Women's college basketball: For coaches Fury and Hayenga-Hostikka, nationals berth is a dream ticket
WORTHINGTON -- When the final horn sounded on Minnesota West's 60-59 women's basketball win in the Region 13A championship game Sunday night, head coach Mike Fury dropped to his knees while assistant coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka stood with her ...
WORTHINGTON - When the final horn sounded on Minnesota West’s 60-59 women’s basketball win in the Region 13A championship game Sunday night, head coach Mike Fury dropped to his knees while assistant coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka stood with her hands on her head in disbelief.
“Oh my gosh’ was the only thing that came to mind. ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it,” Hayenga-Hostikka said of those first moments after the Lady Jays had clinched their first trip to the NJCAA Division III National Tournament since the 1977-78 season. “I really am not sure what I did. We’ve been so close and had it end in disappointment so often that you just realize that you finally got over the hump. First there’s relief and shock, then the joy comes.”
It has indeed been a long time coming for Minnesota West’s tandem on the bench.
Fury is in his 34th year at the helm for the Lady Jays and will be making his first trip to nationals. Since taking over for Leon Stugelmeyer in 1981, he has compiled a career record of 472-358. That includes numerous state championships and runner-up finishes in the region. That last number includes runner-up status in Region 13 at the end of five of the past six seasons.
The longtime head coach’s relationship with Hayenga-Hostikka began long before she joined him on the Minnesota West bench 11 years ago. Fury estimated they first met when she was playing summer basketball while in eighth-grade. She went on to become one of the top players in Lady Jays’ history. During her sophomore season of 1991-92, she was named the Champion/WBCA National Player of the Year and has since been inducted into the Minnesota Community Colleges Conference Hall of Fame. She also helped steer Minnesota West to its best single season record-wise in team history, a 25-2 finish in her sophomore year. That team, however, finished one game shy of the national tournament.
“I know the sting of a loss in the region title game,” she said. “When you play, it’s such a dream to go to nationals. We lost a very tough game. I still don’t really talk about it much and to this day I haven’t watched the film.”
Knowing how many times Fury had felt that heartache from losing the big game was one of the key goals on Hayenga-Hostikka’s mind when she returned to Minnesota West as an assistant coach.
“I’m just so happy for Coach,” she said. “He’s been so close so many times. I wanted to help get him to nationals, because he deserves it. I wasn’t able to do that as a player so I really wanted that badly for him when I came back to coach. I’m just so fired up for him.”
Tuesday, sitting in a classroom at the Center for Sports and Fitness on the Minnesota West campus, Fury said the idea of going to nationals had sunk in. However, that doesn’t mean the initial elation of achieving something more than three decades in the making had subsided just yet.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s a first for me so I don’t really know how to act. We’re enjoying the moment. But yesterday we found out who we play and all of that, so it seems more real.”
The Lady Jays - who enter the tournament with a 24-5 record - take the court at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Penn., as the No. 6 seed at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 12. Their opponent will be third-seeded Mohawk Valley Community College of Utica, N.Y. The Hawks are ranked No. 5 in the nation with a 28-3 record and defeated No. 3-ranked Onondaga in the Region 3 title game 88-66. Mohawk Valley is led by high-scoring forward Jhontay Giles and sharp-shooter Stevie Ray, and both West coaches said advancing to the semifinals will be no small task.
That said, it would be difficult to count their team out.
Minnesota West has five seasoned sophomores who came into the 2014-15 campaign on a mission to not experience the pain left from last year’s loss in the Region 13 title game. When the Lady Jays dropped their season-opener 92-50 against Dakota Wesleyan’s junior varsity on Nov. 11, Fury said he told his players that he hoped by the end of the season they’d look back on that as a learning experience. They came back with wins in six of seven games against junior varsity teams, but ran into another snag after Christmas Break when injuries and illnesses hit the team hard.
In five of the first eight Southern Division games they played, the Lady Jays had only seven available players. Each player on the roster dressed for at least two of those, however, giving each a crash course in overcoming adversity.
“After Christmas we ran into a lot of injury and illness but we had people really step up,” Fury said. “I think that built us into a better team and got us over the bump.”
While preparing to make the trip East, the support coming from many different directions has added to the excitement. Hayenga-Hostikka said the best word she could use to describe it is “overwhelming.”
“I know Coach’s phone and email has just been blowing up these last couple days,” she said. “I’ve been getting text messages from people I haven’t talked to in years. Friends, family, fans, the community, the college and former players have been so supportive. I’ve heard so many times in the last couple days that someone is proud to be a Lady Jay.”
Through some great teams in the 1980s and 1990s to the more recent string of tough losses, both coaches admitted there might not be anyone who appreciates the accomplishment more than the two of them. But in the end, it’s still all about the players.
When the likes of Kristen Andersen, Brittney Hermeling and Bridget Kramer take the floor in Pennsylvania, they’ll be replacing names from bygone days like Betty Burns, Terri Rasche and Lori Arp as the last Lady Jays to play in a national tournament.
“They’ve worked so hard and they’ll have this forever,” Hayenga-Hostikka said. “They’ll always have that bond. They’ll forever be known as that team that got to nationals.”