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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 27 2012

Schnepf: NDSU has taken a patient approach

Fargo

It has been said many times that patience is a virtue.

If that’s the case, then Carolyn DeHoff and Lynn Dorn should be considered saints.

As the head coach of a downtrodden North Dakota State women’s basketball program, DeHoff has patiently dealt with injuries, illnesses and defections during her four years in Fargo.

As DeHoff’s boss, Dorn has patiently watched one of the nation’s most successful women’s programs deteriorate to back-to-back losing seasons – something that hasn’t happened here since 1979.

“It is so important for me to be patient right now,” said Dorn, NDSU’s women’s athletic director for the last 34 years, who saw DeHoff’s team beat Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis on a buzzer-beater Monday night to finish the regular season with an 11-19 record.

The comeback win prompted DeHoff to join her players in a mass celebratory hug. And during postgame interviews, DeHoff couldn’t fight back the tears – especially after watching her team rally with two of her starters watching from the sidelines with crutches under their arms.

“It’s been hard,” a tearful DeHoff told one interviewer after the game.

Yes, the Bison women will take a two-game winning streak into this weekend’s Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. They may have to play without the two injured starters: Abby Plucker, the only senior with experience, and Jamie Van Kirk, arguably NDSU’s best freshman.

But even with all the misfortunes that has plagued DeHoff’s program, there have been plenty of Bison boosters wondering what the heck has happened to NDSU women’s basketball. This isn’t the same program that won five Division II national titles during Amy Ruley’s 29 years. This isn’t the same program that routinely drew more than 2,000 fans – sometimes outdrawing the men.

Monday night, there were less than 400 diehards in the Bison Sports Arena.

“People are disappointed. There are frustrations,” Dorn said last week. “We know these fans have high expectations. But you want to be in an environment that values winning. Winning defines who we are. I fully understand that.”

With two years left on her contract, is DeHoff’s job in jeopardy?

“I am very supportive of Carolyn DeHoff being our head coach at North Dakota State University,” Dorn said. “Do we have to be good next year? Yes. But I believe that we can be.”

This is where all that patience comes into the picture.

Dorn and DeHoff believe next year’s team can be better with this year’s six juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen who all saw extensive action.

Will they be good enough to compete with the Summit elite like Oral Roberts, newcomer South Dakota and South Dakota State – a powerful program that embarrassed the Bison 10 days ago 88-43? Will they be good enough to improve upon a 247 RPI ranking out of 342 Division I schools?

Dorn said when the season ends, she and DeHoff will comb over their improvement plan, evaluating the recruiting process from top to bottom.

“I don’t think there is a question she can recruit and she can assess talent,” Dorn said of DeHoff, who came to NDSU with lofty recruiting credentials as an assistant at Utah. “We have a challenge ahead of us and it may not turn around as quickly as we want it to.”

There certainly is a precedent of being patient.

It was only a few years ago when South Dakota State men’s coach Scott Nagy was on the hot seat. Now his team takes an impressive No. 2 seed into this weekend’s Summit League tournament.

And it was just less than three years ago, Bison football coach Craig Bohl was feeling the heat after a 3-8 season. Now Bohl’s Bison are still relishing a national championship.

“It certainly has been a lot of learning for me,” said DeHoff, who has 55-61 record at NDSU. “Good, bad or indifferent, we want it just as bad as the fan base wants it. I’m not the most patient person.”

Yet, hopeful that patience can be a virtue.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be

found at www.areavoices.com