Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



McFeely: Bison women could secure WNIT berth and, with it, some needed juice

With a weekend sweep of St. Thomas and Western Illinois, NDSU could guarantee a second-place Summit League finish.

North Dakota State's Heaven Hamling shoots over South Dakota's Nicole Avila-Ambrosi during their women's basketball game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — With all due respect to Jory Collins and his much-improved North Dakota State women's basketball team, South Dakota State is going to win the Summit League tournament.

OK, probably win the Summit League tournament. Like, probably in the sense that the sun will probably rise in the eastern sky. That kind of probably.

With their probable title, the Jackrabbits will take the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tourney.

That doesn't mean the Bison are without opportunity to pump some life into the program.

Allow us to get in some serious cart-before-the-horse territory.


With South Dakota taking a couple of steps backward this season after the departure of coach Dawn Plitzuweit and almost every key player, the Summit went from a league with two outstanding teams to a league with one outstanding team. Behind SDSU, the other nine squads range from good (NDSU included) to OK to something less than that.

North Dakota State women’s basketball head coach Jory Collins speaks to a player from the sidelines during their basketball game against North Dakota on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex inside the Scheels Center in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

USD's descent created a vacuum behind the Jackrabbits. To their credit, the Bison are better than they've been in the past 15 years and used the opening to climb into a second-place tie with North Dakota heading to the final two games of the regular season.

Collins and his team have been holed up in St. Paul since Tuesday, traveling early to beat the massive winter storm shutting down the Twin Cities and much of central and southern Minnesota. The Bison will play St. Thomas on Thursday and then bus to Western Illinois to wrap up the regular season Saturday.

It's a big weekend for the Bison, perhaps the most important since their NCAA Division II days a lifetime ago.

A sweep of St. Thomas and Western Illinois would secure second place, assuring not only a more advantageous bracket at the Summit League postseason tournament next weekend in Sioux Falls but securing a bid to the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

Given what is 99.9999% likely to happen at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, the second reward might be more important than the first to NDSU.

The WNIT, like the NIT on the men's side, is the consolation prize for teams that don't make the 68-team NCAA field. The Summit League is given an automatic bid to the 64-team WNIT, sending the team that finished highest in the regular season but didn't get an NCAA berth. With the Summit being a one-bid NCAA league, that means the second-place team gets a WNIT bid.

In big markets or major conferences, maybe the WNIT is viewed as a prize worthy of derision. But for mid-majors, and specifically the Summit League, it can provide some juice. In some cases, lots of it. The Jacks and Coyotes have each played in several WNITs.


USD won the WNIT in 2016, drawing big crowds to the DakotaDome that included more than 7,000 for the championship against Florida Gulf Coast. SDSU won the title last year, packing Frost Arena with crowds of 5,000-plus for the semifinals against UCLA and the championship against Seton Hall.

North Dakota State’s Elle Evans shoots a successful three-pointer during their basketball game against Omaha on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex inside the Scheels Center in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

UCLA. In Brookings. That isn't the NCAA tournament, but it ain't bad.

The point is, it's something. It's postseason basketball. It's been awhile since NDSU has hosted a women's game in which fans showed up in big numbers and engaged. Even this year's home game against North Dakota, an in-state scrap between two good teams, wasn't exactly electric.

This season's Bison of Heaven Hamling, Elle Evans and Emily Behnke are winners (16-10 overall, 10-6 Summit) and as entertaining as any NDSU team in almost two decades and a disappointing crowd of 782 turned out at the home finale.

Maybe a home game in the WNIT, if the Bison had a winning bid and hosted, would pique interest from this town's finicky (and spoiled) fans.

Collins said the WNIT isn't something he's specifically mentioned to his players, but he'd welcome the chance.

"We've touched on the benefits of finishing second, but more in the sense of what it would mean for the Summit League tournament," Collins said. "To be able to play Saturday and, if you win, get a day off and not have to play three days in a row is a big deal. We're taking it one tournament at a time.

"But if we get the opportunity to play another game in the SHAC, whether it be the WNIT or whatever, we'd take that. It'd be another step for our team, a chance to generate some interest. If we played a big-name team at home, I think the fans would turn out. It'd be fun."


More on Bison women's basketball
The two teams start the weekend in a tie for second place in the Summit League standings.
North Dakota State hits 100 points for the first time since 2018 behind Heaven Hamling's 29 points on Saturday.
North Dakota State overcame last-place Kansas City for a key league victory on Thursday.
South Dakota State running away with regular season title

Athletic director Matt Larsen, who has long seen women's basketball as a growth possibility, said NDSU would be interested in exploring a WNIT home game. The tournament requires a first-round minimum bid of $6,500 and a second-round minimum of $7,500.

Regardless of how many fans turned up, it'd be a worthy investment.

The Bison women aren't in the same ballpark as SDSU or the USD teams of prior years. But inching closer to the Jackrabbits has to begin somewhere and building momentum would help. A WNIT bid would be a step.

Two victories this week, a tall enough task considering the recent history of Bison women's basketball, would get the ball rolling.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
What To Read Next
Get Local