All apologies to The Who for the title.
After a few weeks of searching for a new basketball coach, North Dakota decided in the end that the best person for the job, was the one who had it last year.
It was announced last Wednesday that the interim tag was being removed and Mallory Bernhard was officially given the job as head coach of the UND Women’s Basketball team. She is the 7th person to be given the job and the first former player to coach at her alma matter.
A brief Bio on the coach: Mallory Bernhard played for UND from 2006-2011, under legendary head coach Gene Roebuck. She played on teams during the last seasons of the Divison II era and the transition to Division 1. She was a decorated player at UND, reaching the top 10 in her career on many offensive records and in the top 20 in all-time scoring. After college, she went back to Iowa to coach at the high school level, where she was very successful, going 51-4 in those two year and winning 2 state championships. She returned to her alma matter to be an assistant coach, a role she served for 7 years, being apart of 2 Big Sky conference championship teams (2014, 2017) and an NCAA tournament appearance (2014).
To flashback a bit as to why she was the interim last season: The job was originally opened after the 2019-2020 season. Travis Brewster, the coach at the time, was told that he would not be returning the following season. Twelve hours after that announcement, the world came to an screeching halt due to COVID. Given the circumstances, it was decided that Bernhard would be given the interim position for the 2020-21 season.
To me: The decision was a bit of a surprise at first but after thinking on it more the past several days, perhaps it really wasn’t all that surprising. Perhaps this was being signaled when the only other finalist was an assistant from LSU and not a head coach from another school. Nevertheless, some fans were looking at this as an opportunity to get new blood into the program.
I listened to the presser and one big thing stuck out to me: Coach Bernhard mentioned several times that recruiting needed to improve in order for UND to compete in the Summit. Certainly would agree with this assessment. If UND is going to challenge the South Dakota schools for Summit supremacy, this is going to be a must.
Last year was not a great year for the women. It was possibly the worst season in program history, with only 2 wins in the regular season and going 2-13 overall in the Summit. However, several things went wrong. Key players were out for large stretches due to injury. COVID also reared it ugly head twice, causing UND to lose a couple of games and limited their roster to only 8 players. There also had lost several close games and a few heartbreakers in OT. The roster returns a lot of key players*, but it will be interesting to see how the roster shakes up during the offseason. Julia Fleecs and Mikayla Reinke finished up their careers at UND and have already brought in one of their freshman recruits mid-season (Erika Lane, Oliva’s sister). They will also bring in Jodi Anderson, a 5’11 guard from Minnesota (Centennial High School), Allie McGarthy, a 6′ guard from Canada (Grand Falls, New Brunswick), and Miranda VanderWal, a 6’6 Center from Canada (Strathvoy, Ontario).
The Summit League has become one of the better conferences in the mid-majors. They got 2 teams in the NCAA tournament this year (if not for the 2020 tournament getting cancelled, it would have been the 3rd year in a row this happened.) South Dakota and South Dakota State are firmly established as not only Summit League powers, but mid-major powers. North Dakota State, after many years in the Summit basement, finally has their coach and program going in the right direction and could be ready to go back to their former glory. Kansas City has shown that they can certainly compete in the league in their first year back. Western Illinois has had flashes of being at the top of the league. Omaha made a run to the conference tournament finals. Given the resources at a talent rich environment, St. Thomas should be ready to compete sooner rather than later. Needless to say, it is going to be a tough road back.
UND has had a proud tradition of excellence in women’s basketball, going back to their days in Division II. After some decent success in the Big Sky (a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2014, 2 Big Sky regular season titles), that success hasn’t translated to the Summit. It will be up to Bernhard and the staff to change that and help make UND a Summit League Power. I look forward to seeing what coach Bernhard can do with the full time job.
Credit to UND Athletics Website for some of my information: Mallory Bernhard Officially Named Head Coach of UND Women’s Basketball – University of North Dakota Athletics (fightinghawks.com)
*As we have seen today, Megan Zander, Rachel Garvey, and Emma Anderson have already announced that they are in the transfer portal, so the shakeup is on.