By Jeff Kolpack, Published May 19 2009
Big-time wins put Bison on national mapThe celebrations at midcourt and midfield – the result of signature wins in North Dakota State’s short Division I history – just got company over the weekend. You can add a celebration near home plate.
NDSU’s NCAA Regional softball championship over the University of Tulsa put the program on the same page as a football victory at the University of Minnesota in 2007 and two men’s basketball wins – a 2006 upset at the University of Wisconsin and The Summit League title in March that put the Bison in the NCAA tournament.
“Hopefully we brought the same excitement,” said head softball coach Darren Mueller.
The Bison defeated the University of Oklahoma, the seventh seed in the 64-team tournament, in the semifinals.
Wisconsin was ranked 15th in the Division I men’s basketball poll when the Bison beat them on a January day in Madison, Wis.
“This is big, I don’t know if people quite understand it,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “There are 64 teams just like basketball and to win the regional, it’s huge.”
The Bison advance to the Division I Softball Super Regional against Arizona State on Friday and Saturday. The winner of the best-of-3 series, which will be televised by ESPNU, advances to the College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.
For decades, NDSU lived in a Division II world. Now the school is being mentioned in the same sentence as Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona State. Of the 16 teams remaining in the softball tourney, only NDSU and Jacksonville State (Ala.) are so-called mid-major schools.
“We were looking at the bracket last night on the plane and that’s when it kind of hit me,” Mueller said. “I saw who’s all in there. Words can’t describe it. It’s crazy.”
There are other big wins that perhaps fall a notch below the signature label. The Bison women’s basketball team defeated the Gophers in the 2006-07 season, the same year the men’s basketball team knocked off eighth-ranked Marquette.
Last year, the Bison baseball team beat the Gophers in two of the three games. Last fall, the NDSU volleyball team qualified for the NCAA tournament with a Summit League title.
Individually, middle distance runner Laura Hermanson’s march through the 800-meter run in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials ranks up there. Hermanson, wearing a North Dakota State uniform, made it through two preliminary rounds to reach the finals.
But the softball win puts the team in one of eight Super Regionals. With ESPN paying attention, it’s when the sport really goes national.
“To not only win a game but to win the regional, certainly it’s one of the highlights of our existence in Division I,” Taylor said. “It would be like our basketball team beating Kansas, Dayton and maybe winning one in the Sweet 16.”
Kansas defeated NDSU in the first round at the Metrodome. Had the Bison won, they would have faced the University of Dayton (Ohio).
There is no “could’ve, would’ve” with the softball team. This weekend, they’re there.
“I think it’s really a proud moment for us to see the university being represented at that level,” said NDSU women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn. “And we’re being represented by quality student-athletes. They’re dreaming the dream and living it. Remarkable. A remarkable run for these kids.”
Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the WDAY Golf Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia