Tradition & History

Tradition Of Greatness: Bison Firsts

The backstory behind some of NDSU’s most historic teams.

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Learn about some of the most historic teams in Bison history and their backstory. September’s issue of Bison Illustrated can also be found here.


1965 Bison Football

1965 football team captain (from left) Gene Gebhards, Ardell Wiegandt and Lowell Linderman.

Football at NDSU has always been the hottest ticket in town. Whether it was braving the bitter cold to witness a game at Dacotah Field or sliding into your seat inside the Fargodome, Bison football has always run through our community. Outside of a few instances here and there, the Bison have always been one of the most competitive football programs, regardless of what conference or division they are in. This is evident in the program’s 16 national titles.

However, one can assume that this level of greatness on the gridiron does not happen without first laying a foundation. In the case of Bison football, that foundation was laid by head coach Darrell Mudra in the early 1960s. Taking the helm of NDSU football in 1963, Mudra helped lead the Bison to some successful campaigns in 1963 and 1964. However, 1965 was when the foundation for championship tradition was built.

1965 was the year North Dakota State won their very first national championship in football. Going a perfect 11-0 on the season, the Bison found their way to Pecan Bowl and a date with Grambling State for the title.

First, NDSU would have to get through a tough non- conference and NCC slate. This began with a dominant 59-20 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the season opener. From there, the Bison continued to dismantle opponents, with only two regular-season games ending in a one-score differential. Among these impressive affairs was a 66-8 win over South Dakota and a 41-13 win over South Dakota State. The closest game the Bison had all season was on Homecoming against North Dakota. A rough and tumble game saw the Bison prevail 6-3.

1965 Bison football.

Football was different in 1965. Spectators were treated to several battles in the trenches as compared to the air raid, pass- happy game we see today. For reference, NDSU quarterback Terry Hanson threw for 548 yards on 77 attempts in 1965. The workhorses were running backs Ken Rota and Vance Conner. Both Rota and Conner tallied over 150 carries on the year with Rota racking up 857 rushing yards. On top of that, Rota was a touchdown machine, finding the endzone 14 times in 1965.

Taking on Grambling State for the national title, NDSU’s defense was what shined. They limited Grambling State to just 97 total yards with their only score coming on a kickoff return. In the end, Ken Rota’s 96 rushing yards and a touchdown was a difference-maker for the Bison, who won 20-7.

Celebrating on the field in Abilene, Texas, North Dakota State football was on the map and they haven’t fallen off since.

1991 Bison Women’s Basketball

For Bison women’s basketball fans, the wait for a national title opportunity was well worth it. With coach Amy Ruley taking the reigns in 1979, it was not until 1991 that the Bison women won their first national title. However, from 1979 until 1991, Ruley was able to coach NDSU to three North Central Conference championships. This included a Division II Final Four appearance in 1988.

Once the 1990-91 season came along, the Bison women were hungry and ready to prove that they belonged on the national stage. What ensued will forever remain one of the best seasons in Bison basketball history, men’s or women’s. North Dakota State went a staggering 31-2 on the season on their way to a national championship game appearance against Southeast Missouri State.

Coach Ruley and the Bison had the Midwest buzzing and the attendance numbers are a showcase of that. In the two rivalry games against North Dakota, the two teams welcomed in a total of 13,594 basketball fans. One of NDSU’s two losses on the season came against North Dakota, who snapped a 14-game NDSU winning streak at the time. The other Bison loss came on the road to Augustana in early January 1991.

Legendary head coach Amy Ruley.

Outside of those two losses, the Bison women were firing on all cylinders in 1990-91. A large reason for that was their potent offensive attack. NDSU scored over 80 points in 25 of their 33 games, scoring 90 or more eight times and passing the century mark twice. This included an unbelievable 118- 77 win over Northern Colorado on February 2.

This offensive onslaught came thanks to a balanced approach by the Bison. NDSU had four players average double figures in scoring led by Jill DeVries and Nadine Schmidt, who each averaged 13.8 points per game. Ruley’s club was also shockingly efficient with the shots they took, shooting an impressive 48 percent from the field over 33 games. This included a 34 percent clip from long range.

So when the Bison arrived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for the Division II Final Four, one had to wonder who was going to stand in their way. The answer was nobody. In the national championship game against Southeast Missouri State, sophomore Jodi Buck paced the Bison with 19 points. Buck was one of five Bison in double figures. By the game’s end, NDSU had shot a staggering 54 percent from the field.

