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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Northland CTC Pioneers pick up a pair of national awards

Sarah Durand – Northland (Center / Soph.) Submitted photo.

The honors keep rolling in for the Northland Community and Technical College women’s basketball team.

After winning the school’s first NJCAA Division III national championship in March, the Pioneers picked up a pair of national awards Tuesday.

Sarah Durand was named NJCAA DIII player of the year and Shannon Nelson was named NJCAA DIII coach of the year.

Durand, a 6-foot sophomore center from Warren, Minn., led the Pioneers to a 27-1 record by averaging 23.5 points (sixth-best in the country) and 9.9 rebounds per game.

“Sarah put in a lot of time this offseason,” Nelson said. “She grew so much. Her offensive skills are up there with some of the best. She has a variety of moves with her back to the basket, and she can shoot from the perimeter.”

In the national title game, Durand had 14 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Pioneers to a 69-60 win over defending national champion and No. 1 seed Rock Valley (Ill.).

Durand, who was a co-captain for Northland, plans to play at a four-year school next season. The leading candidates are NCAA Division II Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Moorhead.

Nelson said Durand, who received All-America honors last week, became a leader in her final season with the Pioneers.

“She was reserved and quiet her first season,” Nelson said. “This year she was a vocal leader on the floor, especially later in the season.”

Nelson received the national coach of the year honor in her fourth season at Northland.

Northland entered the national tournament with a No. 7 seed. The Pioneers beat the top three seeds in three days to win the title.

The Pioneers won their final 22 games of the season.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, Nelson was hired by Northland as an academic coordinator. She was later named women’s basketball head coach in 2010.

While with the Gophers, Nelson was a two-year captain and named to the Big Ten all-defensive team in her junior and senior seasons. She led Minnesota to four straight NCAA tournament appearances and a Final Four in 2004.

“My honor comes from the success as a team,” Nelson said. “It’s a nice way to cap it off. Through the whole process of winning a national championship, the girls are getting a lot of attention and notoriety in the community. That’s nice for them to see the hard work come to fruition.”

Tom Miller
Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 10 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 
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