Minnesota State University Moorhead sports through the years.
In the summer of 1957, the cumbersome moniker of Moorhead State Teachers College was shortened to Moorhead State College, an early marketing move that administrators and politicians favored. Yes, it was a mere name change, a matter of semantics, but it reflected the expanding mission of the university. Teaching was still paramount, but new majors were emerging, and students began to explore new curriculum.
While the change would hint of brighter days ahead, intercollegiate athletics at MSC continued to operate under the radar of more ambitious regional programs such as St. Cloud State College and Mankato State College, among others. Still, there were signs the Dragons would fill a more prominent role in the future.
The good news was slow to reach the Dragon football program, however, and MSC stumbled to three straight losing seasons in 1957 (3-4-0), 1958 (1-7-0) and 1959 (0-9-0) under coach Loel Frederickson. Senior guard Al Holmes (Moorhead) and fullback Bill Beck (Lancaster) provided a wealth of leadership for the football Dragons of ’57. Beck scored three touchdowns in a 52-0 romp over St. Cloud State College and finished as the leading scorer in the Minnesota State College Conference with 30 points. Beck and the battered Dragons, reduced to a 26-man travel squad because of injuries, remained in the hunt for the MSCC title until a 21-6 loss at Michigan Tech. There was reason to rejoice, however, when MSC solved a 20-year losing streak to Concordia College with a 10-9 shocker, but little did Dragon faithful realize that they would have to wait another 20 years to feel the same joy.
Larry MacLeod and the basketball Dragons broke even in 1957-58 with a 11-11 finish, but slumped to 10-12 and 9-14 records the following two winters. Lowell Bolger (Moorhead), Sherm Moe (Ada), Jim Nagel (Breckenridge), Al Santwire (Mahnomen) and Rod Zimmerman (Herman) formed a solid foundation and eagerly handled much of the scoring responsibilities. Bolger and Moe led the Dragons in scoring for three consecutive seasons and pocketed three all-conference certificates each while Zimmerman set a school record with 40 points against Winona State in 1959. The Dragons also made their first airplane flight that same season to Macomb, IL, and a date with Western Illinois, although the Leathernecks removed some of the luster with a 89-83 win.
In February of 1960, MSC unveiled its new athletic showplace, Alex Nemzek Hall. Situated on the barren east end of campus, it was christened in style when Nagel scored with two seconds remaining to lift Moorhead State to a wild 72-71 victory over Concordia College in front of 3,800 fans.
Dragon wrestling began to percolate under new head coach Bill Garland in the late 50s. Rufus Bankole (Lagos, Nigeria), 123, Henry Hettwer (Carrington, ND), 191, and heavyweight Ron Wiger (Moorhead) all placed fourth at the 1959 NAIA National Championships, and freshman Bill Cronen (Benson) became the Dragons’ first runnerup at the 1960 NAIA Nationals at 167 pounds while 177-pound sophomore Ed Arneson (Glenwood) finished 14-0-1.
MacLeod and the baseball Dragons fielded competitive clubs under the umbrella of the MSCC and the Steve Gorman League, and Jerry Mehlisch (Clemons, IA) set a single season record with a batting average of .471 in 1958 that lasted for 25 years. Mehlisch also posted a 5-2 pitching mark while catcher John Chalfant (Michigan Center, MI) was a rock behind home plate. Moorhead State joined the baseball brethren of the Northern States College Conference in 1960 and kept chasing championship dreams until the sport was put in mothballs following the 1983 season.
Miler Rudy Arechigo (Moorhead) and Gene Goedel (Wadena), a tested performer in the sprints and dashes, were featured performers for track coach Roy Domek while Arechigo set the pace in cross-country as well. Lyle Hornbacher (Moorhead) was a traditional medalist for the Dragon golf team.
A new football era was ushered in at Moorhead State College in 1960 when Dwaine Hoberg left the security of high school coaching to begin a 10-year stay at MSC. It was a run that produced several highwater marks, but largely failed to match the lofty expectations that greeted his arrival. Indeed, there was good reason to believe Hoberg was the right man to resuscitate a program that had hit upon hard times. After all, the Bemidji native was a finished product of the University of Minnesota and played for legendary coach Bernie Bierman. After a coaching stop at Moorhead High School, Hoberg signed on at St. Louis Park in the powerful Lake Conference. Surely that experience would provide the seasoning Hoberg would need to flourish on the collegiate level, and also unearth a lode of prep talent he could later mine for Moorhead State.
Hoberg made his Dragon coaching debut September 10 against Northern State College, but the Wolves crashed the party with a 34-7 victory, the start of a five-game losing streak that included a 21-8 loss to Michigan Tech University at the christening of Alex Nemzek Stadium. A spirited defensive performance allowed Moorhead State to escape with a 2-0 Northern States College Conference victory over Winona State College in October, and MSC also produced a 14-7 non-conference win over Minot State College. The good times didn’t last long, however, as Concordia College rolled to a 36-14 victory on the final weekend of the 1960 season, a harbinger of crosstown misery to come for Hoberg.
His second club showed modest improvement with a 5-4-0 finish in 1961, and in 1962 Moorhead State fans were quick to talk of brighter days ahead. Indeed, the Dragons debuted with three straight victories, including a 22-8 non-conference triumph over North Dakota Agriculture College, but St. Cloud State College posted a 20-0 victory in week two of NSCC play, and MSC stumbled to another 5-4-0 finish. The 1963 season unfolded in style at Dacotah Field in Fargo, ND as quarterback Kevin Wimmer (Litchfield) and wide receiver Bruce Bausman (St. Louis Park) torched the Bison in a 31-14 romp. Wimmer completed 10 of 15 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns while Bausman hauled in six catches for a single game record 203 yards and three touchdowns. A three-time All-Northern Intercollegiate Conference pick and the Dragons’ first All-American, Moorhead native Lorny Johnson was rock solid at offensive tackle, but the Dragons couldn’t sustain the good times and exited 4-4-1 with a 7-6 loss to Concordia.
After a pair of pedestrian campaigns in 1964 (4-4-0) and 1965 (5-4-0), MSC ignored a 17-7 opening day loss to Concordia College and quietly pieced together a four-game win streak that elevated MSC to certified contender status in the NIC at last. A narrow 3-0 loss to Winona State tempered the championship feeling, but a 13-0 Homecoming triumph over Bemidji State College in October lifted MSC to its first NIC title since 1952. Following a road loss at Lincoln (MO) University, the Dragons closed the books on a 6-3-0 season in 1966 with a 63-0 rout of Mayville State College.
Senior Bruce Bakeberg provided a comfortable fit at quarterback for Hoberg and calmly orchestrated a suddenly potent Dragon offense. The Ortonville native completed 72 of 163 passes for 1040 yards and 11 touchdowns while Bricker Johnsen, a lean and lethal sophomore wide receiver from tiny Underwood, provided a serious outside threat with 28 receptions for 451 yards and five touchdowns. He would lead the Dragons in receiving from 1965-68 with 73 receptions and 16 touchdowns, and started up front with the basketball Dragons as well.
