Photo by Great Falls Tribune/Larry Beckner
Lindsey (Graham) Gustafson was one of the best two-way players in Bison softball history. You could argue she was the best pitcher period, but what she brought to the plate for four years at NDSU was invaluable, too. Now she has taken the lessons she learned at NDSU from 2001 to 2006 and turned her high school team into one of the best in Montana.
Hailing from Great Falls, Montana, Gustafson thought her life was going to continue in Fargo after spending six years at NDSU earning her master’s degree and grad assisting with the softball team. She went home after receiving her second degree from NDSU and landed a teaching job at her old high school, C.M. Russell. Being a three-sport star at her high school, she was selected as an assistant coach for the softball team after her dad retired.
Four years later, she took the reins of the program. She led them to a Montana state championship last season and they’re well on their way back this spring. We caught up with the pitcher who recorded the most strikeouts in Bison history to see how she ended up back home and what she learned during her years at NDSU.
No. 1 – Lowest Earned Run Average (1.11)
No. 1 – Lowest Opponent Batting Average (.177)
No. 1 – Most Strikeouts/7 innings (8.43)
No. 3 – Most Wins (95)
No. 3 – Most Appearances (137)
No. 3 – Most Complete Games (107)
No. 1 – Most Shutouts (49)
No. 3 – Most Innings Pitched (846)
No. 1 – Most Strikeouts (1,019)
No. 10 – Highest Slugging Percentage (.539)
No. 9 – Most Home Runs (25)
You didn’t plan on having a career in your hometown, but here you are at your old high school. What’s attracted you back home?
“I love my job. I teach high school health and physical education. I’m the head softball coach and so this is a passion of mine, and I just love working with the kids. I get paid to work out with them every day, so what’s better?
“Great Falls is a wonderful community to grow up in and now that I have a child and my husband and I have started a family. We love it here. You can go traveling, hunting, skiing, fishing; it’s just everything. I love Montana.”
You were passionate about renovating the softball fields at the Multi-Sports Complex in Great Falls. What happened with that?
“They’ve done two of the four (fields). It’s about $30,000/field, and so we were fortunate the park and rec department did one and our school district did another. The goal is to do the other two next year. That’s where I grew up playing. They are so old, the dugouts are old and tiny. I want to bring tournaments and things to Great Falls and just to make our complex more appealing and better for the kids.”
You were the best pitcher and one of the best hitters on the team while you were at NDSU. Why don’t we see many players doing that anymore?
“You look at Major League (Baseball) and pitchers just don’t hit. They just work on pitching, and I think in college, that’s what your emphasis is. They want you to be this big stud, this horse. For me, I was always a hitter, and I was a three-sport athlete in high school, so I think that made me more well-rounded and now athletes are more single-sport athletes, maybe? And their focus is just on pitching or things like that.”
When you look back at your time at NDSU, what sticks out to you?
“I think my amazing coaches and my teammates. We had so much fun and we had a little family. I’m really grateful for the coaching I had there. And they taught me so many life lessons that I’ve carried through my coaching and the relationships that I’ve built with my kids. It’s not just about softball. It’s about so much more to life and being grateful for how they taught me how to be a good person and softball is just a minor thing in life.”
What did it mean to be a Bison softball player back when you played?
“You were a blue-collar kid that just worked your butt off in this tiny gym in the BBF (Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse) while you’re going to play southern teams that got on their field all the time. We just had this blue-collar work ethic where you did everything possible to get better every day and there are no excuses. You worked hard, and I think that’s Bison Pride, too. Just get after it every day.”