Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Chemistry is one thing the NDSU women have an abundance of. Not one of the players or coaches can deny that the transition in staff brought the team closer together.
“It just brought us closer and it was challenging too because our coach was gone and now we’re waiting on someone else, you really don’t know how it’s all going to turn out,” said redshirt junior Sofija Zivaljevic of the time before NDSU hired Jory Collins to be the next head coach. “The only people you have are your teammates, so that really brought us closer and as of right now, I think we are a much better and stronger group than we were seven months ago.”
On top of that, the Bison only lost three seniors from last year’s team and the returning players all saw extensive minutes in 2019-20. With four freshmen coming in this season, coach Jory Collins is sure to spread the wealth when it comes to minutes.
A key part of this year’s Bison core is the Iowa State transfer Zivaljevic. Coming onto campus at the beginning of last season, Zivaljevic was forced to sit out the first half of the season due to NCAA transfer rules. However, when she became eligible in late December, she became a difference-maker for the Bison.
Her ball handling ability filled a big need for the team. She also proved herself to be a very worthy offensive threat both in the lane and on the perimeter. Zivaljevic played in 20 games last year and averaged nearly nine points per game on 35 percent shooting from the field.
For how good Zivaljevic looked in her limited time last year, she knows she was not at her best. She openly says she was not in the best physical shape last season and looks forward to improving in 2019-20.
“I’m capable of playing way better defense than I played last year. Obviously, I wasn’t in really good shape coming in mid-season, players had been playing. It wasn’t really the same for me because I kind of just jumped in,” she said. “Having a chance to work on my body and get in better shape I think I’ll be much better defensively. Offensively, I can make better decisions and make my teammates look better and myself look better as well.”
Zivaljevic will be the presumed primary ball handler for the Bison starting lineup this season. Those who watched her play last season are aware of how vocal she is on the floor. With that in mind, she looks to assume a leadership role on the team this season. Zivaljevic feels her experiences at Iowa State and overseas have helped her get to this point (Zivaljevic is a native of Podgorica, Montenegro).
“I have some experience playing overseas and being at Iowa State for a year and half of the year here,” she said. “I think I can help this team in leading them in the right direction and helping out the younger girls and making them comfortable.”
In that vein, Jory Collins will welcome four freshmen to the team this year. Ryan Cobbins, Nicole Scales, Emily Behnke and Olivia Skibiel look to make an immediate impact on the floor this season.
Cobbins, a Kansas City, Kansas, native scored more than 1,200 points throughout her high school career. She was also a four-time All-State selection while being a nominee for the McDonald’s All-Star game at Piper High School. Cobbins was deemed one of the state’s top ten players as a senior. The true freshman is poised to play a key role for the Bison this year.
Along with Zivaljevic, NDSU will bring back four other returners from 2018-19. Danneka Voegeli and Cirkeline Rimdal were both staples in last year’s rotation. Reagan Heun and Raquel Terrer Van Gool saw limited action as true freshmen (Terrer Van Gool sat out due to injury), but seem to have forged their way into the lineup.
Voegeli provides a needed post presence alongside Emily Dietz. The junior played in 29 games last year putting in four points a game on 46 percent shooting. She led the Bison to a big early-season win over New Hampshire on November 11 with 16 points and 11 rebounds, the first double-double of her NDSU career.
For all of these ladies, the transition to a new coach can be a little intimidating. Outside of Cobbins and transfers Heaven Hamling and Marie Olson, the entire Bison roster was recruited by Maren Walseth’s staff. Despite being recruited by the previous regime, Zivaljevic and company are already seeing what Jory Collins has planned for this program.
“He’s very passionate, very intense and he knows what he wants from his players. He is very straight-forward and specific, pays attention to a lot of details,” she said. “I think that helps us get better and he’s very similar to the coaches I’ve worked with back home. They’re very detail-oriented, know what they want, so I’ve liked that.”
One thing that has bridged the gap between coaching staffs is assistant coach Morgan Paige. The Wisconsin alum was retained during the transition and elevated to recruiting coordinator as well. She is the only staff member to work with this group for a full season, but the team has welcomed the rest of the coaching staff with open arms. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know the new coaching staff in Jory, Dylan [Geissert], Brooke [Costley], Alyssa [Rushton] and obviously Morgan [Paige] has been here. I’ve enjoyed working with them and I’m really excited about what’s going to happen,” Zivaljevic said.
One date Zivaljevic has circled is November 22 when the Bison take on Iowa State, her former school at the Scheels Center. It is rare that Power Five schools come to Fargo, so Zivaljevic is looking forward to seeing how the Bison stack up with Cyclones. “It’s extremely exciting. Those are Power Five teams are very good teams so it’s exciting to play them and see where we stand compared to those teams,” she said.
The chemistry is there, the friendships have been built and the proper coaching staff seems to be in place. With a wealth of depth at their disposal, the Bison women are ready to take the Summit League by storm sooner rather than later.
Rounding Out The Rotation
#13 Cirkeline Rimdal
Hometown: Køge, Denmark
#2 Reagan Heun
Hometown: Spring Branch, Texas
#33 Raquel Terrer Van Gool
Hometown: Zaragoza, Spain
#10 Nicole Scales
Hometown: Park Ridge, Illinois
#20 Emily Behnke
Hometown: Two Rivers, Wisconsin
#23 Olivia Skibiel
Hometown: Snohomish, Wisconsin
#11 Heaven Hamling
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Previous School: Stephen F. Austin
Will sit out 2019-20 due to NCAA transfer rules
#12 Marie Olson
Hometown: El Dorado Hills, California
Previous School: SMU
Will sit out 2019-20 due to NCAA transfer rules