Center Russ Marshall (Dilworth), offensive tackles Al Berglund (Bloomington) and Dennis Yell (Parkers Prairie), and tight end Rick Cochran (Park Rapids) anchored a trusty offensive line while Dave Malchaski, a nasty defensive back from Mound, was named to the All-NIC team. A three-year fixture on the Dragons’ offensive line, Yell was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams on the 16th round of the 1967 National Football League draft.
In 1966, Mike Quirk, a 212-pound chunk of iron from Chisholm who took equal delight in running over or around defenders, arrived with little fanfare. By his sophomore season he was cleary the focal point of the Dragon offense, a hint of greater things to come. In 1968, Quirk exploded on the national scene as a junior, reaching the magical 200-yard rushing mark on three straight weekends and closing as the leading rusher in the country with 154.7 yards per game.
It may have been the stuff of legends, but Quirk was quick to deflect individual praise. “Getting those yards when they count the most is what makes you feel good,” Quirk explained. “Those fellows up front in the line deserve a world of credit, and the job couldn’t be done without the help from the other backs.”
Quirk was prominently featured in THE SPORTING NEWS, and professional scouts flocked to Moorhead for a closer look. Considered by many as the greatest Dragon of them all, Quirk seemed certain of a serious run in the NFL, but he suffered a compound leg fracture during spring drills in 1969, and a promising professional career evaporated.
Despite Quirk’s magnificent contribution, Moorhead State was saddled with three straight losing seasons, including a 4-5-0 mark in 1969 in Hoberg’s final season. Pressured to step aside, Hoberg announced his retirement to his team in November during the Dragons’ final game against Minnesota-Morris, and his inspired players presented him with a 22-20 parting gift.
While Hoberg would vanish from the Dragon athletic scene, his professional career was far from finished. He remained a distinguished member of the Health and Physical Education faculty for years, and fashioned a prosperous career in politics that included successful mayoral runs in Moorhead, and a very hands-on involvement in state politics as well.
Moorhead State entered a new decade in search of its first winning season since a 13-7 finish in 1956-57. The Dragons dedicated a new arena—Alex Nemzek Hall—with a 72-71 victory over Concordia in February of 1960 and posted a balanced 11-11 record under veteran coach Larry MacLeod. When MacLeod departed for a sabbatical at Indiana University a year later, Glen Cafer accepted a one-year coaching invitation in 1961-62 and prodded the Dragons to a surprising 13-10 finish.
Jim Nagel, a serious sharpshooter from Breckenridge, kindled the Dragon offense. Nagel collected all-conference certificates as a junior and senior, and averaged 20.4 points per game as a senior in 1961-62. Digesting the Dragon playbook was easy stuff for the bookish Nagel, who later gained international attention as a renowned college professor and perhaps America’s most respected scholar of author Ernest Hemingway.
For Nagel, the game of basketball took on almost mystical qualities. “What I remember most is the guys I played with, the special friendships that develop on a team, and the mutual respect that came from the hard work at practices,” said Nagel. “I would have enjoyed basketball immensely even if we had never played another team. I never felt like the best player on any team I played on, but I did feel part of the group, happy to be accepted by fine athletes, and always grateful for the encouragement and support my teammates gave me.”
While Nagel was saluted as the Most Valuable Player in the NSCC in 1961-62, he had a fine supporting cast, including guard Al Santwire (Mahnomen) and forward Al Shogren (Alexandria), who hauled down a whopping 23 rebounds against Northern State Teachers College.
Everyone had their take on the stunning upset. “Now we don’t have to be afraid to go to Minneapolis,” beamed MSC President Dr. John J. Neumaier. “We had nothing to lose,” explained MacLeod. Sportscaster Jim Adelson of KXJB-TV said, “Moorhead State has a new mayor in town, either Larry MacLeod or Don Wermager.”
Augsburg guard Lloyd “Butch” Raymond had a simple explanation for the unlikely outcome. “You can’t beat a team that shoots over 60 per cent and plays defense the way Moorhead did,” said Raymond. While Raymond and his Auggie teammates would anguish over the loss, he would extract a full measure of revenge on MSC eight years later.
A 11-10 upturn the following winter restored the faith and set the table for one of the most remarkable seasons in MSC basketball history. MacLeod admitted the Dragons of 1964-65 could be something special, but little did he know the magic that waited.
There were several elements in place, including Wermager; Granite Falls native Jerry Hegna, a talented transfer from the University of Minnesota and the last three-sport all-conference athlete in Dragon history; Jim Jahr, a laconic center from Alexandria with a deadly hook shot; Pete Lysaker, a sharpshooter from Detroit Lakes; Erwin “Cactus” Warner, a pesky guard from Halstad; and Wally Halbakken, a quiet but menacing force from Pelican Rapids. There were flaws, however. Jahr and Halbakken, both 6-4, were the biggest of the vertically-challenged Dragons.
“I felt at the beginning of the year we had a chance to be real good, but I didn’t expect that we would be that good,” MacLeod remembered later.
MSC opened in style with a six-game win streak, but powerful University of North Dakota, sparked by legendary Phil Jackson, derailed the Dragons 87-53 at the Red River Classic in December. The Dragons quickly ignored the loss and returned to the business of winning a NIC championship, a feat not accomplished at State since the formation of the league in 1932. To reach that sizable goal, MSC would have to supplant the reigning king of college basketball in Minnesota, St. Cloud State. The mighty Huskies had ruled the league in the 1950s and 60s, and had no notion of abdicating. A pair of narrow victories over the Dragons, including a 78-73 overtime scare at cozy Eastman Hall in St. Cloud, appeared to secure another solo pennant for SCSC.
Still, Moorhead State would not go quietly into the night, and the Dragons kept the pressure on with a late-season, seven-game win streak. Then, on the final weekend of league play, MSC dispatched of Mankato State College, 86-79 at Mankato, while St. Cloud State was ambushed by winless Michigan Tech, 79-76 at Houghton, MI, a shocker that sent shock waves around the NIC and provided Moorhead State with a piece of the league title.
The newly minted league champs returned by a car caravan to a joyous welcome-home celebration at Alex Nemzek Hall, and were greeted with more good news when the NCAA extended an invitation to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Championships in Grand Forks, ND. It marked the Dragons’ first post-season appearance, and MSC seized the moment with a 75-73 upset of Colorado State College in the opening round.
The triumph brought a rematch with Jackson and the mighty Sioux, and UND sealed the deal in the second half with a 83-57 victory that dispatched the Sioux to the national tournament and ended a remarkable 21-4 season for the Dragons. Lysaker led the Dragons in scoring with 19.2 ppg and joined Halbakken, Jahr and Warner on the All-NIC squad, but raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.
