NSU men’s basketball team makes historic national championship appearance in home state
For Northern State University, 2018 will be remembered as the year the men’s basketball team united the state of South Dakota with an electrifying national championship appearance at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
The Wolves made history with a record-breaking season that drew an unprecedented level of hometown support – and “hometown” extended far beyond the borders of the NSU campus.
In March, the whole community of Aberdeen “marooned out” all championship week as the Wolves kept advancing, each game more thrilling than the last.
More than 9,000 combined fans – including alumni, faculty, staff and students – cheered on NSU at three games, creating a sea of frenzied maroon at the Sioux Falls stadium.
One fan captured the hearts of all of Wolves Nation. When Lucille Tollifson headed down to Sioux Falls on the NSU fan bus, it wasn’t the first time she’d watched the men’s basketball team at nationals – she also took a Northern fan bus to Kentucky 20 years ago.
Her story was followed by local, state and national media outlets as she cheered on the Northern team.
“It’s just an exciting time to be able to watch those Wolves play,” said Tollifson, who turns 90 in June.
Tollifson was far from the only one cheering on NSU. By the championship game, people from around the nation were watching the Wolves, with the NCAA reporting more than 1 million viewers.
The experience was unforgettable for the entire NSU community.
“It’s been such a game-changing time at Northern, with so much positive momentum on campus, and the Wolves’ historic season propels us even farther forward,” said NSU President Dr. Tim Downs. “Words can’t even express how proud I am of the entire team, and how grateful I am to all of Wolves Nation for coming out in droves to support our student-athletes and our university.”
Community support is nothing new to NSU, but what made this level of support unique was how far it reached. By the March 24 championship match, the entire state of South Dakota was cheering for Northern – even beyond, with alums and fans across the nation and in other countries expressing their support.
Even supporters of rival schools showed up for NSU. Everyone in South Dakota rallied behind them, with diehard Coyotes and Jackrabbits becoming Wolves fans.
The championship game came down to the final moments, and unfortunately, it did not end in Northern’s favor. But fans immediately voiced encouragement and pride, pointing out what an accomplishment the team had achieved.
In a season recap video, Coach Paul Sather expressed his pride for his players, and also praised the phenomenal support of Wolves fans.
“The atmosphere in the Elite Eight tournament was like nothing you could even imagine. From a national championship stage, to have 95 percent of those people in that arena cheering for Northern State was an incredible, amazing feeling. And you felt like you had everybody supporting you,” Sather said. “Winning the games was fun, but to have that kind of support – that’s so much a part of why this run that we had will never be forgotten.”
That support continued with a community celebration held on the NSU campus in April, when the public was invited to meet with Sather and NSU players.
Overall, the men’s basketball season was a fitting kick-off for a thrilling series of events planned for the university.
“The far-reaching support for our students and our university is phenomenal, and I’m excited for those supporters to keep showing up for Northern as we move forward with more exciting projects for our campus,” Downs said.
Campus projects include the Regional Science Education Center and the Athletic and Recreation Fields, currently under construction; two new residence halls opening this fall; and a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and regional sports complex yet to come.
“All of these projects – along with an outstanding athletics program, as our Wolves demonstrated so clearly – are perfect examples of what I mean by ‘enhancing the student experience,’” Downs said. “And our students aren’t the only ones who benefit. The success of our teams and our campus improvement projects truly enhance the experience for the whole community, region and state – for all of Wolves Nation.”
Downs thanked the NSU athletic department, men’s basketball coaches and student-athletes for the excellent season.
“They all well represented Northern and our community as athletes with the highest level of sportsmanship and honor,” he said. “We will cherish the efforts of this team for decades into the future.”
For decades in the future, 2018 will be remembered as a game-changing time for Wolves Country – as a time when everyone in South Dakota was a Northern Wolf.