Many Bison teams did well in Division I

Year 1 in Division I is almost history. And, indeed, it was a historical season for North Dakota State. A Division II school since the division was adopted in 1973, NDSU went from idealism to reality in most sports this season by playing at the D...

Year 1 in Division I is almost history. And, indeed, it was a historical season for North Dakota State.

A Division II school since the division was adopted in 1973, NDSU went from idealism to reality in most sports this season by playing at the Division I level.

As expected, it was a mix of success and failure.

Some sports had less-daunting transitions while others found it tough. The combined team records for both men and women is 104-108-2, with baseball still going.

There are footnotes to the wins and losses: women's basketball played two non-transition Division I teams and finished 26-1. Men's basketball had 10 and was 16-12.


Otherwise, baseball, football, wrestling, softball, soccer and volleyball played a Division I power-ranking qualifying schedule. Add men's and women's cross country, golf and track and field and the field is set for the following distinction:

Who had the best Division I season?

The nominees are football, wrestling, softball and men's track and field.

It was a general consensus that if the Bison finished above .500 the season would be classified a success. They went 8-3, including a No. 23 ranking in the Division I-AA top 25 poll.

Quality wins came against Northwestern State (La.) and Cal Davis. Northwestern qualified for the I-AA playoffs and both were ranked in the top 25 during the season.

Impressive wins came against Nicholls State (La.), Southern Utah and Weber State (Utah). The Bison beat Nicholls, a team that received top-25 votes early in the season, on the road in a hot and humid atmosphere. Southern Utah had one of its best teams in recent years.

And beating Weber, although the Wildcats finished 1-10, was nonetheless on the road against a Big Sky Conference team.

Keep in mind this was a team that went 2-8 in 2003.


The wrestling team accomplished something the men's basketball will probably never do: it defeated Duke, Virginia and North Carolina State in the same week.

NDSU finished 10-4 in duals with other Division I wins against Princeton, Appalachian State (N.C.), Northern Colorado, South Dakota State and Wyoming.

NDSU's wins were against lower-end teams of Division I.

It may not take the program long to compete with the top-25 teams. Wrestling is slated to be Division I tournament eligible in 2006-07 and recruits are taking notice.

The 10-4 dual record this year was accomplished without several of the Bison's top wrestlers, who redshirted.

The former Division II power matched up well with mid-major Division I teams. At one point, it won six of seven games against Saint Louis, North Carolina-Charlotte (twice), Liberty (Va.), Elon (N.C.) and Lafayette (La.).

The Bison finished 24-27.

"We learned a ton of things," coach Darren Mueller said, "like just the way to approach some of the games. It's a little more major league style in some ways."


There was a UFO - Unidentified Fast Object - sighted at track meets at the University of Washington, Stanford and Notre Dame.

It turned out to be the Bison sprinting crew.

Although accomplished through thousands of miles of travel in different time zones, NDSU is putting together one of its best seasons with one of its best collections of athletes.

"Oof, yeah," coach Don Larson said. "A no-nonsense, no-whining bunch that practice hard and compete hard and enjoy competition."

The 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter relay teams have been slugging it out with Division I's best all spring. The 400 team of Marques Johnson, Allen Burrell, Jared Essler and Ben Hendricks won at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., and took third to Wisconsin and Oregon at the Drake Relays.

In all, NDSU has broken four outdoor records: the 400 and 800 relays, John Christensen in the hammer throw and Andrew Aakre in the decathlon.

As impressive as women's basketball's win at Cincinnati, football's victory against Northwestern State, volleyball's win at Wisconsin-Green Bay, softball's victory against Virginia Tech or men's basketball's near upset at Kansas State, nobody beat Illinois, Washington, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wake Forest.

Men's track holds that distinction. Albeit an individual feat in the sprint relays, the Bison consistently ran with the top Division I performers in those events all season.


Moreover, indoor track featured NCAA post-graduate scholarship winter sport winners Jared Essler and Terrance Wolbaum, both sprinters. There were only 27 honored in all sports in all NCAA divisions.

"Everything from all that the assistants put into it to the largest senior class (16) we've ever had," Larson said, "has made this a season to remember."

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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