MacLeod remembered it all very clearly years later. “That reception when we came home from Mankato was amazing. We had almost 2000 people there to meet us. It looked bad late in the season for us to win the league (and receive an automatic NAIA post-season tournament bid), so we accepted the NCAA bid. Both of our losses to North Dakota were very similar. We would hang with them in the first half, but they took over the game in the second half. I guess they were just too tall and too talented.”
While many were surprised by MSC’s sudden success, Nagel, now an ex-Dragon, was not. “Larry MacLeod took a rather different approach to the game,” Nagel observed. “Here the analysis of the strategy of the opposition was largely subordinated to team discipline, to the percentage shot, to strong defense, to rebounding, and a lot of important details not usually represented in newspaper summaries. He respected the intelligence of his players, and he did not encumber us with excessive controls. We knew always that he regarded the academic integrity of the program as foremost in his relationship with us. In that climate basketball was important but subordinate to other concerns. We should represent the college and make a good showing, but primarily we should play for fun, for personal satisfaction, for friendship, for the sheer exhilaration of athletics.”
It would be the watershed point of MacLeod’s coaching career, and he resigned to concentrate on expanding athletic director duties in 1967 after 11-11 and 10-12 seasons. The search for a successor didn’t take MSC far from the family tree, and Marv Skaar, a onetime Dragon and a successful prep coach at Grand Forks (ND) Central High School, responded to the call.
For Skaar, it fulfilled a lifetime dream to coach on the collegiate level, and he pounced on the opportunity to return the Dragons to the regional spotlight. Skaar may have spent his coaching career on the prep level, but he knew things were largely different than when he competed. Yes, indeed, the times were a-changin.’
With the Vietnam war in full flurry, Skaar was quick to realize athletes of the 1960s were immersed in a different culture, and unquestioned discipline was no longer in vogue. He began to loosen the shackles, and the players took notice. He added some dazzle to pre-game warmups by using red-and-white colored basketballs, he allowed players to wear low-cut shoes, red ones at that, and—gasp--he permitted music in the lockerroom. The players enjoyed the new freedom and began to call him “Groovy” behind his back, and Skaar heard the whispers. It only convinced him he was building a healthy player-coach relationship that could produce some big things.
Skaar’s persistent recruiting also stocked a cupboard with some promising freshmen, and the Dragons would benefit greatly when Wahpeton, ND native Mike Berg transferred to MSC from neighboring Concordia College. Following a 11-10 mark in 1967-68, Skaar prodded his second club to a 18-6 record and a run at the 1968-69 NIC title. The Dragons closed the decade with a 15-10 record, a precursor to the greatest season in Moorhead State basketball history.
One of the fastest growing sports in America, the wrestling roots at Moorhead State trace to 1952-53 when the Dragons competed for student-coach Pat Ferris. When Bill Garland arrived in 1958, a sport that was on the collegiate backburner was about to catch fire and explode on a national level. No one, perhaps, except Garland, saw it coming.
“I really thought we could put together a program here that could attract national attention if we recruited right,” said Garland.
Garland began a remarkable run with a 8-3-1 finish in 1958-59, the first of 11 consecutive winning seasons at State, and created a dynasty that remained in full flourish for more than a decade. Soon, the Dragons began to make a serious run at the NIC title and make a major splash on the national level as well. Some early legends, including Rod Wiger (Moorhead), Bill Cronen (Benson) and Banks Swan (Davenport, IA), helped set the table, but it was the arrival of Bucky Maughan in 1962 that officially marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Dragon wrestling.
A native of Canonsburg, PA, and a transfer from Indiana University, Maughan quickly demonstrated he had the right stuff. His quickness, repertoire of moves, and unmistakable swagger attracted an instant following, and Moorhead State quickly grabbed some national headlines. Maughan secured NAIA national titles in 1962 and 1963, and reached the summit in 1963 by capturing the NCAA Division I national 115-pound title, the only Dragon to win a NCAA I individual crown. Because of Maughan’s singular greatness, Moorhead State tied the United States Naval Academy for 11th place on the final team standings.
While Maughan sizzled on the national scene, he had plenty of support. Heavyweight Bob Billberg, a product of Waukegan, IL, made a huge impact as well. Billberg won NAIA national titles in 1964 and 1966, and logged runnerup finishes in the NCAA Division I finals in 1964 and 1966. He also appeared on ABC WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS. His list of victims included collegiate legends Curly Culp of Arizona State and Jim Nance of Syracuse.
While Maughan and Billberg led the parade, there was an army of eager Dragons anxious to jump in line. Frank Mosier, recruited from wrestling-rich Washington, PA, was a two-time NAIA national champion at 167 pounds and helped the Dragons win their only national team title, the 1964 NAIA Championship. Three other Dragons—Earl Stottler (Benson), Jim Dreitzler (Ithaca, NY) and Rick Stuyvesant (Greenville, PA)—would win national titles while John Morley of Oceanside, NY and Rick Kelvington of Washington, PA also placed in NCAA Division I national tournaments. Stottler became the Dragons’ first national titlist, winning the NAIA 130-pound crown in 1961. Dreitzler was an NAIA champ at 130 pounds in 1964 while Stuyvesant posted back-to-back NAIA championships at 137 pounds in 1966-67. In addition, the Dragons would win NIC team titles in the 1965, 1968 and 1969, and Morley would be named an Olympic alternate.
Mosier credits Maughan with much of the Dragons’ collective success. “He was such a skilled and confident wrestler, and he had us believing we could beat anybody,” said Mosier. “We had on Moorhead State singlets, but you could have put Oklahoma State uniforms on us, and we’d still have won almost as many matches as they did.”
Track and Field, Baseball, and other Dragons
A sport that would soon become a hallmark at Moorhead State—track and field—took seed in the 1960s. Long a staple of Dragon athletics, track had enjoyed only modest success in the 1950s but began to sprout when Al Holmes assumed control of the program in 1966. Holmes began patiently building the bedrock of a program that would one day battle for national supremacy.
Holmes diligently assembled a stable of eager trailblazers, including sprinter Marshall Shoquist (Minneapolis), who would lift the Dragons into conference and regional prominence. Sprinters Lloyd Cordner, Tony Jones and Ron Monsegue from Trinidad made an instant imprint, and Monsegue would later compete in the 1968 Olympics for his native country. Distance specialist Clint Chamberlain (Williston, ND) signed on after a tour of duty with the Marines, and Holmes received solid contributions from high jumper Ron Landblom from Fargo, ND; Dick Kimball, a middle distance runner from Park Rapids; long and triple jumper Vince Felchle of Devils Lake, ND; Terry Harrington, a gritty hurdler from Halstad; distance runner Fred Dahnke of Barnesville; weightman Larron Swanson of Hartley, IA, a transfer from Iowa State; and jumper Bob Brophy from neighboring Dilworth. A conference title would remain out of reach until the 1970s, but it was clear Holmes had placed the Dragons on the right track, and Ron Masanz would later carry them to greater heights.
