Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and Carrie Snyder
Sophomore Rylee Nudell is leading a homegrown renaissance for the women’s basketball program at North Dakota State. The Buffalo native is playing a vital role in Maren Walseth’s rebuild of one of the most storied sports programs at NDSU while paying her respects to her Class B roots.
Pride Of The Prairie: Rylee Nudell
High School: Maple Valley
NDSU by the Numbers
Started in all but two games for the Bison her freshman season and averaged more than five points and three rebound per game.
Class B Legend
You don’t know North Dakota hoops if you don’t know about Class B high school basketball. Year after year, local stars from small towns etch their names in North Dakota sports lore with their performances in the small gyms across the state. Legends begin and names are tied to small towns forever.
One of those names left her imprint at Maple Valley High School and the North Dakota girl’s basketball record books. Bison sophomore Rylee Nudell set the North Dakota state high school record for career points with 3,458 and career rebounds with 1,761. She won the North Dakota Class B Senior Athlete of the Year award in 2016 and led the Raiders to the state semifinals.
Nudell will always have a soft spot for those who witnessed her rise as one of the best girl’s basketball players in the state.
“I miss everything about it,” Nudell said from inside the walls of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex on NDSU’s campus. “There’s still a lot of people in my community who come and watch or say that they watch on TV, so the support is still pretty consistent.”
When Nudell chose to play basketball at North Dakota State in 2015, she was head coach Maren Walseth’s first commitment from North Dakota. Proximity to her hometown of Buffalo was priority number one, said Nudell.
“It was in my home state so that meant a lot,” Nudell said. “Everybody who supported me through high school, my parents, I thought it would be selfish of me to go somewhere a long ways away. Now, they can come, watch and just support the culture.”
Nudell said, after the proximity, the culture built at NDSU was attractive. But she admits now that she didn’t realize the scope of the athletic environment she committed to.
Today, midway through her sophomore season, she understands that being a Bison is about the work off the floor — what she’s doing in the weight room and classroom is just as important as her stats in the box score.
The 5’10” forward is one of four players on the roster from North Dakota. Nudell was joined at NDSU by Fargo Shanley guard Sarah Jacobson last year. The Class A star’s commitment put two of the state’s best high school players on the same roster. The two never played against each other in high school, but it was hard not to compare the two standouts.
“I wasn’t confronted with it a lot but I know my parents were,” Nudell said. “Sarah and I never really thought of it as a comparison and that sort of stuff. I know when we went out to the Lions game in Bismarck, we rode together and people were like, ‘You rode with her!’ And I was like, ‘Uh, yeah. We’re teammates now. We play together.’ So just stuff like that is crazy how the outside world perceives it.”
Nudell and Jacobson are now roommates at NDSU. They’re also starters for Walseth’s team. Jacobson leads the Bison in minutes per game and Nudell is averaging more than nine points a game.
Nudell has found her rhythm after starting in all but two games her freshman season. The combination of her ball-handling skills and size has given the Bison a lot of flexibility with different lineups, playing Nudell in any position they need her.
The elementary education major remains close to her roots. After her History 103 final this December, she drove back to Maple Valley High School to watch her former team play.
“I talk about it with my friends and family a lot,” began Nudell. “I just feel like, not that other people aren’t grateful for what they have, but I feel like people who come from a small town are more grateful with what they have.”
Nudell has shown that gratitude by playing with Class B pride on her sleeve for the Bison. She’s one of the many student-athletes up and down the hallways of the SHAC that are living proof that Division I talent exists in the state, and if you look hard enough, you can find it within the small towns that are considered the fabric of North Dakota.
Questions & Answers With Rylee Nudell
Bison Illustrated: What’s Class B all about?
Rylee Nudell: “I would just say the pride that comes from every little town. All the towns have 200-300 people and athletics are a huge part of the towns. Everyone just goes all out for it. I would say definitely the pride the town has for the school.”
BI: When was that pride instilled in you?
RN: “Growing up I played a lot of basketball. I played with my teammates from my town and then girls I went to school with. I played with them since I was in third grade so you get a little bit of excitement and it builds off of that.”