From there, Ruley and the Bison would go on to win four more national titles in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

1981 Bison Volleyball

Kathy Stoll (right) played a big role in NDSU’s first NCC title season.

NDSU volleyball enjoyed great success throughout their time in the North Central Conference. With 12 NCC titles, including five straight from 1988 to 1992, the Bison commanded the league as soon as they joined in 1979. However, it took a few seasons before they were able to call themselves conference champions in 1981.

Coached by Bison volleyball legend Donna Palivec, NDSU won 29 matches in 1979, their first year in the NCC. In 1980, they went a formidable 26-14 in match play. However, that 1980 Bison team tasted what it was like to succeed in tournament time, winning four matches at that year’s NCC Tournament before falling to top-seeded Northern Colorado. The writing was on the wall for the rest of the conference to see: the Bison were coming.

So it should come as no surprise to see how well the Bison performed in 1981. Compiling a 41-11 record throughout 1981, NDSU was poised as one of the top teams in the league. Heading into the North Central Conference Tournament, the Bison were confident about securing the program’s first conference championship.

Much of this confidence stems from the Bison’s attacking ability. NDSU had four players that finished the season with over 200 kills. This was led by Jen Miller, who accounted for 381 kills to lead the team. From there, greats like Pati Rolf, Laura Jacobson and Kathy Stoll all racked up at least 225 kills for NDSU. The Bison killers were also efficient in making their attacks count. Of the four leading attackers, each had at least a .246 attack percentage. As a team, the Bison had a .250 attack percentage.

In enemy territory in Brookings, South Dakota, the Bison showcased why they were the best team in the North Central Conference. They picked up tournament wins over South Dakota State, Augustana, North Dakota, Morningside and Omaha en route to a conference title. The most impressive thing about that run? The Bison did not lose a single set, sweeping the tournament with a 10-0 match record.

North Dakota State would win the NCC Tournament again in 1982 and would follow that up with 10 more conference championships.

1999 Bison Soccer

North Central Conference soccer has an interesting history behind it. While the league did have schools playing soccer, there is no presence of a conference tournament in NDSU’s records. There were playoff games in the NCC, but the only playoff game listed in NDSU’s history in the conference came in 2000 against Minnesota State Mankato.

While the details behind postseason soccer in the NCC may seem a bit muddy, one thing that can not be contested is the Bison’s trip to the Division II NCAA Tournament in 1999. NDSU has since enjoyed great success in the Summit League, winning the league four times and making one NCAA Tournament appearance.

However, it was the historic 1999 season that paved the way for Bison soccer to succeed in the Division I era. NDSU soccer was still in its relative infancy in 1999, having only been a sanctioned sport since 1995. Despite the youth of the program, the Bison had finished above .500 in each of its first four years including an 8-0 campaign in 1996.

1999 was different, though. With offensive firepower unseen before in Bison soccer history, NDSU had their eyes on the NCAA Tournament. Coached by Matt Townsend, the Bison went 14-3-2 in 1999 including 4-1-1 in North Central Conference games. NDSU scored 60 total goals on the year, led by Nicole VandenBos, who netted 15 and dished out seven assists. To date, VandenBos is still the school’s leader in total goals scored.

Nicole VandenBos was a vital offensive weapon for Bison soccer.

North Dakota State was a balanced offensive machine in 1999 with five players (not including VandenBos) who scored at least six goals. Of those five players, three of them also doled out at least eight assists.

The Bison were also solid in net on the other end too. Splitting up goalie duties, the Bison were led by Tara Sweeney in net. Sweeney only allowed five goals in 10 starts leading to a .917 save percentage. Kelly Tierney started the other nine games in net for NDSU, allowing just six goals with a .903 save percentage.

With their impressive NCC mark, the Bison were able to qualify for the Division II NCAA Tournament. It was the program’s first appearance on such a stage in just their fifth year of existence. Traveling to Wilder, Kentucky, to take on the seventh-ranked Northern Kentucky Norse the Bison fought valiantly. Unfortunately, their effort came up short in a 1-0 loss to Northern Kentucky.

2000 Bison Softball

2000 Bison softball team that won the Division II national title.

Softball has been a sport, like football, that has seen a stellar amount of success throughout its entire history, especially in the late 90s and early 2000s when NDSU was looking to transition to Division I. Many know about the string of 12 Summit League titles Darren Mueller and company have enjoyed in the Division I era. Yet, the Bison were able to be successful in the North Central Conference before moving to Division I.