Dahnke, who would later serve as a cross-country and assistant track coach under Masanz, was a bridge between Holmes and Masanz. “Coach Holmes was the pioneer who helped start the success,” said Dahnke. “He served as a father figure to most of us who ran for him. The squad was small in numbers but consisted of a bunch of hard-working individuals who helped lay the foundation for later championship squads.”
“I ran for Masanz his first three years, and he expected a lot from his athletes, but he was only preparing us for the future,” Dahnke continued. “He wanted us to do our best, be accountable for our actions, and remember we were representing our families and MSU. He strived for us to be self-disciplined and to believe that most goals were attainable with dedication and hard work. Later as a coach, Masanz taught me how to be well organized, have control of my emotions, and expect one hundred per cent from my athletes. I am forever grateful for having that opportunity.”
For the baseball Dragons, the 60s was a mixture of promise and heartache, highlights and wasted opportunities. In 1963 the Dragons shared the NIC title with Mankato State, but it would be 20 years before the Dragons could wrap their arms around another conference trophy. Ed Kelly (Fargo, ND), Lyle Hemingson (Granite Falls) and Merlin Saunders (Granite Falls) anchored a trusty pitching staff while Tom Engh (Fargo, ND), Jerry Hegna, Marshall Thorstad (Battle Lake), Norm Card (Staples), Dorwin Marquardt (Pelican Rapids) and Dick Schubbe (Richfield) would fuel plenty of offense for the championship run.
While subsequent baseball editions could not replicate the joy of ’63, there were some notable individual performances. There was usually plenty of hitting, and outfielders Jerry Jacobson (Barrett) and Joel Boche (Moorhead) both enjoyed their day in the sun. Pitching largely remained a decade-long problem, but in 1966 Curt Walvatne (Underwood) posted the lowest earned run average in the NIC with a stingy 1.57 ERA while Duane Ramstad (Halstad) was the traditional ace of Dragon staffs in the mid-60s. Mike Berg led the league in RBI in both 1969 (15) and 1970 (18), and topped the league in home runs with six in 1969. An accomplished basketball player at State as well, Berg was a two-time All-NIC baseball selection.
There were heartaches, too, for head coach Loel Frederickson, especially the tragic skiing death of Dick Harlow (Bertha) in 1967. A three-year letterman and onetime ace of the Dragon pitching staff, Harlow debuted with a sparkling 3-0 record in 1964 that included a 2.00 ERA and a pair of shutouts.
T.E. Smith began to shape a golf program that would become a model program. Skip Adams (Fargo, ND), a letterwinner in both golf and hockey, Jim McElhenny (Breckenridge), Pete Lysaker, Pete Specht (Detroit Lakes) and Don Rhoten (Fargo, ND) formed a solid corps in the early 60s. Rhoden fired a 38-39-38—115 to win NSCC medalist honors in 1960 while Adams shared the 1961 individual NSCC title, qualified for the NAIA National Championships at Keller Golf Course in St. Paul, and helped Moorhead State share the team championship with Mankato State. Bob Werre (Fargo, ND) provided MSC with another conference medalist crown in 1967 with a 39-39-37—115.
Tennis continued as a varsity sport in the 1960s, but fell below the radar of other more popular sports. Neither the play of the gifted Jim Nagel, nor the coaching wisdom of Clarence Glasrud and Bill Garland, could lift the Dragons into the elite of the league.
Intercollegiate hockey morphed on the MSC athletic scene in 1962-63 as the Dragons fashioned a 4-4 overall record on the outdoor ice north of Alex Nemzek Hall. Keith Brandt (Roseau), Bill France (Ft. Williams, ONT), Gordon Murray (Ft. Williams, ONT), Bill Lang (St. Paul), and Rich Panson (Winnipeg, MAN), provided some leadership for the Dragons on ice, but the sport would have a short shelf life, however, and vanished after the 1964-65 season.
Cross-country was installed as a varsity sport in 1964, and Hallie Gregory became the first minority head coach at Moorhead State. Clint Chamberlain was a runnerup at the 1966 NIC Championships and became the first of a long line of outstanding cross-country runners at State.
Moorhead State Athletic Director Larry MacLeod certainly had a plan in mind when Dwaine Hoberg announced his retirement as head football coach in November of 1969, and it didn’t take MacLeod long to strike. He long had his eye on North Dakota State assistant coach Ross Fortier and was fully convinced Fortier was the ideal man for the job.
“Ross was always a very impressive individual to me, and I liked him, too,” MacLeod explained. “He was organized, he knew what he wanted to do, and he knew he could turn us around. He had unlimited confidence in himself.”
Surely Fortier’s pedigree was attractive to MacLeod. Son of Bun Fortier, the revered basketball coach at Bemidji High School, Fortier was an outstanding prep athlete for the Lumberjacks and later lettered in four sports at NDSU. A starting quarterback for the Bison, Fortier spent time coaching at Moorhead State in the mid-60s after a stop at Melrose High School and made a lasting impression on MacLeod.
Convincing Fortier to leave his alma mater and the powerful football program in full flower at North Dakota State was another matter. MacLeod, however, would not be denied, and Fortier joined the Dragons January 19, 1970. Having spent a couple of seasons as an assistant to Hoberg, Fortier was well aware of the scholarship limitations. He insisted on some additional scholarship support before he would accept the MSC job, and the administration reluctantly agreed. It was a prudent decision that marked the beginning of a glorious era.
Fortier’s September debut against backyard rival Concordia College surely deserves a special place in the history of Dragon football. The patchwork club he inherited faced a monumental challenge against the powerful Cobbers, a runnerup to Texas A & I in the 1969 NAIA National Championship finals. Somehow, the talent-challenged Dragons carried a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter and were clearly on the doorstep of a major upset, but the Cobbers rallied for a pair of late touchdown passes to rescue a 20-20 tie. Still, there would be other highwater marks, including a 24-22 mid-season upset of nationally-ranked Nebraska-Kearney, but a late season slump lowered the bar to 4-4-1.
By 1971 Fortier clearly had his own program in place, and the Dragons closed with a rush, winning seven straight games for a 7-1-1 record. Sophomore running back George Spanish (Hibbing) sloshed 88 yards with a punt return in a downpour for the only score in a 6-0 shutout of unbeaten national power Michigan Tech to lift the Dragons to the NIC title, the first of nine league championships under Fortier’s watch. The Dragons followed with 7-3-0 printouts in both 1972 and 1973, adding another league crown in 1973.
Fortier warned the Dragon nation early on that Michigan Tech would present a thorough challenge.
