I like sports. I always have. So when it came time for me to pick a college out of high school, it wasn’t surprising that every school I visited or talked to, I was interested in how their athletic departments were faring.
Full disclosure, my selection of schools was not that of the typical student. I’ve been on the track team at South Dakota State University all four years, and I was recruited for that sport coming out of high school. Naturally, my first thought about sports was where I fit in on the track and cross-country teams I had the opportunity to join. But, as a sports fan, I did have a real interest in the other teams, particularly basketball and football, and SDSU had a real draw for me in the former.
Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbit men were fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance and a close loss to Baylor. Wolters was coming back for his final season and there was real hype surrounding the team.
So, having the Wolters train with a full head of steam and a football team that had playoff experience, I figured I knew I would be coming to a campus with a solid, up and coming athletic department. I didn’t realize that I was actually about to see a one of the most historic periods in Jackrabbit sports.
It started with the first football game I went to as a freshman. In the fall of 2013, T
the Jacks were opening the season against Butler, and the first two down of Jackrabbit football I ever saw were two carries by Zach Zenner. The first went for 39 yards. The second went for 36 yards and a touchdown. And for Zenner, the rest, as they say, is history. He ripped off three straight 2,000-yard seasons and the Jacks continually seemed like they were one North Dakota State upset away from making a deep playoff run, not to mention receiver Jake Wieneke has taken the mantle as the new super Jack on the field.
In basketball, the Jacks made the big dance again, falling to Michigan that year. The women’s basketball team kept their streak of Summit League general dominance alive. But beyond those big three sports, there was success all across the SDSU athletic department that may have flown under the radar.
The wrestling team hired Chris Bono as its head coach, and has sent multiple wrestlers to nationals the last three years. Also, under Bono’s watch, the Jacks have grown their brand through social media and been part of a merger that brought them into the Big XII conference.
The softball team, after years of being a doormat program, brought in Krista Wood as a new head coach and has seen a substantial uptick in wins each year, as well as seeing many offensive records fall.
The baseball team has become increasingly competitive within the Summit League, and has been producing high caliber players. Two Jacks were drafted in the MLB First Year Player Draft in 2015, including outfielder Zach Coppola, who was near the top of the NCAA leaderboard in stolen bases last season.
In my own sports, track and field and cross country, we’ve seen a spike in success. We have had our first-ever two-time All-American in cross country, and this fall had two men finish with All-American honors. We have seen multitudes of school records fall in the past 24 months, had a woman post a world class mark in the triple jump and steadily established ourselves in the seclusive culture that exists in the world of track and field.
I don’t mean to live in the past. The SDSU Athletic Department is primed for sustained success. But, when students new to SDSU or just getting into sports are familiarizing themselves with the Jackrabbits, I want them to know what came before them.
Students who sit in the endzone at football games should remember when we crammed into one corner section at Coughlin-Alumni.
When Mike Daum is terrorizing the Summit League in basketball his senior year, I want them to pause and think of the damage Wolters did before they dub him the greatest Jack of all time.
If you’re an SDSU sports fan, love the achievements you’re around to see. If you’re a Jackrabbit athlete; be proud of what you and your teammates accomplish in your time here, but always remember and respect what preceded you, because there is a rule of life that college athletics exemplifies more than anything else. The achievements of the past create the opportunities of the present.