UND title teams took little time to celebrate before pitching in for flood fight
In the span of eight days in late March 1997, UND won its first NCAA Division II women's basketball national championship and its sixth NCAA Division I men's hockey title.
The city celebrated.
The Herald proclaimed Grand Forks as "Title Town" in a headline.
But the euphoria didn't last long.
A couple of weeks after bringing Grand Forks national championships, the women's basketball and men's hockey teams were frantically trying to save the city from the raging Red River, sandbagging for countless hours and eventually scattering out of town.
"We were just enjoying ourselves, we had been done for a couple of weeks," said UND men's hockey forward Jay Panzer, a Grand Forks native. "All of the sudden, it is the reality of, 'This is my house. This is my neighborhood. This is my town. Everything is going under water. How can we stop it? There's no way to stop it.'
"It cut short what would have been a pretty fun spring and summer. It changed everyone's plans, and everyone went their separate ways."
Tiffany Pudenz Mannausau, a driving force behind UND's first women's basketball title, called it overwhelming.
"We won it, then the hockey team won," she said. "Then all of the sudden you are helping people in crisis. There was the high of winning, then the low of seeing people struggling to save their homes."
The women's basketball national title came on March 22 in front of a home crowd in Hyslop Sports Center — the last time the Division II Elite Eight was played at a home site.
The town packed Hyslop and cheered on UND as it grabbed the national crown from rival North Dakota State with a 94-78 win over Southern Indiana.
The day after the women's basketball team won the title, the men's hockey team beat Cornell 6-2 to earn a trip to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee.
On March 27, UND topped Colorado College in the semifinals and, two days later, it beat Boston University 6-4 to win the national championship.
"We came back the night after we won and the airport was packed with fans," the team's leading scorer, David Hoogsteen said. "We ended up having a celebration, and the flood did not hit for two or three weeks later. We had time to celebrate with the team, with the town and with the fans.
"But it really turned quickly from a celebration town to a brace-for-the-worst town."
A team effort
The players halted their celebrations and began the fight to save the town.
Panzer spent most of the time by the Riverside neighborhood, where his parents lived.
"All of our team was out there at some point, whether it was Riverside or Lincoln Park or somewhere else," Panzer said. "Everyone was doing their thing somewhere."
Kevin Hoogsteen and men's hockey teammate Darcy Mitani went 36 hours straight, trying to save homes on the 2600 block of Chestnut Drive.
Former UND player Tim O'Keefe's parents lived on that block.
"I asked Kevin several times if we needed to check on David and (Kevin's) rental just off University Drive near the old St. James High School," O'Keefe recalled. "Kevin always told me not to worry, and Darcy and he kept plugging away."
Eventually, on April 20, they were able to get to the Hoogsteens' apartment, but it was already under water. They lost all of their memorabilia, including David's NCAA championship watch.
"Kevin and Darcy were quietly among the flood heroes for us," O'Keefe said. "Kevin and David never complained about what they lost, rather they felt sorry for others. If the truest of character comes out in crisis, Kevin Hoogsteen and Darcy Mitani are champions in more ways than on the ice."
Pudenz was sandbagging with teammate Sheri Kleinsasser near the Olson Drive neighborhood just south of Lincoln Park, when water started to spill over the sandbags.
They were told it was no longer safe to sandbag, so they retreated to their apartment behind Burger Time.
The next morning, someone knocked on their door, telling them it was time to evacuate.
They each went home.
"We lost everything in the apartment, but luckily for us, it was a college apartment," Pudenz said. "It was all cheap furniture and stuff."
UND President Kendall Baker called off classes for the rest of the year and allowed students to take the grades they had at the time. If they weren't happy with their grades, they had the option of coming back later and taking finals.
Most athletes accepted the grades they had at the time.
It took a few weeks before they were able to come back to Grand Forks.
Pudenz and Kleinsasser let their apartment managers trash everything.
"It smelled horrible in there," she said.
Panzer spent the summer pumping water out of the basement at both his parents' and grandparents' homes.
"I was going back and forth for ... I don't know how long," he said.
David Hoogsteen, who was out of town when the dikes failed, returned to Grand Forks in the summer to help people clean up.
'Sense of community'
"The community and the people always had positive vibes, even through the chaos and craziness of losing what they built up for years," David Hoogsteen said. "One thing hockey players miss most when they move on is the sense of community. You saw it in 1997. Through the worst of times, this community was sticking together.
"Why I still come back there and why I will continue to support that program is the simple fact that people who live in that city, and people who call UND their team, are truly one of a kind. I saw it firsthand. As bad as it can be, in the worst moments of their lives, they were still positive. They were more interested to talk about the national championships and scoring goals than they were about the homes they just lost.
"If it happened again, and they needed help, I'd get in my car and go back and help as much as I could."