“Michigan Tech is probably the finest college team ever to play at Alex Nemzek Stadium,” Fortier cautioned. “To beat them, we’ll have to put together four quarters of excellent, errorless football.”
And the punt return that lifted Moorhead State to national prominence? “We hadn’t really planned on a punt return,” Fortier confessed. “We were rushing the punter, so George was on his own.”
By 1974, however, Moorhead State began a downturn that included rare losing seasons in 1974 (4-5-0) and 1975 (2-7-0). Still, there were some dandy Dragons at work, including runningback Russ Henegar (Bismarck, ND), who joined future Chicago Bear legend Walter Payton as a first team NAIA All-American running back in 1974, and middle linebacker Dick Sagehorn (Bertha), who had the rare distinction of winning Most Valuable Player honors in the NIC despite a losing season.
Fortier and the Dragons quickly became weary of losing, and the malaise didn’t last long. All that was needed was a spark, and the arrival in 1976 of a red-haired quarterback from Norfolk, VA changed the dynamics. Ed Schultz, a transfer from Memphis State and the University of Richmond, was sent packing to MSU by Don Pate, a onetime Dragon and later an assistant coach at Richmond. The brash Schultz quickly became a media darling, and a 14-7 victory over Concordia College on opening day cemented him a spot in Dragon lore. In 1977 Schultz led the nation (NCAA II) in passing, while tight end Jeff Tesch (Robbinsdale) topped the nation in receiving, and both would sign professional football contracts.
A smallish but strong-willed offensive line that included home grown Rocky Gullickson buttressed an explosive Dragon offense. A three-year starter and a first team ASSOCIATED PRESS All-American as a senior in 1976, Gullickson later forged a successful career as a strength and conditioning coach with the University of Texas, University of Louisville and the New Orleans Saints of the NFL.
“I thought I was treated very fairly at Moorhead State,” said Gullickson. “I came out of Moorhead High School without a lot of expectations, but I was given a real chance at MSU. Coach Fortier always said if you work hard you’ll play as a senior, and gosh, I thought that was a real fair deal. It just happened a little sooner for me.”
By 1979 the sparkle was back, and the Dragons posted an 8-3-0 record and made a serious championship run in the NIC. All-American noseguard John Lind (Haddonfield, NJ) was saluted as the NAIA National Player of the Week for his splendid performance in a 13-10 triumph over Concordia College. It also set the stage for an approaching decade of football excellence unmatched in Dragon history.
Scribes and fans often said the cast that staged the memorable 24-2 run in 1970-71 seemed to come from nowhere; but in truth, they came from everywhere.
After patiently building a program that began to make some serious ripples around the NIC, the Dragons of 1970-71 appeared capable of greater things. Still, nobody envisioned the wondrous season that would soon unfold in front of fully amped houses in Alex Nemzek Hall. The cast of characters included 6-3 Charlie Williams from Augusta, GA, a marvelous frontline defender and dangerous offensive weapon who charmed the hearts of Dragon fans after arriving from Willmar Junior College. Williams led the Dragons in scoring with 19.6 ppg. Jerry Barney, a 6-5 senior transfer from St. John’s University, was a constant source of inside muscle and might, and the Bahamas native made it clear early on he was not to be challenged inside. He would average an impressive 12.2 boards a game.
Steve Colby, a silky smooth junior guard from Alexandria, provided an extra dash of quickness and outside scoring. Danny Retherford, a supremely confident import from Franklin, OH and an Air Force veteran, attracted Skaar’s attention for his spirited play against the Dragon junior varsity while stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. They were significant contributors all, but make no mistake, it was senior Mike Berg who was the club’s mainspring.
A fierce competitor fully capable of breaking down any defense, Berg was a feared right hand shooter who could also whistle a breathtaking left-handed football pass the length of the court for an easy score, and the two–time NIC MVP was always at his best when the game reached full boil.
It started innocently, with four quick victories, including a 78-64 triumph over North Dakota, and MSC would need all its talent and moxie to survive a 69-66 near ambush at Mayville State in game five. The faith fully restored, the Dragons stretched their win streak to 15 straight, including a 99-82 roadkill of NCC champion North Dakota State, and a 76-68 victory over Central Michigan University, a Division I member of the Mid-American Conference.
Winona State severed the remarkable streak with a 70-68 mid-season win at Winona, but MSC responded with another string of nine straight victories to close the regular season 24-1, including a 11-1 championship mark in the NIC, victories over six conference champions, and a fourth-place ranking on the final NAIA Division I national poll.
But just as quickly as the magic appeared, it suddenly vanished in a painful 85-84 NAIA District 13 playoff loss at home to Augsburg College. The Auggies were a substantial underdog saddled with some serious injury problems but head coach Butch Raymond, an Augsburg graduate who witnessed another major upset in the Dragon den in 1963, knew all about the potential for shocking finishes at Alex Nemzek Hall. The crushing loss stunned a legion of Dragon fans; and for years, many of the players refused to even revisit the marvelous run of 1970-71.
“We had great camaraderie among all the players, and we didn’t think that one player was anymore important than the other players,” Williams remembered. “We really played as a team; we won and lost together.”
“It was disappointing losing in the first round of the playoffs, especially when their (Augsburg) best player gets hurt early in the game and his replacement has a career game. We had a unique group of teammates from various parts of the country recruited by coach Skaar,” Berg recalled. “Coach Skaar was a great coach, and got the most out of his players. He was a fun coach to play for.”
The showdown remained vivid in the memory of manager Tom Tolman for many years. “That season was both the greatest and worst experience ever. It’s impossible to describe the utter devastation of the (Augsburg) loss. We were heading to Kansas City and the NAIA National Tournament, but Augsburg played unconsciously. Our once-in-a-lifetime season was shattered.”
While Dragon dreams of a national championship may have gone to die, there would be more basketball to play and more memories to create. Skaar bolted for the temptation of the head job at NDSU after a 19-7 record in 1971-72, and was replaced by Dennis Anderson, a starting guard at State in the 1950s.
While Skaar relished the opportunity to work in an environment of 12 full scholarships, the separation caused some angst.
“I hope my new coaching job will create a friendly rivalry between the two schools,” Skaar said. “I am very much looking forward to the first time we play the Dragons, but I don’t know how I will feel if we beat them.”
The were some shining moments under the tenure of Anderson, especially a 64-61 road win over NCAA Division I Pepperdine University in December of 1973 at Malibu Beach, CA, and the relentless persistence of undersized center Jim Bowen (York, SC), but Anderson resigned in 1975 after a three-year stay that included 13-11, 12-14 and 10-16 finishes.
The search for a replacement ultimately took the Dragons to NDSU and the doorstep of coach Skaar, where former Purdue All-American Dave Schellhase toiled as the Herd’s top assistant. Despite some reservations, the lure of a head coaching job was too much for Schellhase to ignore, and he signed on in 1975 as the Dragons’ new boss. Schellhase’s first edition rekindled championship hopes, despite a pedestrian 12-14 record, but it was the start of something special, and he followed with 19-9, 20-9, 18-10, 21-9, 23-6 and 24-7 records during his first trip around the MSU basketball block.
