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Dustin Monke, Published November 04 2009

Dickinson State athletes, coaches honor fallen softball players

DICKINSON, N.D. – Jody Lantz supported herself against a wall and choked back tears following a prayer service honoring the lives of her three Dickinson State softball teammates.

“I never thought I’d ever have to go through this,” said Lantz, a senior third baseman for the Blue Hawks. “It’s just been a struggle. It’s just been a lot of crying, confusion, frustration and my stomach is turning. Now that we know, it’s just horrible.

“No one wanted this.”

Hundreds attended a prayer service to honor the lives of DSU students and softball players Kyrstin Gemar, Ashley Neufeld and Afton Williamson, whose bodies were found inside a submerged Jeep Cherokee on Tuesday afternoon in a stock pond northwest of Dickinson.

The women had been reported missing Sunday night after they reportedly placed two frantic phone calls to teammates.

Forty-three hours later, the DSU Student Center ballroom was standing room only as the service allowed members of the softball team to see just how big of a support group they have in what has been called one of the darkest days in DSU history.

DSU first-year head coach Kristen Fleury, who played two years for the Blue Hawks and had been an assistant coach the past two seasons, said she appreciated the outpouring of emotion but added that the service was a moment she hoped would never come.

“It’s the longest two days of my life,” Fleury said. “It’s been hard for everybody. It’s not a happy ending, but I’m glad we found them and the three of them are above us and now they’re always watching us, and on the field with us, and in the classroom.

“Everything we do, they’ll always be above us.”

In light of the tragedy, today’s classes at DSU have been canceled and tonight’s volleyball match against rival Minot State will not be played. Dakota Athletic Conference President LaVern Jessen made the match cancelation announcement in a press release Tuesday night.

DSU athletic director Roger Ternes said there had been no decision made regarding the weekend’s activities.

The DSU men’s and women’s basketball teams host Montana State-Northern on Friday. Both basketball teams are scheduled to play the University of Great Falls (Mont.) on Saturday afternoon and the volleyball team is scheduled to host a DAC quarterfinal match later that night.

Yet, no matter what happens this week, life will carry on at DSU.

Students demonstrated that Tuesday as many stood in lines or waited patiently to simply give hugs or offer support and condolences to members of the softball team and the families of three women.

Guy Fridley, who resigned as DSU’s head softball coach and women’s basketball coach in late July, said the past two days have been painful.

“There’s no question, there’s a piece of my heart tore out today,” Fridley said.

Fridley recruited both Neufeld and Gemar to DSU, where they quickly excelled and helped build a program that had been having limited success into an NAIA powerhouse and a yearly national-title contender.

Gemar will be remembered not only as a powerful designated hitter, but also a clutch performer who lifted the team to victory more than once.

Fridley said he watched as fans took an immediate liking to Gemar because of her power-hitting abilities. However, he said few realized the softer side she displayed off from the field.

“They don’t see the heart, the character that Kyrstin presented day in and day out,” Fridley said.

The Dickinson Pressand The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.