FARGO — North Dakota State sophomore Heaven Hamling went on a scoring binge to close out the regular season, but her value to the Bison women’s basketball team goes beyond the numbers.
The 5-foot-8 guard also carries an intangible benefit.
“She brings a swagger to our team, a confidence in the way that she carries herself and plays,” said Bison head coach Jory Collins, in his second season with the team. “You can just see that she loves the game. She plays with a joy and a passion for basketball. I think that rubs off on our team.”
Hamling is in her second year in the Bison program, but her first year on the court as she had to redshirt last season after transferring from Stephen F. Austin. Her play has helped NDSU (14-9) earn the No. 3 seed for the Summit League tournament. The Bison play No. 6 seed Denver at 2:45 p.m. Sunday, March 7, in the conference quarterfinals at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“She has just been an incredible spark of energy for our team,” Bison senior Emily Dietz said of Hamling, who leads the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game.
“We have all been believing in ourselves and playing the best we can right at the end of the season," added Hamling, who is from Grand Rapids, Minn.
Hamling averaged 17.6 points per game in the final five games in the regular season, shooting 49% (22 of 45) from 3-point range during that stretch. She scored a combined 49 points in two games against South Dakota last weekend.
“When she shoots it or has a play our team is into it, everybody thinks the ball is going in,” Collins said. “She just has an aura about her that is positive and fun and I think our kids really enjoy playing with her.”
NDSU enters the Summit League on a four-game losing streak, but those losses came against the top two teams in the conference. The Bison lost two home games against conference champion South Dakota State the weekend before closing out the season with two losses at South Dakota, which earned the No. 2 seed.
The Bison lost those four games by a combined 38 points, including an 82-81 loss against the Coyotes on Feb. 27. By contrast, the Bison lost to SDSU and USD by a combined 118 points during the four regular-season matchups against those perennial Summit League powers last season.
“Losing four in a row to SDSU and USD obviously is tough, but if you could feel better about your team after losing games in a row, if that’s even possible, I feel like that’s how I feel,” Collins said.
Hamling was named the Summit League newcomer of the year earlier this week. She averaged 13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in conference play. She shot 43% from 3-point range in conference games, helping the Bison to a 9-7 record in the Summit.
“She’s just so multifaceted when it comes to being a point guard,” said Dietz, a Fargo Shanley graduate. “It just makes everybody’s life easier just the way she is able to read the floor. She has a super high basketball IQ.”
Dietz has played 100 games during her Bison career, averaging 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season. The 6-foot-3 forward said Hamling has helped open up the half court offense for the Bison with her long-range shooting and playmaking ability.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of me and that’s been able to help my own game grow a little bit more,” Dietz said. “She’s been a great teammate. She’s super confident.”
Dietz added the team’s confidence has grown since her time in the program. A season ago, the Bison upset Denver, which was the No. 3 seed, in the Summit League quarterfinals. That was NDSU’s first conference tournament victory in 11 years. This season, the Bison are favored in the quarterfinals against the Pioneers.
“We would step into games hoping the outcome wasn’t too bad maybe in previous years,” Dietz said. “Now we’re stepping into these games with a lot of confidence, knowing that we can compete with these teams.”
Hamling is excited to get her first chance to play in the Summit League tournament after watching last season.
“Seeing us beat Denver last year was just really awesome as our team grew the whole year last year,” Hamling said. “It was tough (not being able to play), but it made me better as a person and player and I could definitely see what I needed to do better.”