Schellhase was an interesting study for Dragon faithful. His collegiate and professional pedigree was unique—he once torched the University of Michigan for 56 points in Ann Arbor, MI—but he spent little time going down memory lane. Instead, he preferred to consume himself with the task at hand, building a basketball empire of sorts at Moorhead State.
A national scoring champion at Purdue University and a first round draft pick of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, Schellhase had established some solid recruiting ties, and the arrival of Jim Kapitan (Hammond, IN), Matt Brundige (East Chicago, IN), Walt Whitaker (Hammond, IN) and Kevin Mulder (Renville) formed the foundation of a solid program that generated a pair of NIC titles and appearances at NAIA National Championships at Kansas City, MO in 1980 and 1982.
“Beating Mankato State (77-68) in the playoffs and going to the 1980 national tournament as a senior was the highlight of my career,” said Mulder, a prolific scorer and Academic All-American. “I still get my scrapbook out every now and then and look back at it.”
Schellhase couldn’t have picked a more fitting swan song for his final game in the valley, a rocking 82-76 victory over backyard rival Concordia College in the NAIA District 13 Championships that rocketed the Dragons to the national tournament in 1982.
When Schellhase left for the glitter of an NCAA Division I head coaching opportunity at Indiana State University following the 1982 national championships, much of the aura of Dragon basketball vaporized, and Moorhead State managed only one winning season in five years under coach John Nelson.
The Other Dragons
Nobody saw the decline in Dragon wrestling coming, especially after a 8-3-0 finish in 1968-69 that brought MSC a third conference title under coach Garland and crowned four individual champions, including John Morley. The Oceanside, NY native performed best on the big stage, and placed second in the nation at the NCAA Division II national championships. Morley was also named an alternate for the United States Olympic Wrestling team.
MSC closed the decade with a 5-5 mark in 1969-70, and would not produce another winning season again under Garland’s guidance in 15 years. Still, there would be some notable individual achievements, including a NIC 167-pound championship for Bob Bowlsby (Waterloo, IA) in 1973. While Bowlsby would enjoy his coronation, the 1998 Dragon Hall-of-Fame inductee would later play a prominent role in shaping the face of collegiate sports as Athletic Director at the University of Iowa.
It was not all gloom at Moorhead State, however. A rapidly maturing track program was ready to accept the championship baton, and began a remarkable run of seven consecutive NIC Outdoor titles in 1972. When Masanz climbed aboard as head coach in 1968, he began to restock the Dragon track cupboard with a batch of promising imports. Sprinters Ray Farwell (Alberta), Jim Gravalin (Moorhead), John Marsh (Bloomington), Greg Staszko (Fargo, ND), Dave Thompson (St. Charles), John Thorvilson (Robbinsdale), Dan Woodbury (White Bear Lake) and Gregg Kloss (Brainerd) would enjoy rewarding careers at State and contribute in a variety of races, including relays. Middle distance specialists Jim Fay (Moorhead), Dan Holoien (Fargo, ND), Pete Lapka (Winnipeg, CAN), Linc Woodbury (White Bear Lake) and Phil Solum (Hawley) were major contributors as well.
Dale Robley (Pelican Rapids) swept all eight possible NIC Indoor and Outdoor shot put titles during his career at State, and had plenty of help in the field events. Ken Scarbrough (Thorndike, ME) and Cal Baker (Morrisville, NC) excelled in the jumps; Bob Jappe (Tracy), a starting cornerback with the football Dragons, emerged as a first class hurdler, with help from Randy Salzwedel (Fargo, ND); while John Tiemann (St. Paul Highland Park), Mike Francis (Albany) and Bob Beeson (Moorhead) were a constant source of scoring in the distance events.
The men of Masanz made their mark on the national level as well, crowning 12 All-Americans from 1970-79. In 1979, St. Paul native Ron Graham won the two-mile at the NAIA National Indoor Championships at Kansas City, MO and became the first Dragon to win an individual national track title. Dave Bergstrom of Albert Lea, who soared 6-10 to win a national high jump championship at the 1979 NAIA National Outdoor, quickly joined him on the ultimate victory stand.
The Dragons made a rare appearance at the 1977 NCAA Division II National Outdoor Championships at Fargo, ND, and pocketed three All-American certificates. Gary Nordlund (Clearbrook) was second in the 10,000 meters, Bergstrom was second in the high jump and Baker finished fifth in the triple jump.
While Masanz was blessed with some marvelous individual talent, in his perfect world the individual would always be subordinate to the whole. While he enjoyed the skill of gifted athletes, Masanz always preached track was at its essence a team sport. It was always about accountability, setting high standards, building confidence, and leaning on each other. He believed in discipline and comradeship and often drew on his Marine background for strength and inspiration. There was little flexibility to the new man with the whistle, but time would teach him some lessons as well, and by the close of his long and storied coaching career his worshipful athletes would notice a slight mellowing that only enhanced his image.
Felchle recalled his track career, and competing for coach Masanz, with great fondness.
“He was tough but fair, and he appreciated and expected hard work,” said Felchle, the first Dragon to earn a track scholarship at Moorhead State. “Coach always projected the team concept, and camaraderie.”
New cross-country coach Ken Bladow and the Dragons made their breakthrough to a first NIC title in 1974 and repeated as team champs the following fall. Tiemann claimed a conference championship in 1973 and Francis followed in Tiemann’s footprints as NIC champ in 1974.
There were other successes as well. Veteran coach T. E. Smith’s patient approach paid substantial dividends when he guided his Dragon golf team to three straight NIC titles in 1970-72 and a trip to the national championships. The Dragons breezed to the 1971 NIC crown by 17 strokes, placed second at the NCAA II Midwest Regional tournament, and qualified for the NCAA II National Championships. Ron Larson (Montevideo) won the 1970 NIC medalist title with a 37-38-39—114 while Pete Houghton provided a repeat title for the Dragons the next spring with a 75-79—154, and Wayne Hudson (Moorhead) would tie for league medalist honors in 1977.
Smith’s classy stable of proven competitors also included Dave Bergeson (Barnesville) who later added a Big Ten title to his trophy case after transferring to the University of Minnesota. Several of Smith’s finished products remained fixtures on the regional golf scene for years, including Craig Palmer (Dilworth) and Mark Holm (Moorhead).
Assistant basketball coach Bob Bromme added the head tennis job to his coaching portfolio in 1970, and the Dragons promptly pieced together five consecutive winning seasons before the good times ebbed.
