Sarah Jacobson got a small sample of Fargo Shanley varsity girls basketball a decade ago when she was a seventh-grader, seeing limited playing time as she was moved up from junior varsity near the end of that season.
That experience only made Jacobson want more the following season.
“Her big goal was wanting to start varsity as an eighth-grader,” said Pat Jacobson, Sarah’s mom. “The time between seventh and eighth grade she put hours into the gym.”
Sarah earned a starting spot for the Deacons during the 2011-2012 season and she’s been a recognizable figure on the Fargo-Moorhead basketball scene since. Her competitive playing career is nearing completion.
“It’s crazy to think that it’s almost over with,” Pat said. “I’m sure a lot of people have thought that her name has been around for a long time.”
A senior guard for Minnesota State Moorhead, Sarah Jacobson and the Dragons play Augustana at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference women’s basketball tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Dragons (7-5) are the No. 4 seed from the North Division in a season that has been abbreviated due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Since Jacobson has decided not to use an NCAA eligibility waiver to return next season, Thursday could be the final game in her collegiate career. She’s not focused on the end yet.
“After the fact it’s going to be, ‘Wow, I’m done. What do I do with all my time now?’” said Jacobson, who scored an unofficial North Dakota Class A record 2,371 career points at Shanley. “That will be the biggest adjustment because it’s been a lot of years of a lot of time spent in the gym. … There are some things you can remember like it was yesterday. It definitely went by a lot faster than I thought it would.”
Jacobson is averaging 10.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, shooting 41% (18 of 44) from 3-point range, in her final season with the Dragons. Sarah played her first two college seasons at North Dakota State and took a redshirt season before she transferred to MSUM to play two more seasons.
“The No. 1 value that she’s brought to the program is just her maturity and how she sees the game,” said Dragons head coach Karla Nelson. “She doesn’t look at things in an immature fashion. That part has been exceptional. … She does a lot of things that aren’t going to show in the stats. When I think of her, I think she is just one of those grinding-type kids. She’s going to keep working.”
Nelson said that maturity has been important during a season that has been filled with uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regular season didn’t start until early January and was limited to 16 games. The Dragons had four of their games canceled due to COVID-19 test protocols.
In some respects, the pandemic has made it less difficult for Sarah to turn the page on her playing career.
“I really think that the whole pandemic, I mean it stinks not playing, but when we were in the heart of it, you really take a step back and you look at what’s really important in life,” Sara said. “It makes you think of your family and friends and my relationship with God.
“Not like the game of basketball isn’t important because it’s taught me a lot of things, I’ve grown a lot as a person and a player. I will take a lot of lessons with me for years to come that I’ve learned from basketball.”
Pat (Smykowski), who was an All-American player for NDSU, said the pandemic has helped slow Sarah down, especially when gym time was hard to find. Jim Smykowski, Pat’s father, has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, which has also put sports in perspective for Sarah and her family.
“For many of her years, sports was everything and I still think it’s super important, but she understands a little bit more now what really lies in the big picture of life,” Pat said. “She did great things as a basketball player, but I think she’s even going to do greater things as a person.”
In her final three seasons at Shanley, Sarah played for three consecutive North Dakota Class A state championship teams. The Deacons won 70 consecutive games (a streak that later ended at 76) during Sarah’s final three seasons at Shanley.
“During the time when I was playing, I didn’t think much of it, but looking back at it, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Sarah, who was a five-year varsity starter for the Deacons. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
Sarah was named North Dakota’s Miss Basketball in 2016, becoming the third member in her family to win an award that prestigious. Pat was named North Dakota’s Miss Basketball in 1984 when she played for Lidgerwood. A.J. Jacobson, Sarah’s older brother, was named Mr. Basketball in 2013 before he went on to play for NDSU.
Sarah said her basketball career is filled with memories, highs and lows and life lessons learned along the way.
“I’m most thankful for the relationships I’ve gained from the game of basketball,” Sarah said. “I really believe I have learned and grown a lot from the situations and experiences from the game of basketball that have really molded me into the person that I am today.”
Sarah plans to take the next school year off and apply for medical school. Her preference is to attend the University of North Dakota. She plans to coach a traveling team next summer and youth teams during the next school year.
“When I reflect back on what has happened, I think her desire to win was evident everywhere she went,” Pat said. “We had a blast as a family. All that sports stuff made us stronger and we got to share that common goal for all those years. She gave a lot of her family, including her grandparents, a lot of pride.”