With a mixture of new and returning talent, the Bison women look to improve on last season’s 11-16 record.
Following an unfortunate defeat in the Summit League tournament, Head Coach Jory Collins and his team aim to bounce back in the new campaign. A key component to this goal is senior guard Heaven Hamling. Hamling was instrumental to the Bison last season, averaging 14.4 points a game, shooting 42 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. This success earned her a spot on The Summit League’s Preseason All-Summit League First Team. When asked about her impact on the team, Coach Collins praised Hamling. “Her passion for playing, and the joy that she practices with is really contagious on our team, and she is just a joy to coach.”
A noticeable part of Hamling’s play was the number of minutes she played last season, averaging 34.3 a game. The number of minutes was no problem for Heaven, as she accredited it to simply being part of her game. However, Hamling playing nearly all forty minutes every night is not the approach the team wants to carry into this season. Both Hamling and Coach Collins talked about reducing her minutes down to a comfortable 25-26 range. Collins notes that the change is, “not because she can’t do it. But we would sure like her fresh this year at the end of February, going into March.” Collins said this change is possible due to the impressive depth the Bison boast rolling into the season. Even with reduced minutes, Hamling should continue to be critical to the Bison’s success.
While Hamling looks to continue her dominance, new stars aspire to emerge from the Herd. Junior forward Emily Behnke looks to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Coach Collins praised Behnke. “With her mindset and her maturity, she has made the biggest jump I’ve probably had in a four-year period.” With this high praise, fans can expect Behnke to make her presence known for the Bison this winter.
Another highly touted returning player for the Herd this season is junior guard Abby Schulte. She is a consistent, steady piece for this Bison and Collins praised her on-ball defense, saying that she is, “One of the best in the (Summit) League.” Bison Nation should keep an eye on Schulte, as she will make a big leap this year for the Herd.
Over the past offseason, the Bison lost six key pieces including star forward Emily Dietz. This change does not seem to faze Collins and the coaching staff, as they are optimistic about the skill and depth of the many newly acquired pieces the Bison picked up.
One of the most impressive acquisitions is 5th-year graduate student Taylor Brown. Brown joins the Bison after four years at American University in Washington D.C. The forward brings veteran leadership to the forward position, having won conference championships and leading her team to an NCAA tournament appearance. Brown is one of eight newcomers for the Bison this season, joining Kristina Ekofo Yomane, Abbie Draper, Elle Evans, Marwa Bedziri, Abby Graham, Leah Mackenzie, and Georgia Baldwin. Collins spoke very highly of Brown, calling her an instrumental piece for the team. “We brought Taylor in to bridge the gap,” Collins explained. “Dietz had played for five years, and we have some young bigs that we really like, but we needed somebody to bridge the gap between their development and Dietz, and Taylor does that for us.”
Dietz’s presence is not that far gone, however, as she has been brought in as a graduate student manager to complement the Bison’s offseason coaching staff overhaul. This overhaul sought to patch some missing holes that impacted the team last year. These changes include assistant coaches Jaime Adams and Michaela Crall.
This is Adams’ second stint as an assistant coach for the Bison, as she was an assistant under head coach Carolyn DeHoff from 2008-2012. Adams also played for the Herd from 1997-01. Crall arrives fresh from Dubuque as an assistant coach.
Coach Collins believes he has made the correct moves to fill out the team. “It went about as good as it could for us,” Jory said, “Our two new coaches have been phenomenal. The people that we decided to bring in, both freshman and transfers have fit in as good as we could hope for.”
With so many newcomers, teams may find it hard to gel and unite the locker room. The team had the opportunity to take an off-season trip to Greece in August. Over the course of this trip, the team created a tight-knight bond, while getting many extra practices together, before the official practice season started. Hamling enjoyed the experience. “We connected really well, so we got an advantage over everyone else,” Hamling said. “Just really getting after it right away in the summer can really help out our team this year.” These early bonds and early practices should be beneficial for the Bison over the course of the grueling season ahead.
Hamling spoke of a chip on the shoulders of the team to start the year. “Last year we weren’t where we wanted to be,” Hamling explained. “I think everyone coming in realizes that.” The team looks to improve on last year’s record, believing that the team can be “right up there” with the leaders of the Summit League.
Regarding the schedule, the Bison will start the season, on November 7th facing the Grizzlies of Montana, a rematch of a heartbreaking game last season, in which Montana sank a last-second jumper to win as time expired, 65-63, shocking the crowd in Fargo.
Another notable game comes on November 17th, as the Bison host the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, giving NDSU a chance to prove itself against a Big Ten powerhouse.
Perhaps the most daunting games of the season come against the Herd’s bitter rival in South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits return most of their roster, three of which were named to the Summit’s Preseason All-League First Team, in addition to earning a pre-season #23 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25. The Bison battle the Jacks on January 5th in Brookings, S.D., and February 4th in Fargo. Student tickets for all home games are available at www.gobison.com/Students.