FARGO — Even Buck, the Sanders family dog, went crazy when Brookelyn Dew-Sanders scored a goal on Senior Day with the North Dakota State women's soccer program. It’s been a lot of cheers, along with the predictable tough times of being in athletics, for Noah Sanders and Brookelyn since they met during their freshman year.
Noah graduated from both NDSU and the Bison football program last year. This fall, the soccer career of Brookelyn that began at Fargo Shanley will come to an end.
“Kind of crazy it came and went and it will be over,” she said.
Behind the No. 16 football uniform of Noah and the No. 19 soccer jersey of Brookelyn was a built-in support system for the last five years. Noah was a backup quarterback his entire career at NDSU, a job on the outside that looked to be all work and no glory.
Inside the walls of the football program, the reality is former quarterbacks Trey Lance and Zeb Noland were in their wedding last May. Noah wouldn’t trade the experience for anything: NDSU provided him a degree and a marriage.
“We’ve been pretty much together for this whole ride,” Noah said. “It was really tough at times. I’m not on the field obviously but I had a lot of peace knowing I had great quarterbacks ahead of me. Maybe it was a little easier on me than it was on her. I feel like our faith together helped with that, too.”
Winning also helps. Noah has three Division I FCS national championship rings. The Bison soccer team hasn’t made the Summit League playoffs since 2018, a 9-7 season that stands as the best record in Brookelyn’s time with the program. They’re currently 2-9-1, but are in the hunt for a top four conference finish and a spot in the league playoffs.
“Of course you want results, I came into a winning program and I’m doing my best to give everything to this program to get to where it needs to be,” Brookelyn said. “It’s my senior year and I want to win every game. Who doesn’t? But I’m trying to be the best leader I can. I feel like every step I take, every reaction I take, is setting up the team for the future. They see how I react so that’s my focus — being resilient and showing I can bounce back and our team can bounce back.”
Brookelyn’s career has been an exercise in staying with it. She was mainly a backup her freshman year, a far cry from her first team all-state career at Shanley. Noah remembers a day they were sitting in a Dairy Queen parking lot when they were freshmen with Brookelyn questioning her soccer future.
“With me coming from football, a lot of guys don’t play their freshman year,” he said. “My point was, just because you’re a freshman doesn’t mean you’re not going to play in the future. The sophomore year got better. The junior year got better and to see where she is now is amazing.”
Where she is now, playing as a fifth-year senior, is a result of the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. Noah moved on and graduated after NDSU’s lone fall game in the fall of 2020.
The discussion on whether Brookelyn would take her extra year started with academics. She got her undergraduate degree in psychology and is working on her MBA. Once NDSU offered her a scholarship for her fifth year, it was a quick decision.
“It was a no-brainer for her to play this season,” Noah said. “In my case, I didn’t want to do grad school. I miss being around the guys but in the same sense we had a wedding coming up and I needed to start working. For her, I fully supported her playing.”
Her playing at NDSU started when she was a little kid, like 6 or 7 years old. She went to Bison soccer camps. Bison players were her club team coaches. When former NDSU head coach Mark Cook offered her a scholarship, it was a dream come true.
A midfielder, she’s played in 76 career matches. The last two at home are Friday against Omaha and Sunday against Denver. The regular season ends in two weeks with a road trip at Western Illinois and St. Thomas.
The Sanders and Dew families will be there. Hopefully Buck will be able to bark after a goal. Whatever the case, the numbers 16 (his jersey) and 19 (her jersey) will always be a part of both.
“He was a huge support system all the way through,” Brookelyn said. “Even with not playing, and then earning my spot. That takes a lot of support. It’s hard being a Division I athlete and he was the one that got me through it. And it was the same back at him. He’s a very positive guy, he wouldn’t think negatively. He got along so well with the other quarterbacks. Yes, there’s competition, but those guys are so close that they were so happy with each other for any minute that they played.”