Jeff Kolpack, Published April 17 2014
New challenge ahead for Bison women's basketball coach
Thursday afternoon, she took her biggest career leap yet: An introductory news conference announcing her as the North Dakota State head women’s coach.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said.
She asked new Bison men’s basketball head coach Dave Richman for advice. An assistant for 10 years at Navy and Penn State, she steps onto the driver’s seat in a bus that hasn’t gotten very far in recent years.
“I’ve spent 12 years in Happy Valley,” she said of Penn State. “The decision to leave was a very hard one. I wasn’t looking to leave.”
Contact wasn’t made between NDSU and Walseth until Penn State’s season was finished – and that wasn’t until the Lady Lions were beaten in the NCAA tournament on March 30 in a Sweet 16 loss at Stanford.
NDSU women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn said the search first focused on the top 25 Division I teams in the country. Of the list of assistants, she was looking for somebody with knowledge of the Midwest. Walseth is from Bloomington, Minn.
“The biggest challenge is we couldn’t get to Maren because of the success of Penn State,” Dorn said.
On the flipside, Walseth has plenty of challenges. Her first, she said, is to get to know the returning Bison players. They had dinner together Wednesday night.
“We laughed. We smiled. It was great,” Walseth said. “There will be some speed bumps but, ‘Girls, we’re in this together.’”
She first met the players last week when she visited the NDSU campus. It was the first order of business after coming from the airport, and Bison guard Brooke LeMar said Thursday the returning players liked her “right off the bat.”
“It’s always awesome for a coach to have us as a priority,” LeMar said. “It was fun to meet with coach on a personal level. It just feels good now that we actually have a coach.”
The ultimate challenge, of course, will be to restore the program to its winning ways. Walseth made a point of a plan to connect to former Bison players – a few of which were on hand Thursday at the Fargodome – and the community as a whole.
When he sat down with Walseth during his portion of the interview, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said he asked one question: What does it take to win?
“I got an impromptu dissertation exactly what it takes to win in Division I women’s college basketball,” Bresciani said.
Walseth said no decisions have been made on assistant coaches.
“To me, finding the right people to surround the program is more important than having people in the seats tomorrow,” she said.
She’s communicated with NDSU’s incoming freshman recruits via text message and plans to get more involved with them in the coming days. She does have scholarship money available for next year, but she said bringing in the “right players” is more important than quantity.
“It all starts with recruiting,” she said.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia