Maughan brought his all-American expertise to the Bison coaching staff in 2000 and coached under Bucky, when Monk was first recruited.
He recalls his first impressions of Monk were made at the Junior/Cadet Freestyle & Greco-Roman National Championship in the FargoDome and described Monk as a “battler” and someone who “had the intangibles.”
As the Bison coaching staff saw a future star in Monk, recruiting him as early as the NCAA allowed, the rest of the country felt differently about the Wisconsin native and Monk flew under the radar at almost every Division I school.
“I would say everybody in general with recruiting is looking for somebody who goes out there and wins everything,” Maughan said. “He did really well in our eyes of just some of the things that we saw. He could breakthrough and he had all the potential.”
Monk eventually became that breakthrough star the Bison were hoping for during his senior year at Wausau West High School, winning the 2009 Wisconsin state title. Precedence resonated with Monk, who remained loyal to the first Division I program that called him.
Monk committed to NDSU before his senior season.
“They made me feel like they wanted me here and I mean, it fit me in all areas,” Monk said. “Academically it helped me towards my physical education major because that’s what I wanted to do and I liked the city and my former teammates.”
Landing a big-time recruit like Monk was momentous for the Bison and they continued to pursue the best when head coach Roger Kish was hired, bringing the utmost confidence to the program.
There’s no need to dig deep to see Kish’s credentials. He was an elite wrestler at one of the nation’s top programs during his college career. At the University of Minnesota, Kish was a two-time all- American at the 184-pound weight division and finished his polished career with an astonishing 117-27 record.
Kish’s commitment and hard-working mentality rubbed off on his wrestlers, and last season, the Bison finally landed its first all-American, Trent Sprenkle, since turning Division I nine years prior.
Maughan believes strongly that Sprenkle “breaking through the glass ceiling” has brought the Bison into national recognition.
“I think that really, really sprung us up in recruiting,” Maughan said about Sprenkle’s historic achievement. “We’re just continuing to build on that by sticking to our standards and bringing in tough guys with potential, and the work ethic to get it done here.”
Signing tough wrestlers has been the strategy behind the Bison wrestling program and no one epitomized Kish’s hard-working attitude more than Monk.
As Monk looks poised to claim all-American honors this season, Maughan believes the competition he faced at practice day-in and day-out has gone a long ways into Monk’s development.
“He (Monk) had a lot of help into getting to where he is now by getting beat up his first two years by some tough kids ahead of him,” explained Maughan. “He had some really good kids in the room that pushed him and made him pay his dues to get to where he is now.”
Monk’s senior season is nearing the end, and the closer the NCAA Championships become, the stronger he has gotten. Monk has climbed to the number three ranking in his weight division, and not far behind is his team. NDSU is ranked 18th nationally, the highest the program has ever been.
“Monk puts in the time, the hours, and the effort,” Bret Maughan said. “His drive, his motivation is to be the best and he has done that every year.”
“Monk puts in the time, the hours and the effort,” Maughan explained. “His drive, his motivation is to be the best and he has done that every year.”
Monk’s success and the Bison wrestling team’s success are directly correlated. And with talented classes behind Monk, the unorthodox senior thinks the sky is the limit for the wrestling program.
“We’ll continue to climb in the team national rankings and we’ll eventually be a top-10 team and hopefully in the future, contending for a title,” Monk said with confidence. “That’s always the ultimate goal, to win the championship.”
The Bison will always have four national championships at the Division II level to lean back on, but the past is the past and the future is now a program anxious to get back to a familiar place – on top of the podium as the best program in the county.
Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa
Major: University Studies with a minor in business
Men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips hit the recruiting trail to find his basketball team an athletic point guard. Phillips ended up at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., and that is where he found the player he had been searching for.
Lawrence Alexander, originally from Peoria Manual High School in Illinois, averaged 12 points and 4.5 assists per game at the Military Academy.
Alexander made the decision to explore Phillips’ offer to come to North Dakota State, but before committing, he needed to know more about the team and its players that seemed so far away in snowy North Dakota.
“When Saul was recruiting me he was talking about TrayVonn (Wright), saying how he can jump out the gym,” Alexander said. “And I told him I have seen that. But when I came here and saw him (Wright), he just blew my mind.”
Bison senior TrayVonn Wright has lured in recruits from across the region for the Bison basketball program with his pure athleticism on the court and his willingness to take young point guards like Alexander under his wing off the court.
“I have seen some pretty good athletes, but when I came here and saw TrayVonn, I thought he was unbelievable,” Alexander said about his recruiting visit host. “I was looking up to Tray. I mean, I’m not gonna tell him that now (laughs), but I was lookin’ up to Tray, because he showed me what to do and what not to do.”
“Tray is a guy that is grateful for everything he has here and when you have that type of attitude, it allows you to accomplish a lot of things here.” -Saul Phillips
Wright was in a similar situation as Alexander when he arrived at NDSU as a freshman in the fall of 2010. The 6’7” forward hails from Waterloo, Iowa, and when he committed to the Bison, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I came up for a visit and it (Fargo) was a college town,” Wright said. “Like where I’m from in Waterloo, which is right by UNI so I was used to that, there were nice people. I wasn’t expecting much change, besides the weather.”
The atmosphere may have felt right, but Wright said the coaches played a huge role in him choosing NDSU, but the lengthy freshmen still didn’t know where he would fit.
During Wright’s freshman year, the tall and athletic forward was fortunate enough to play big minutes coming off the bench. Wright started coming into his own during his first year and burst onto the scene in his first Summit League game against rival South Dakota State. Wright led the Bison that game in scoring with 15 points, shooting 50 percent from the field, and hauling in 15 rebounds, which is still a career-high. Wright logged meaningful minutes in 2011.
Since Wright’s freshman year, he has improved his scoring and rebounding efficiency every season.
“TrayVonn has turned into an absolute program making defensive and offensive player,” Phillips said. “With his length, everyone prefers his ability to dunk; I prefer his ability to defend.”
Wright has turned in highlight dunks game after game this season, but along with his monstrous tomahawk and put-back slams, Wright has been a show-stopping rim protector on defense.
With his 61 blocks last season, Wright moved himself into third on the all-time careers block list for the Bison, and has led the Bison in that department every season. Wright has now maneuvered his way into second on the all-time blocks list this season, with a chance to catch Jason Wenschlag’s record of 220 blocks, set back in 1993.
Wright has evolved into one of the many stars on the Bison basketball team, all the while passing down the hard work mentality to his point guard Alexander.
Wright may have gotten “a whole different world” by coming to NDSU as he said, but now as his Bison career comes to a close, he has made Fargo his own world.
“I was lookin’ up to Tray, because he showed me what to do and what not to do.” -Lawrence Alexander