Ballard Named Coach of the Year
Winona State Women’s head basketball coach, Scott Ballard, was named the NSIC Coach of the Year, and also earned NCAA Division II Central Region Coach of the Year from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Three of his players earned All-NSIC honors.
Ballard earned his first NSIC Coach of the Year honor after guiding the Warriors to their best regular season in program history, compiling a 30-4 overall record with a 20-2 record in NSIC play, winning the program’s first NSIC regular season championship with a three-game cushion.
The Warriors began the year by setting a program record with a 13-game winning streak and Ballard led seniors Connor Nagle and Alexis Foley to a total of four NSIC Player of the Week awards this season.
In his 12th season, Ballard earned his 200th victory at Winona State with a win at Bemidji State on January 29 and has a career record of 477-274 in 25 seasons of collegiate coaching.
The honor marks WSU’s first NSIC Coach of the Year award in women’s basketball since Terri Sheridan earned the honor in the 1997-98 season.
“It has been a wonderful journey throughout the season and this team has set the bar high for future teams in our program!” Ballard said.
Eisner Scores Successful First Year
The Winona State University men’s basketball team took positive steps forward in its first season under Coach Todd Eisner. WSU finished 16-13 overall and 13-9 in the NSIC South, advancing as far as the conference tournament semifinals.
“I was very pleased with the way the players handled the transition to a new coach and a new system,” Eisner said. “I was very fortunate to inherit players that were willing to adjust to a different philosophy and work extremely hard on a daily basis to give our team the best chance to improve throughout the season.”
Following the end of the regular season, junior forward Kyle Bauman was named All-NSIC Second Team. Bauman, who is from Wells, Minn., led WSU with 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He had three 25-point performances. Bauman will lead a strong returning group for the Warriors in 2016-17, along with juniors Riley Bambenek and Isaiah Gray.
Eisner, who previously coached at Midland (Neb.), Benedictine (Kan.) and Viterbo (Wis.), joined the WSU program in August 2015. WSU faced a tough early schedule, playing two nationally-ranked teams at a tournament in California in November, then went 4-1 in December. The Warriors won seven of their final nine games. The strong finish included a memorable overtime buzzer-beater by Riley Bambenek.
In the NSIC Tournament, WSU defeated Northern State 70-68 when freshman Connor Flack made two late free throws. The Warriors’ season ended with a loss to Augustana in the semifinals.
“It was important to establish a foundation in Year One so that the players have an understanding of what the expectations are and the plan of action we will implement to move the program forward,” Eisner added. “Having an opportunity to compete for an NSIC championship takes great commitment, dedication, and work ethic from everyone in the program. With the solid core of veteran players returning, we are excited about next year and the opportunity to continue to make improvements in every aspect of our program.”
The Not so LONG Road to Success
Winona State University sophomore Kaitlyn Long has earned a spot among the top women’s track and field athletes in school history.
Long, who competes in throwing events, already has two NCAA Division II national championships and a secure place in the WSU track and field record book.
The Cottage Grove, Wis., native won her second national title in the weight throw March 11, 2016, at Pittsburg, Kan. Her winning throw was 74 feet, 53⁄4 inches, which broke both the school and national meet records and was the best among all divisions this past season.
She was named NSIC Indoor Field Athlete of the Year for 2016 and USA Track & Field Minnesota Athlete of the Month for January.
Long won her first championship in the weight throw as a freshman in 2015. Even more impressive is that she never attempted the weight throw—which is a 20-pound ball on a short chain—before coming to WSU.
WSU has won five individual national titles in women’s track and field. Long owns two, while Alissa Rauch (2015) and Mary Theisen (2011) both won titles in the discus, and Emily King won the weight throw in 2007.
Black Katts add ACRA 7’s to Accolades
The Winona State University Black Katts continued their run as one of the best women’s club rugby teams in Division II in 2015-16.
WSU completed an undefeated regular season, then advanced to the national championship. The Black Katts have four runner-up finishes over the past five seasons, with a DII national title in 2013 and their first National DII Championship in 7’s this season.
“Success breeds success,” WSU coach Josh Krzewinski ‘99 said. “Every season we try to add one more level to our game. Our fitness training is a major factor. We strive to be the fittest team on the pitch week in and week out. Another factor is our recruiting and ability to reload with talented players. Because of our reputation, we are seeing more high school rugby players showing interest in playing and studying at Winona State.”
Krzewinski praised the commitment of WSU’s rugby athletes. “These are girls who are not on athletic scholarships, practicing three days a week, following structured weight lifting programs, and traveling on the weekends to compete,” he said. “On top of that, most have a job and are great students. Last fall, we held 13 fundraisers to help us get the chance to travel to Colorado and South Carolina. Their dedication is incredible.”
Rugby Draws Top Player to WSU
Katie Dries ’16 brought an unusual background to the Winona State University Black Katts women’s rugby club team when she joined as a freshman. Dries had actually played the sport growing up.
The Black Katts program has been built around student-athletes who typically were high school athletes in other sports like soccer, but are new to rugby. The coaches and veteran players introduce them to the sport and help them develop. It’s a formula that works incredibly well, as WSU has appeared in the Division II final four for five consecutive seasons, with a national championship in 2013.
But Dries, who is from Waukesha, Wis., is a rare exception. She converted from soccer to rugby as a freshman at Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School and played all four years. When she was looking at colleges, Winona State went to the top of her list because of two superb programs — nursing and club rugby.
“Coming in as a freshman to WSU, I looked at the seniors and thought, ‘One day I really want to be like these girls,’” Katie said. “They’re really good role models and we’ve tried to uphold those expectations.”
Rugby is not a varsity athletic program at WSU, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t demanding. Dries said the team practices two to three times a week and plays matches throughout the fall and winter, traveling around Minnesota and Wisconsin for regular-season matches and as far as Nebraska and Florida for championship rounds.
WSU finished with a 15-1 record and was national runner-up for the 2015 fall season.
Dries said the Black Katts focus on dedication and good conditioning. Dries had the opportunity to do her nursing clinical work on the Mayo Clinic- Rochester cardiac floor this spring and plans on being a nurse practitioner or nursing professor. Rugby has served as an outlet from the intense demands of her major.
Rolbiecki Takes Top Honors
Winona State University gymnastics coach Beckie Rolbiecki ’77 was named 2016 WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) Coach of the Year, in recognition of a superb season for the Warriors.
WSU scored a team-record 191.65 points to place fourth at the NCGA National Championship meet on March 18 in Brockport, N.Y. The points total broke a 16-year-old school record. The Warriors also set new program records for team scores in the floor exercise and uneven bars.
Rolbiecki also guided four individual gymnasts to All-American recognition at the national meet, including sophomore Eboni Jackson, who won the national championship with a record-setting all- around performance that totaled 38.8 points. WSU’s other All-Americans were senior Brooke Hiestand (floor exercise), senior Olivia Cattelino (uneven bars), and sophomore Katie Pipp (uneven bars). The Warriors placed third at the WIAC conference championships and second at the Best of Minnesota Meet in 2016.
Caught the BIG One
The Winona State University team of Cade Laufenberg, a senior from La Crosse, Wis., majoring in Individualized Studies, and Wyatt Stout, a junior majoring in Biology from Winona, won the FLW College Fishing Central Conference Championship in Carlyle, Ill., held in October. The victory earned the club $4,000 and qualified the team for the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship.