Ricke Reflects on Student Coaching Experience with NAIA Division II National Champions

Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, served as a student coach with the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team during the 2017-2018 season. She helped the Tigers secure their first ever NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship.

Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, served as a student coach with the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team during the 2017-2018 season. She helped the Tigers secure their first ever NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship.

The 2017-2018 Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball season is one Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, won’t soon forget. As a student coach, she helped the Tigers secure their first ever NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship last spring.

“Going into the tournament, we had a tough bracket set in front of us,” Ricke said. “We played some really good teams and beat the overall number one seed, which was undefeated prior to losing to us. Each game we continued to play our best basketball and it paid off.”

According to the dwuathletics.com, the Tigers finished the 2017-2018 season with an overall record of 32-6, tying the school record for most wins in a season. 

Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, holds the 2018 NAIA Division II National Championship trophy, won for the first time in school history by Dakota Wesleyan University’s women’s basketball team.

Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, holds the 2018 NAIA Division II National Championship trophy, won for the first time in school history by Dakota Wesleyan University’s women’s basketball team.

Ricke’s favorite part of the whole experience was the community support the team received along the way.

“We had a huge following throughout the entire season at the Corn Palace, and those fans carried over to the national tournament at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City,” Ricke recalled. “After returning to Mitchell we had a welcome home ceremony on campus, were given a key to the city of Mitchell, went out to eat with donors, and much more.”

From congratulatory notes on signs outside local businesses to a 12-page special issue of the Daily Republic of Mitchell featuring the team, Ricke said the Tigers truly felt the embrace of their fans throughout the season. After the big win, the Corn Palace was lit up blue to honor the team.

“Overall, the win really brought the community together and it was really special to be a part of the whole thing,” she said.

Last spring wasn’t the first time Ricke made history with a women’s basketball team in South Dakota. She played JV and varsity ball during her freshman year at Lincoln High School and helped the Patriots win their first ever women’s state title in the spring of 2013.

Two years later, the team returned to the tournament and won the consolation championship. Instead of playing in the tournament that year, Ricke cheered from the sidelines as she recovered from a knee injury.

“I didn’t know what my future in athletics would be like,” she said when reflecting upon the injury.

After undergoing three surgeries to repair a torn ACL, meniscus, and dislocated kneecap, doctors informed her that playing college basketball was not in her best interest.

“When the opportunity arose to be a student coach, I knew that was God’s way of keeping me in the game,” Ricke said. “It was one of the best choices I have ever made. I love being a part of the team even though I don’t get to be on the court. God definitely placed me in this position for a reason, and I look forward to where it will lead me in the future.”

Student coach Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, cheers the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers on from the sidelines during the 2018 NAIA Division II tournament.

Student coach Jill Ricke, SFLS class of 2012, cheers the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers on from the sidelines during the 2018 NAIA Division II tournament.

As a student coach, Ricke is responsible for assisting with practice and attending all team functions. She goes to every open gym, practice, and game throughout the course of the season.

“College basketball is a huge time commitment,” Ricke said. “It is tough to keep up with the academics due to missing classes for games, but my professors are extremely encouraging and willing to work with the athletic schedules.”

While winning a national title will always stand out in Ricke’s memory as a highlight of her time at DWU, she said her favorite thing about being a student coach is the opportunity to form new friendships with peers.

“Making friends is often the toughest part of college,” Ricke said. “Being a part of the team helped me to have friendly faces to say hi to around campus. It also gave me people to hang out with and study with outside of games and practices.”

Now a junior, Ricke is majoring in elementary education at DWU. She looks forward to supporting the Tigers as a student coach again this season.

“I am looking forward to watching younger players get the opportunity to showcase their talents on their court,” Ricke said. “We have a lot of young talent this year, and it will be exciting to see how this team plays together compared to last year’s team. We definitely have a reputation to uphold following our crazy national tournament win, but I think that the team is ready for the challenge. I am really excited to go on this journey with them again this year!”

The Tigers will open the 2018-2019 season at home in the Corn Palace on Oct. 30 against Valley City State University.


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