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Diggin' the Bison

The roster lists Sheila Parrish as a sophomore. In reality, the North Dakota State volleyball player is in her 19th year with the program. She's been a life-long fan, a kid who grew up across the street from campus, and is making good of her chil...

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The roster lists Sheila Parrish as a sophomore. In reality, the North Dakota State volleyball player is in her 19th year with the program.

She's been a life-long fan, a kid who grew up across the street from campus, and is making good of her childhood aspirations.

During the homecoming parade, she was one of those darting kids scrambling for candy. Now she's the one throwing it out.

In elementary and junior high, she was one of the Junior Bison Club kids who hung out at games. In high school, she idolized the Junior Olympic coaches who were also NDSU players.

She dreamed it. Now she's living it.

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"Growing up, those are dreams, and you don't know if they're realistic," Parrish said. "Then getting here and wearing the jersey with NDSU Bison on the back, and the little kids coming up to you after games, it makes you stop and think, 'Hey, that used to be me.'"

Parrish's pursuit of playing for NDSU is important for another reason: She feels she has a personal stake in seeing the program make a successful transition to NCAA Division I. The Bison host their only D-I matches of the season tonight and Saturday against Northern Colorado and South Dakota State.

Both UNC and SDSU are also in the reclassification stages. NDSU will host more Division I teams next year. And by 2006-07 -- Parrish's senior year -- the school will be playoff eligible. Volleyball and wrestling are exempt from the five-year transition.

"That was exciting news when we heard it," Parrish said. "But this year is right now."

Parrish has been right on this year. She leads the team in kills and digs. She's been NDSU's most consistent player as far as banging toe-to-toe at a Division I level.

"She's figuring out what that is like the rest of us," said Bison head coach Zaundra Bina.

Parrish has a history of matching her level of play to the competition. She was Miss Volleyball at Fargo North.

She started at NDSU last year as a true freshman against Division II competition.

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This year, she's excelling against taller and quicker players. At 5-foot-9, the only opposing players who are smaller are setters and liberos.

That makes weight training, she says, just as important, if not more, than volleyball skills training. She was known for her leaping ability at North. At NDSU, she's added strength, power and stamina. She played every point last week in a long four-game win against MSUM.

This weekend is NDSU's World Series of sorts. The Bears are 11-6 with wins over the likes of Montana, Wyoming, Portland State and Creighton. NDSU is 4-12 with Division I wins against Wisconsin-Green Bay, Missouri-Kansas City and Robert Morris.

NDSU is also in a serious youth movement; six of the top eight players and 11 of the 14 on the roster are freshmen or sophomores.

"We're learning, and we'll continue to learn," Parrish said.

It's been a strange week for the players and coaches in that it is a normal week. Instead of leaving Thursday or today for a road trip, the players have been able to attend every class.

As a coach, Bina has been able to prepare for a known opponent rather than making a best guess at pre-match strategy.

"Both of these teams have been to our gym many times before," she said.

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It's a gym that has literally been close to Parrish.

"It feels good to give back knowing that I took a lot from the older players when I was growing up," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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