The baseball Dragons had their moments, but winning a conference title would remain a bridge too far. Outfielder Steve Nelson (Wadena), second baseman Daryl Oja (Wadena), shortstop Joe Harvala (Park Rapids) and pitcher Mike Wilson (Dumont) earned all-conference honors, but by 1979 coach Bill Thomas had his fill and resigned as head coach. The Dragons turned to unknown Joe Warner, an assistant coach at Benson High School, and the fortunes would take an amazing turn. Sadly, the good times wouldn’t last long.
by Larry Scott
Dragon Football - 80sFlush from a NIC championship run in 1979, MSU Moorhead christened its greatest decade with an 8-2-0 finish in 1980. The Dragons broke from the gate with a 7-0 start, but a painful 16-15 loss at UM Morris on week eight removed MSU from the championship chase and post-season play as well. Still, the nation took notice, and quarterback Mark Reed (Moorhead) and cornerback Jon Wylie (Gibbon) collected All-American certificates. Reed would also be drafted by the New York Giants of the NFL on the eighth round. Backup quarterback Marc Trestman (St. Louis Park), who would later log a prosperous career as an offensive coordinator in the National Football League, inked with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent.
By 1981 the maturing Dragons reached full bloom, and roared to a 10-0-1 regular season finish that included another NIC title and the number one ranking on the final NAIA Division I national poll. A lineup chock full of talent featured quarterback Dennis Eastman (Wahpeton, ND), runningback Jerry Allen (North St. Paul), tight ends Scott Simpson (Robbinsdale) and Gregg Veldmann (South St. Paul), and wide receiver Michael Howard (Portsmouth, VA) on offense, while linebacker Paul Brigandi (Rochester, NY), end John Eckl (St. Paul), strong safety Bill Moore (Plymouth), free safety Al Strandberg (Strathcona) and tackle Dave Tuomi (Kettle River) anchored a rock solid defense that set a national record with five consecutive shutouts.
It all looked so perfect, but dreams of a national championship died at Brandenburg Stadium in Pittsburg, KS in early December when host Pittsburg State University scrambled from a 13-0 second half hole to pin a 14-13 loss on the Dragons and advance to the NAIA Division I National Championship game.
While the 1981 Dragon edition was arguably the finest collection to wear the scarlet and white, Fortier was quick to retool, and MSU remained a major player on the national landscape for years. Ignited by All-American runningback Randy Sullivan (Stewart), the Dragons responded with a 7-2-1 finish in 1982 and a return trip to the NAIA I playoffs for a date at Mesa (CO) College. Following a 6-3-0 downturn during a major rebuilding campaign in 1983, MSU collected another NIC championship with a 8-3-0 mark in 1984 but fell at Central Arkansas, 30-6, in the national playoffs. Sullivan led the nation in rushing (140.6) and scoring (13.2) as a senior, and passed the torch to Troy Hendricks (Bemidji). The transfer from North Dakota made for a seamless transition, leading the nation in rushing (138.4) and scoring (12.4) in 1985. MSU posted a 8-2-0 record in 1985, but a 20-10 NIC Metrodome Classic ambush by Northern State scuttled post-season dreams.
After a 6-5-0 record in 1986, the Dragons returned to the NSIC summit in 1987 with a 9-3-0 record that included a 27-7 playoff loss at Gardner-Webb (NC). The Dragons repeated as league champs and stunned number two ranked Mesa (CO) College 26-16 in the opening round of the NAIA I playoffs during a 9-3-0 run in 1988. John Dallman (Glyndon) rambled through the startled Mavericks for a whopping 232 yards, and the Dragons closed the decade with a 6-4-0 mark a year later.
Boys Basketball - 80'sBasketball fortunes at Moorhead State quickly plummeted when Dave Schellhase moved to Indiana State. Vietnam veteran John Nelson brought a rather heroic personal resume to his new post as head coach at MSU in 1982, but the Dragons managed only one winning seasons in five years under Nelson. When he left following a 12-17 record in 1986-87, the Dragons launched an ambitious search to find a worthy replacement, and the hunt produced a surprise choice—Schellhase. The impatient Sycamores of Indiana State, spoiled by the singular brilliance of the legendary Larry Bird, began the first of several coaching changes by jettisoning Schellhase after three seasons in 1985.
President Dr. Roland Dille was quick to step to the podium and welcome his former coach back at a jammed news conference that trumpeted his return in 1987 (left, with 87-88 team). “This is a great day for our university for several reasons,” said Dille. “I’ve watched three great basketball coaches over these many years at Moorhead State: Larry MacLeod, Marv Skaar and Dave Schellhase. Now we get a chance to welcome Dave again. . . Schellhase is a wonderful demonstration of personal courage that we can all learn from. For Dave Schellhase the best is yet to come.”
After two losing seasons, Schellhase had the Dragons back on the winning track with a 16-13 printout in 1989-90, and Dragon loyalists couldn’t wait for the new decade to arrive. Schellhase quickly landed an impressive recruiting catch, including Ralph Western (Plainfield, IN), Mike Polomny (Brooklyn Park), Lee McIntosh (West Fargo, ND) and Greg Duke (Evansville, IN), and a solid foundation was in place.
In the long run, cross-country may have been the Dragons’ most successful enterprise in the 80s, stockpiling nine NIC titles from 1981-90 and crowning four individual champions, including Dave Sederquist (Bagley) in 1981, Randy Goblirsch (Redwood Falls) in 1982, and Keith Haverland (Farmington) in 1983-84. Fred Dahnke, a product of the MSC track and cross-country program, replaced Bladow as head coach in 1981 and was named NSIC Cross-Country Coach of the Year three straight years. Dahnke piloted the Dragons to a ninth place finish at the 1992 NAIA National Championships and tutored 11 All-Americans.
The Dragon track program was at full throttle in the 80s, stocking Alex Nemzek Hall trophy cases with a flock of team indoor and outdoor championship plaques and dispatching quality athletes to national meets with increasing regularity. After spotting Mankato State conference indoor and outdoor titles in 1981-82, the Dragons ran the table the rest of the decade and extended their mastery to 10 consecutive NIC Indoor and NIC Outdoor team titles. MSU crowned a batch of All-Americans as well.
John Alin (West Fargo, ND) breezed to a national championship in the 1500 meters at the 1985 NAIA National Outdoor. The Dragons also received runnerup finishes from Joel Jorgenson (Redwood Falls) in the mile at the 1980 NAIA Indoor; Mark Waldera (Dickinson, ND) in the javelin at the 1982 NAIA Outdoor; Brett Ailts (Jackson) in the shot put; and the two-mile relay crew of Brad Milbeck (Pelican Rapids), Alin, Marc Ryan (Rosemount) and Keith Haverland (Farmington) at the 1984 NAIA Indoor; Alin in the mile, and the two-mile relay team of Alin, Milbeck, Mike Thomas (Moorhead) and Haverland at the 1985 Indoor; and Milbeck in the 800 at the 1986 NAIA Outdoor.
