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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 30 2012

Schnepf: Friday provides great setting to reminisce about NDSU-UND glory days

Fargo - There was a time when people would sit in the rafters to watch North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota play each other in women’s basketball.

True story.

“I remember seeing two young men straddling the beams,” former NDSU coach Amy Ruley recalled of a game that drew more than 7,000 fans in the Bison Sports Arena. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this place is full.’”

That was hardly the case Friday night in the BSA, where NDSU and UND renewed its women’s basketball rivalry after an eight-year haitus. The fire marshals had no worries as 2,709 fans watched UND claim a 73-63 win.

“Actually, when I walked in here, I was expecting a few more people,” said Nadine Schmidt, one of nearly 40 former Bison players who attended to game to honor Ruley at halftime.

That ceremony was a refreshing reminder of just how good NDSU and UND women’s basketball used to be. And with the BSA crowd being one of the largest during head coach Carolyn DeHoff’s five years at NDSU, it proved these teams should be playing every year.

But if anything, this game was a true barometer of how much the women’s basketball programs at NDSU and UND have fallen since the glory days in which both schools combined to win eight of nine Division II national titles in the 1990s.

“Taking nothing away from these teams, but I think we could’ve competed just as well,” Schmidt said.

That is an understatement. Those NDSU and UND teams displayed Division I talent long before the two schools opted to leave Division II. But in defense of the current programs, that Golden Age of NDSU-UND women’s basketball will probably never be equaled again.

Those teams were so good, they attracted national media attention from CBS and Sports Illustrated magazine. Ruley and UND coaching counterpart Gene Roebuck combined to coach 30 All-Americans and totaled nearly 1,300 wins.

Those teams were so good, they attracted crowds as large as 7,500 – often outdrawing the men’s teams. The average attendance for an NDSU-UND women’s basketball game from 1991 to 1999 was 5,815.

NDSU averaged 866 fans last season. UND averaged 1,608 last season.

Does Ruley ever wonder how some of her teams would have fared at the Division I level?

“You wonder but I don’t know if it really matters,” Ruley said. “We were at a point where we were getting kids who were being recruited by Division I schools. There was more interest in terms of media and interest than even some of the Big Ten schools. When we brought kids in and they saw all that, it really didn’t matter to them if it was Division I or Division II.

“It was pretty high profile. We were in a unique situation.”

Back in the 1990s, there were no AAU teams for the NDSU and UND recruits to display their talent nationwide. Does Schmidt think she and other standouts may have ended up at a Division I school instead of NDSU had they had the chance to play all over the country?

“More than likely,” she said.

So now, it’s up to DeHoff and UND coach Travis Brewster to lure in the talent that used to have fans hanging from the rafters.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com