Photos Provided By NDSU Athletics/NDSU Archives
These individuals carved out their place in Bison athletic history. September’s issue of Bison Illustrated can also be found here.
There is a certain mystique behind distance runners at North Dakota State. Traveling miles upon miles throughout the cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field seasons, these men and women are seemingly built of iron. The Bison have shown that they are rather formidable in distance running too, with five men’s conference titles and 10 women’s conference crowns.
One cannot begin to speak about the cross country and track & field tradition at NDSU without mentioning Mike Slack in the first sentence. Slack, who graduated from NDSU in 1973 was (and still is) potentially the most talented and accomplished distance runner in the school’s history. It is thanks in part to Slack that the Bison cross country and track & field history is so rich with conference and national titles. Slack set a precedent of greatness in Fargo.
Throughout his decorated career at North Dakota State, Slack accumulated 12 individual conference championships. This included two North Central Conference titles in cross country as well as five NCC crowns in indoor and outdoor track & field.
In 1971, behind the leadership of coach Roger Grooters, Slack helped the Bison to a second-place finish at the Division II national meet. It was at this meet where Slack would become the first NDSU individual national champion in cross country. To date, Slack is only one of three student-athletes to accomplish this feat at NDSU.
It was also in 1971 that Slack competed at the Division I cross country championships. Not only did he place NDSU distance running on the map for the first time, but he showed just how great a runner he was. Slack finished third in that Division I national meet. The top finisher? Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine, who is potentially the most recognized distance runner in history.
As if that showing was not impressive enough, Slack continued to dominate the sport in 1972. While he finished second at the NCC meet in 1972 (and the Bison failed to win the conference title) Slack more than made up for it on the national stage. Running the Chicago Golf Course five-mile course in 24 minutes and 36 seconds (17 seconds short of his own course record), Slack won his second individual national title. On top of that, the Bison won their first and only cross country Division II national title as a team.
The astonishing portion of the story is that Slack was reportedly sick on the day he was scheduled to defend his title in 1972. Further blood tests showed that Slack was suffering a short-term virus, but would still be able to run for a title.
1973 saw Slack and the Bison win the North Central Conference title, but he was unable to make it a three-peat nationally. Still, Slack ended his career as a two- time All-American, a two-time national champion and a 12-time conference champion.
Slack was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1983.
Bob Backlund And Bill Demaray
In 1964, a young, upstart wrestling coach named Bucky Maughan found himself at the helm of North Dakota State’s wrestling program. At the time, the program had never won a North Central Conference title nor had they had any individual national champions. For Maughan, the success of the program relied on the quality of wrestlers he was bringing to Fargo. In just a few short years as head coach, Maughan had two student-athletes winning on the national stage. The rest of this story, you know, as Maughan went on to become one of the most revered figures in Bison athletics.
Those two wrestlers were Bill Demaray and Bob Backlund. To date, they are still widely regarded as two of the best wrestlers to step foot on campus.
Demaray is still one of the most decorated Bison wrestlers. He was a three-time NCC individual champion, winning two titles at 177 pounds and another at 167 pounds in 1970. In 1971, in front of a home crowd in Fargo, Demaray became the first wrestler to win an individual national title in program history. Winning at 177 pounds, Demaray was able to follow up that performance with another national title in 1972.
By the end of his career, Demaray was a three-time All- American thanks to his sixth-place finish at NCAAs in 1970. He completed his Bison career with a 67-7-0 record, a truly astonishing mark when thought about deeply. His .905 winning percentage would have been the best in school history, but
he failed to meet the 75 match minimum by just one match. Regardless, he remains perhaps the best wrestler in Bison history.
As for Backlund, he also captured a national title on that night in 1971. Wrestling at 190 pounds, the burly Backlund followed up Demaray’s performance with a national championship of his own. Despite only wrestling for two years at NDSU, Backlund was able to post an impressive 16-4-1 record. In 1972, Backlund bumped up to heavyweight, where he placed fifth at the national meet.
Backlund was also a stalwart for the Bison football team during his time on campus. Playing defensive tackle for NDSU in 1970 and 1971, Backlund was a starter for those early ’70s teams.
Upon leaving NDSU, Backlund became a household name in professional wrestling. He was a two-time WWF/WWE Heavyweight champion in his near-45-year career. Up until 2018, Backlund was still competing in matches in Japan, at 68 years of age. He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2013 and is still regarded as one of the best technical wrestlers in pro wrestling history.
