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Three times last season, UND had chances to beat South Dakota as the two Division II powers wrestled for control of the North Central Region. Three times, the Sioux let the opportunity for a win slip away. The third loss against South Dakota basically cost UND a chance to host the region tournament -- usually the ticket to reaching the Elite Eight. For UND and South Dakota, there are no more chances to host the regional tournament.
UND is preparing for its second season of Division I Football Championship Subdivision play. The recent move, it appears, has been good for UND's recruiting in Wisconsin. With national signing day two weeks away, the Sioux apparently have received as many as four commitments from Wisconsin high school players. "We had a good recruiting class in the state this year," said Jed Kennedy, the head coach at Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha. "There is a lot of talent.
Since mid-November, the UND women's basketball team has traveled to 16 states, stretching from Vermont to Arizona. Combined, the Sioux have logged 18,240 miles by bus or plane during their first Division I season. There has been some down time for the Sioux during their trips. The down time, however, has been productive for the UND players -- in the classroom. "There's not a lot else to do but study," UND junior Alys Seay said. And the Sioux have studied hard. Their grade-point average during the fall semester was 3.45.
Ashley Hardee had not been to North Dakota before interviewing for the UND head volleyball coaching position last week. But he knew one thing about the region. "There are a lot of kids who play volleyball at a high level in the Upper Midwest," Hardee said.
Nothing comes easy for UND. That's the norm for the Sioux men's basketball team this season, their first in Division I. And it doesn't matter if UND is playing a non-Division I opponent, either. Division II Mary came to the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center on Tuesday. And, like the other non-Division I games UND has played at home this season, this one went down to the wire. UND beat Mary 84-78 in overtime before 2,080 fans, a win that improved the Sioux to 9-6. The Sioux have won four of their last five home games by six points or less.
Mike Roysland is in his third season as the Minnesota-Crookston coach. He inherited a struggling program, but the Golden Eagles are making progress -- evidenced by a 7-7 record as a Northern Sun Conference Intercollegiate program before their game against UND on Tuesday night. UND saw Minnesota-Crookston's progress -- and for a few minutes -- the Sioux didn't like the look. But the Sioux had the look of an experienced basketball team much of the night and managed to post an 82-64 victory in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. "I knew they'd be a good team," UND coach Gene Roebuck said.
There has been a time or two this season when UND assistant coach Travis Brewster tells Sioux senior Kierah Kimbrough to relax and play the game. The advice has helped Kimbrough when she has competed against post players from big-time Division I programs. "One of the things I struggle with is the feeling that I have something to prove," Kimbrough said. "Coach Brew usually talks to me about that. When I worry about that, I usually play worse because I put pressure on myself. If I relax and play the game, I'm fine." Kimbrough has heeded Brewster's advice more often than not this season.
Twenty years from now, the UND men's basketball media guide will list the scores of the 2008-09 Sioux season. One score will read: Texas A&M 76, UND 62. The relevancy of that score, however, may be lost in 20 years. UND's performance at Texas A&M last week could serve as a landmark game for the Sioux, who are in their first season of Division I basketball. UND was a big underdog against the Big 12 Aggies, but the Sioux still found themselves in the game with four minutes to play.
The Summit League will visit the University of South Dakota later this month to gather information about the school's athletic programs -- a move that may open the door for South Dakota to join the 10-team conference. The league, however, has no plans to visit UND because of the school's ongoing controversy over the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. UND and South Dakota both are in their first season of NCAA Division I competition.
After seven seasons as the men's basketball coach at Ohio University, Tim O'Shea took on a new challenge -- one he knew would take time to achieve success. In June, O'Shea accepted an offer to return to his roots and become the new coach at Bryant University, a Rhode Island school that is one of a handful of universities -- including UND -- making the jump to Division I athletics this season. "In my case, we talked about what it would take," O'Shea said.