There were other valued performers as well, including sprinters Keith McCarty (Hawley) and Scott Anderson (Breckenridge); hurdlers Keith Barnier (Elk River) and Shawn Grabow (Renville); distance runners Pat Billig (Little Falls), Marv Denzer (Montgomery), Jeff Streich (Stewart) and Roger Thelen (Farmington); high jumpers Tyrone Ross (Foley) and Brian Rabenberg (Britton, SD); javelin specialists Paul Lykken (Kindred, ND), Bill Schmitz (Oakes, ND), Jim Anderson (Wahpeton, ND) and Jeff Meland (Bismarck, ND); and weightman Craig Peterson (Warren).
Times were not so giddy for the baseball Dragons. Senior transfer Ed Schumacher (Pine City), a one-year wonder indeed, made an unlikely but nearly successful bid for the national home run crown and earned all-league honors in 1980. Despite a late renaissance, there would be no deathbed reprieve, and the plug was pulled on intercollegiate baseball in May of 1983 following the greatest, and final, season. Head coach Joe Warner and his dead men walking ignored the gloomy backdrop to set a single season record with 28 victories en route to a 28-16 overall finish, a NIC championship, a sweep of College of St. Thomas in the NAIA District 13 championships, and an invitation to the NAIA Area tournament.
Five Dragons were showered with all-conference honors, including pitchers Wally Axelson (Spring Lake Park), Rick Hill (Glyndon), Tom Riewer (Bagley) and Bob Von Arx (Apple Valley), and outfielder Dave Schwab (Moorhead). After the final out, the baseball Dragons scattered to colleges and universities across the upper Midwest, including Hill and Riewer, who both later pitched for the University of Minnesota.
Volleyball fortunes at MSU began to seriously spike up after Becky Schulze arrived as head coach in 1991. She prodded the Dragons to 25-13, 36-11, 23-12 and 39-12 finishes, including a pair of trips to the NAIA National Championships in 1992 and 1994.
Amy Gernand (Moorhead), a talented transfer from North Dakota State, became a fixture on the Dragon frontline. Michelle Larson (Crookston) and sisters Carrie and Emily Hegg (McIntosh) played prominent roles in the Dragons’ championship run as well. Tammy Blake replaced Schulze in 1995, and faced the additional hurdle of shepherding the move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.
Advancing to post-season play in NCAA II became an afterthought for several years until the 2000 Dragons returned to the NSIC summit and qualified for regional play with an eye-popping 28-3 regular season finish. A four-year starter at setter, Jessie Bruns (White Bear Lake) was the catalyst and was named the Most Valuable Player in the NSIC. More honors poured in, and Bruns was joined on the All-NSIC first team by Jill Dixon (Buffalo) and Amy Weinzierl (Bottineau, ND).
“We had no idea we would do that well, but when we won our first nine matches, and went five games with North Dakota State in our 10th game we realized we had something special,” said Blake. “We were balanced, we had a great setter in (Jessie) Bruns, and we played we together. We were confident, and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
“We had a lot of pressure all years, and our seniors kept us together. We were just one mistake away from losing the conference and missing the playoffs, but we were a very mature team, and that helped a great deal.”
Soccer became an official varsity sport at Moorhead State in 1995, and by year two coach Rollie Bullock had guided the Dragons to a surprising 12-4 finish that included the NSIC title. Tracy Sibell (Rapid City, SD) scored a whopping 37 goals in 1995-96 and became the Dragons’ first soccer All-American. Shauna Derosier (Iowa) and Sarah Carlson (Rosemount) were early standouts as well.
The basketball Dragons had their moments in the 1990s, earning a trip to the NAIA District playoffs from 1991-95. Farstveet was named a Kodak All-American in 1993 while center Kristie Stangl (Manning, IA) sprouted as a SUCCESSFUL FARMING All-American as a senior in 1999.
The coaching carousel that Ulferts jumped off in 1994 stopped to let Jean Roise on as head coach. After six seasons Roise resigned, and assistant Karla Nelson was promoted to the top post in 2000. Sparked by forward Katie Doerr (Henderson), the Dragons began to close the gap in the NSIC arms race.
The good times continued for the softball Dragons in the early 90s, including two more trips to the NAIA National Championships. The pitching torch was tossed from Susan Lasch to Jen Bagley (Hoyt Lakes), and Bagley helped the Dragons secure three straight NAIA District 13 championships. Becky Schulze added softball coaching duties to her portfolio for two seasons, but resigned after a 23-16 finish in 1995, the Dragons’ last winning season until a 21-19 mark under coach Karla Nelson in 1999.
Moorhead State continued its quest to expand athletic opportunities for female student-athletes by establishing swimming as a varsity sport in 1997, and Todd Peters began patiently to build a quality program. Gary Harris continued to serve as tennis coach while Tracie Bents, a letterwinner at State, was appointed women’s golf coach in 1999.
The Dragons remained as a significant landmark on the conference and national track and cross-country scene as well. Gina Hann and Michele Dewerff (Fargo, ND) claimed the top two spots at the 1991 NSC Cross-Country Championships and helped the Dragons blaze to the team title with a near perfect 1-2-3-4-6 finish. The Dragons failed to win another conference title during the rest of the decade, although Jessica Faith (St. Cloud) captured individual championships in 1995 and 1996.
The Dragons’ stranglehold on NSC Indoor and Outdoor track brethren began to loosen in the early 1990s, and Smith resigned after the 1992 season. Reclaiming the top rung in the NSIC was too tall an order for new coach Joe Fisher, but the Dragons were not without some individual stars, including middle distance specialist Michelle Berger (Fergus Falls), hurdler Tanya Wilde (Moorhead) and pole vaulter Aaron Clark (Moorhead). Keith Barnier was installed as head track coach in 2002 and quickly developed four All-Americans, including NCAA II National Indoor weight throw champion Belinda Eastlack in 2004.
MSU Moorhead charged into a new century anxious to chase some lofty individual and team challenges and create some lasting memories. Still, the playing field was less than level and finding real success in the expanded 10-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and achieving notoriety under the umbrella of the rugged NCAA Division II was a daunting task, indeed. But there were reasons for optimism. A seven-million dollar facelift to Alex Nemzek Hall restored the home of the Dragons to a first-rate facility and enhanced recruiting opportunities. The renovation of Ron Masanz Track at Alex Nemzek Stadium restored a regional showcase for men and women’s track. In addition, an expanded staff that included more coaching and support staff, including a fulltime fund-raiser and promotions position, assistant athletic director, and additional athletic training help, sent a clear signal that the Dragons were serious. Dr. Alfonso Scandrett, Jr. assumed the position of Athletic Director at MSU Moorhead in 2004.
Indeed, there was ample reason for hope that MSU Moorhead was well positioned to maintain its status as a serious player in the business of intercollegiate athletics.