Johnston featured in podcast

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

Three sports reporters from the Argus Leader traveled up to Brookings for their weekly Internet broadcast. Stu Whitney, Mick Garry and Chris Solari talked sports for about 30 minutes, while interviewing Women’s Basketball Head Coach Aaron Johnston, on Feb. 8.

The sports reporters started off by briefly discussing Super Bowl XL. Solari is originally from Pennsylvania, so he has a special place in his heart for the Steelers.

Johnston then joined the show. The first few questions dealt with the team’s transition into Division I. Johnston first mentioned how Heather Sieler and Christina Gilbert are the only two players who remain from the 2002-2003 national championship team. He then talked about a couple of big wins the team has had. They went on the road to beat Wisconsin and Nebraska and defeated Alabama here at home. He expressed his excitement for next year’s schedule when the team has a more balanced home and away schedule. This year, the team plays 18 games on the road, compared to only 10 in Frost Arena. Next year, Marquette University and Colorado University, among other schools, will visit the world’s largest rabbit den.

Johnston noted the level of competition they have played against during the past two years, including teams in the Big 10 and Big 12, as well as the other major conferences, is completely different than what they played before. To have those caliber of teams coming to Brookings is a big deal.

Johnston is pleased with how his team has handled the move to D-I. “I think they have adjusted real well.” Johnston said the mindset to paly at the next level is different, and the ladies have done well.

Despite the added travel this season, the team has remained an academically-elite team. Johnston said the ladies were second in the nation last year in team grade point average. During the first semester this year, the team averaged more than a 3.6 GPA.

With the Jacks’ recent success, the possibility exists for the team to be invited to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The NCAA tournament takes the top 64 teams, then the WNIT takes the next best 32 teams. Four different polls are used when determining the rankings of each team, and Johnston believes his team is somewhere around the 90 or 100 mark. Johnston feels right now the Jacks are on the outside looking in, but they have a chance to move up. Johnston said there are about 300 D-I basketball teams, so to be considered in the top 100 is pretty amazing.

Johnston was next asked about the men’s basketball team and how they have struggled both on and off the court. He believes that all sports need to work together to make the transition to D-I. Even though the women have had the most success of any of the sports teams, Johnston does not view the Lady Jacks as separate from the rest of the athletic department.

The interview then turned to senior Heather Seiler, and how she has played well recently. Johnston said, “Heather’s a fantastic peson.” Seiler, from Huron, is a local girl who has done well.

“I’m excited and encouraged that the level of basketball we have in this area allows us to beat some of the schools we talked about,” he said.

Solari, who covers Jackrabbit sports for the Argus, said he believes the most special thing about the women’s team is seeing them have a chance for another 20-win season. Johnston agrees that 20 wins would be nice.

“It would mean a lot to us,” he said.

Johnston believes the success the team has had is very important to selling Division-I basketball to local players. So far, Johnston has not had any problems convincing people the move to D-I is a positive thing.

The interview concluded with discussion about the Jacks’ leader scorer and rebounder, Megan Vogel. Johnston feels Vogel is definitely one of the best. He thinks that Megan could not only play, but start, in the Big 10 or Big 12.

Johnston left and the three reporters brushed on a few more topics, including Olympic figure skating and gambling in sports.

The Lady Jacks play their next three games on the road, before finishing the season at home on March 3. The next game for the ‘Rabbits is Feb. 18 against rival North Dakota State in Fargo. With a strong finish, the Jacks hope to secure another 20-win season and a possible berth in the WNIT.