As for Bucky Maughan and Bison wrestling? He was able to capture 17 NCC titles and four team national titles in his tenure. This also includes 30 individual championships.
Demaray was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall Of Fame in 1982. Backlund was inducted in 1983.
If Mike Slack paved the way for men’s cross country and distance running at NDSU, Nancy Dietman has to be considered the catalyst of distance on the women’s side. Still one of the most accomplished cross country and track & field runners in Bison history, Dietman was also a history-maker. On top of that, her influence on distance running has no doubt attributed to the NDSU women’s success up until the present day.
A native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Dietman came to NDSU as an already accomplished prep runner. However, no coach could have foreseen the amount of success that she would have as a Bison. In her second year on campus in 1983, Dietman was already ranked fourth nationally in cross country. Throughout her career, she would also be ranked in the top four in the 3,000 and 5,000 meter runs two different times.
Rankings do not mean a whole lot if you cannot back it up with top results. Luckily for Dietman and the Bison, she was able to shatter those expectations put upon her. This begins with her historic performance in a conference championship setting. In cross country, Dietman was a two- time NCC champion, taking the title in 1984 and 1985.
As for indoor track & field, Dietman won conference titles in 1,000 meter (twice), 1,500 meter (three times), 5,000 meter (once) and the 3,000 meter (twice). Throughout her outdoor track & field career, she would win NCC titles in the 3,000 and 5,000 meter runs. Her senior season saw her win the NCC Triple Crown, winning titles in cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track & field.
In total, Dietman was a 13-time North Central Conference champion across her cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field careers. Somehow that is only scratching the surface of what Dietman did at NDSU.
She was an eight-time All-American and finished runner-up at the NCAA cross country meet twice in 1984 and 1985. It was at the NCAA Indoor Championships in 1985 that Dietman cemented herself in NDSU’s athletic lore. Competing in the 3,000-meter run, Dietman became the first woman in NDSU athletics to win an individual national championship.
That is a record that will never be broken. It is part of what makes Nancy Dietman such a legendary figure in Bison athletics. She continues to be one the pioneers of Bison women’s distance running and her impact on the program today is surely immeasurable.
Dietman was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall Of Fame in 2001.
There will never be another Kinsey Coles. To this day, she remains one of the most successful student-athletes in Bison history with her accolades and records still holding up today. She was also a perfect conduit to NDSU’s jump to Division I, setting the precedent for the greatness to come in the Division I era.
Coles is a North Dakota native, hailing from nearby Hillsboro. Her Class B background only serves to make her chapter in Bison history that much more impressive. As a true freshman in 2000-2001, Coles won North Central Conference titles in the 500-meter (indoor) and 400-meter hurdles (outdoor). She also received her first All-American honor in the 400-meter hurdles.
That list of victories is enough to make a student-athlete great. Conference titles and All-American honors are difficult to come by. In 2001-2002, Coles not only won another NCC title in the indoor 500, but she also accrued two more All-American distinctions.
Perhaps more importantly, Coles etched her name in the history books as a member of the national champion indoor 1,600-meter relay team. In part, that team’s performance helped guide NDSU to an NCAA Indoor national championship in 2002. That 1,600-meter relay team set a school record of 3:41:48 to win the national title. The Bison as a team ran away with the NCAA championship, winning by 22.5 team points.
Coles continued her crusade to the track & field history books with more monumental victories in her junior and senior season. Over the next two seasons, Coles won two indoor
national titles in the 800 meters and 1,600-meter relay in 2004. In 2003, she won a national title in the outdoor 400-meter hurdles and followed that up with a national title in the 800 meters in 2004. This would make her the last Bison woman to win a national championship in track & field.
Within those two historic seasons, Coles continued to dominate the North Central Conference, piling up title wins at the conference meet. After using up all of her track & field eligibility, Coles continued to a fifth year at NDSU as a member of the cross country team as well.
As her career came to a close, Coles was a 13-time All-American, a 12-time NCC champion (including seven total titles in the 1,600-meter relay) and a five-time national champion. Once her track & field career was over, she held the NDSU school records in the indoor 500 and 600 meters as well as the outdoor 400-meter hurdles and the 800 meters.