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Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press, Published November 05 2009

Dickinson State softball tragedy: Athletes try to cope

DICKINSON, N.D. – Dickinson State track and field coach Pete Stanton sat in his Wienbergen Hall office Wednesday afternoon and looked out the door.

“It’s been a quiet day,” said Stanton, also the DSU football team’s linebackers coach.

Just minutes later, however, doors began opening and football players started rumbling in for 3 p.m. practice.

At DSU, life began returning to normal less than a day after the dead bodies of Blue Hawk softball players Kyrstin Gemar, Ashley Neufeld and Afton Williamson were found inside Gemar’s submerged Jeep Cherokee in a stock pond northwest of Dickinson.

As DSU teams gathered for practice and tried to put the tragedy out of their minds, others couldn’t help but think about their fallen friends.

As the men’s basketball team practiced inside Scott Gymnasium, the women’s basketball team waited outside coach Andre Goldberg’s office.

In the small block of time typically filled with jokes and laugher, few words were spoken. Many players stared into space. Others listened to music on their iPods.

Sophomore guard Kylee Bittner said the women’s basketball team and the softball team are close. Part of that can be traced to Guy Fridley, who coached both teams until he resigned in July.

“Softball and basketball have always been close, especially this last year,” Bittner said. “It’s like we’re one team and we lost our own teammates.”

The DSU men’s and women’s basketball teams have little time to regroup. They host doubleheaders against Montana State-Northern and the University of Great Falls (Mont.) on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Bittner said the weekend may be difficult, but the team hopes to use the tragedy as motivation.

“We’re always going to remember it and that’s going to help us,” Bittner said. “We’re going to go out and play for them because they would have been here watching us just like we would have been here watching them.”

The DSU volleyball team practiced Wednesday night instead of playing its regular-season finale against Minot State, which was canceled Tuesday and will not be made up.

The team hosts a Dakota Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal match

7 p.m. Saturday.

Ryan Platt, DSU’s volleyball coach said the tragedy has been tough on his team. Lindsay Meyer, a member of the DSU volleyball team, was Gemar’s roommate.

DSU’s football team had just finished practice Tuesday when the announcement was made that the three women had been found dead.

It shook the team, DSU football coach Hank Biesiot said.

Some more than others.

Tury Escobedo, an offensive lineman and DSU baseball player who was close friends with the three women, chose not to attend Wednesday’s practice.

“This is a rough time right now,” Escobedo said. “Everyone’s got to come together and just be tough for each other and support each other and play these seasons for the girls.”

Tim Giannotti, a junior quarterback from Neepawa, Manitoba, remembered happier times.

He played high school hockey against Neufeld, who was a native of Brandon, Manitoba. Giannotti and Neufeld both came to DSU in 2006 after attending rival high schools.

“In high school, she was one of the only girls who played boys high school hockey,” Giannotti said with a smile. “She played goalie.”

The Dickinson Press and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.