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Dustin Monke / Forum Communications Co., Published June 20 2012

Roesler, Dufault, Wong share Dakota Award

DICKINSON, N.D. – North Dakota is not known as a hotbed of NCAA Division I athletic talent.

But in the 2011-12 school year, athletes from the Peace Garden State made impacts at some of the nation’s biggest universities and helped their teams hoist championship trophies on the grandest of collegiate stages.

For their excellence in athletics, three North Dakotans were named the recipients of the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association’s 2012 Dakota Award.

University of Oregon runner Laura Roesler, University of Nebraska gymnast Emily Wong and University of Colorado basketball player Austin Dufault tied for the Dakota Award, which is given to North Dakota natives who excel in sports outside of the state.

In other awards, Grand Forks sprint car driver Mark Dobmeier was named Non-School Athlete of the Year after perhaps the strongest year of his career. The Mandan Chiefs American Legion baseball team was named the Non-School Team of the Year for winning the Class A state championship.

Dakota Award

Roesler, a sophomore from Fargo South High School, won the 800 meters at the Pac-12 Conference track and field championships in May and helped the Ducks win the NCAA championship in the 1,600-meter relay on June 9. Her split in the relay was 51.86 seconds and the team finished in 3:24.54 – a Pac-12 record and the second-fastest time in collegiate history.

Roesler also placed fourth in the 800 at the NCAA championships, running a 2:02.96, a bit short of her personal-best time of 2:02.09.

Up next for Roesler are the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which begin this week at Oregon’s Hayward Field.

Wong, a sophomore from Grand Forks, won the Big Ten all-around women’s gymnastics championship with a score of 39.6 and helped the Cornhuskers to a conference title on March 24.

She also went on to win the balance beam championship (9.875) at the NCAA Salt Lake City Regional and placed 10th at the NCAA national championships on April 22 with a 9.825.

Dufault, a 6-foot-9 senior forward from Killdeer, capped his Colorado career with a bang, helping the Buffaloes make a Cinderella run to a Pac-12 Tournament championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. Colorado beat UNLV in the second round before bowing out to Baylor in the third round.

The four-year starter saved his best season for last, averaging 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. He was named the Buffs’ Most Improved Player and Most Inspirational Player by his teammates.

“Looking back on my senior season, I guess it was kind of like a dream season you could say,” Dufault said. “Personally, I had my best season that I’ve had in college. I played really well. I figured it out a little bit – especially at the new position that I wasn’t really familiar with. Team-wise, just making it to the NCAA tournament was amazing.”

Dufault finished his career with Colorado school records for games played in a career (136) and conference games played (66). He was also part of a senior class that set a record for most wins over a four-year career (72).

“It was one of those dream seasons that you kind of hope to have your senior year,” he said.

Non-school team

Ryne Jungling said last year’s American Legion baseball season was a long time in the making for the Mandan Chiefs.

The Chiefs’ head coach said great play toward the end of the season by a collection of veteran players helped the team capture its first Class A state title in 11 years and a spot in the Central Plains Regional Tournament.

“It was pretty special that in their last year all together, they came out and played as well as they did all summer long,” Jungling said.

The Chiefs finished the 2012 season 35-15, losing only at the Central Plains Region Tournament to eventual Legion World Series champion Eden Prairie (Minn.) and tournament runner-up Carroll County (Iowa).

“When you look at it, you could go and win a state title and then go 0-2 in the Central Plains and we would have been pretty happy,” Jungling said. “But to go there and compete, it told a lot about the team.

“When we came home, somebody said, ‘This isn’t fun. We won a state title and we lost our last game of the season. That’s not fun.’ That really told me they felt like they belonged, which was important to see. They felt like they belonged at the Central Plains and they proved it.”

The Chiefs are the fourth Legion baseball team in the past five years to win the award.

Non-school athlete

Mark Dobmeier established himself as the sprint car driver to beat weekly at the River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks and found big success at some of the nation’s top dirt tracks.

Dobmeier had 18 feature wins in 2011, which ranked second in the nation. He won six of those features at Huset’s Speedway in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he won the season points title.

The Grand Forks racer won a preliminary race and took sixth in the feature at the 2011 Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals – the highest finish in 51 years by a RCS driver.

Dobmeier had feature wins on every circuit he raced.

His win at Knoxville was sanctioned by the World of Outlaws, the nation’s top sprint car circuit. He also had wins in the All Star Circuit of Champions and the and IRA Outlaw Sprint Series.

Dustin Monke is the sports editor for the Dickinson (N.D.) Press