For many, a key example of this is the Division II national title team from 2000. NDSU had been successful in the late 90s winning 45, 64 and 53 games in 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. Heading into the 2000 season, head coach Mitch Hanson was aware that this may be a special season forthcoming. The Bison were coming off of a North Central Conference title in 1999 and an NCAA Regional win. Something special was about to happen on the diamond in Fargo.

Needless to say, that something special just happened to be a 68-10 season which included a 12-3 NCC mark. Much like the Bison teams we see today, it was an all-around effort to have a season that successful. NDSU was sharp in every facet of the game, highlighted by their offense. Hanson’s team had six players batting over .300 led by Nikki Flynn’s astonish- ing .506 batting average. Shelly Rhein and Nikki Almquist drove in 68 and 56 runs respectively, leading to a very tough offense to stop.

On the other side of the ball, NDSU continued to hammer home one of their staples to success: defense. Not a single player on the Bison roster had a fielding percentage below .918 and the team had a collective fielding percentage of .963.

What ties all of it together was great work in the circle by the Bison pitchers. Julie Fromm led the way with a 45-6 record, 305 strikeouts and a 1.39 ERA. Not to be outdone, NDSU’s other pitcher, Melissa Hobson, went 23-4 on the year with a 1.28 ERA.

All of that made NDSU a juggernaut in Division II softball. That does not mean it came easily as NDSU did not win the NCC Tournament in 2000, losing in the finals to Nebras- ka-Omaha. North Dakota State was able to rebound from that and win the NCAA North Central Regional. That victory gave them a chance at the national championships.

With wins over Lewis, Bloomsburg, UC Davis and Kennesaw State so far, the Bison would have to defeat Kennesaw State once more to capture a national title.

North Dakota State was able to gain a three-run advantage in the first inning. The Owls were able to muster up one run on Julie Fromm before the Bison defense and Fromm clamped down. Fromm would pick up her fourth win at the NCAA Tournament on the back of a two-hitter. In the end, the Bison won their first national championship with a 3-1 win over Kennesaw State.

2013 Bison Women’s Golf

The 2013 Bison women’s golf team won the program’s first conference championship.

The 2013 Bison women’s golf team won the program’s first conference championship.

The North Dakota State women’s golf team was unable to win a conference championship in the Division II era. With the program being discontinued in 1990 (along with men’s golf, tennis and swimming) it obviously made that an impossibility for almost six years. Both men’s and women’s golf were reinstated ahead of the 1996-97 season, but the Bison women were still not quite able to get over the NCC hump.

As the Bison transitioned to Division I, this hunger for a conference championship only continued to cultivate within the women’s golf program. The Bison women were able to steadily improve on the links as they joined the Summit League. Since joining the league, their best finish to that point at the conference tournament was a runner-up finish in 2011-12. They had the talent in place to challenge for a Summit League title in 2012-13, there was no doubt about that. With the sour taste of a runner-up finish the year before still in their mouths, the Bison were on a quest to get the program’s first conference title.

Throughout the fall season, the Bison women were able to get tournament wins at the Concordia Cobber Open as well as the Jackrabbit Fall Invitational. Along with that, the Bison placed in the top five of two other tournaments that fall. With that momentum in their back pocket, NDSU looked to dominate the spring slate.

That momentum proved valuable as NDSU finished in the top ten in all of their spring tournaments. This included wins at the Kansas City Kangaroo Invitational and the Creighton Invitational. Both of those wins came in consecutive order just before the Summit League Championships.

One cannot mention this team’s success without first mentioning Amy Anderson. The best golfer in school history, Anderson posted a historic 72.84 stroke average over the course of 2012-13. This included five individual tournament wins. Anderson did not finish outside the top five all year. The rest of the Bison roster was stellar as well with five golfers posting a stroke average of 83 or less.

At the Summit League Championships, Anderson won the individual title by 11 strokes. Along with that, the Bison ran away with the tournament as a team, winning by 11 strokes. On top of Anderson’s first-place finish, each Bison competing finished in the top 20. Those great results guided Matt Johnson and the Bison to their first conference title.

Anderson went on the finish tied for 26th at the NCAA West Regional with the Bison finishing 23rd as a team. Since graduating, Anderson has gone on to great success as a professional in the LPGA.

The Bison would go on to win another Summit League title in 2018 as well. Matt Johnson and company have also broken the team scoring average record four times since 2012-13.

Tradition Of Greatness: Bison Firsts
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