MARSHALL - Everything was going just fine for Canby native Riley Nordgaard at Augustana College. She was a starter for a good Division II program as a sophomore, leading the team in rebounding and third in scoring.
It wasn’t enough. On May 29, 2014, it was announced that Nordgaard would transfer from Augustana to Division I Montana State University, located in Bozeman, Montana.
She accepted the challenge. Entering Wednesday night, Nordgaard is averaging 11.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. She also is shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range.
Her rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers lead the Bobcats.
“What’s rare is having a great 3-point shooter be such a great rebounder,” said MSU coach Tricia Binford. “Usually, shooters are staying on the perimeter and spotting up, but Riley is just everywhere. I don’t think there is another player in the Big Sky with her kind of energy and constant play making all over the court.”
Nordgaard had some interest from Division I programs out of high school. Two years later, she was looking to take on that challenge.
“As it came to the middle of my collegiate career, I wanted to see if I could play and travel at the Division I level,” Nordgaard said. “I feel thankful for my time at Augustana playing under coach Dave Krauth and, looking back, I have absolutely no regrets in originally choosing Augie.”
After opening up the recruiting process again, she got interest from Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, North Dakota and South Dakota. Among those schools, Cleveland State was her top option.
That was until she visited the MSU campus.
“I had never been to Montana before my official visit, and after stepping off of the plane I truly fell in love with the geography and the people,” Nordgaard said. “The girls that I met on my visit were welcoming, the academic opportunities seemed apparent, and the Big Sky Conference boasted the chance to play against some of the best in Division I mid-majors. All in all, the decision just seemed to make sense.”
It didn’t hurt that she would be coached by a former professional basketball player. Binford played five seasons in the WNBA with the Cleveland Rockers and Utah Starzz.
At the beginning of this season, it was announced that NBA Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton would joining the coaching staff as an assistant. His daughter Lindsay Stockton is a senior guard for the Bobcats.
As part of her transfer from Division II to Division I, Nordgaard had to sit out last year. It relegated her to purely a practice player, a role she hadn’t experienced in quite some time.
“That wasn’t an easy year to say the least,” Nordgaard said. “I remember returning from Christmas break thinking to myself I need to find something or I might lose my sanity. The only solution I could come up with was more basketball. I sought out our assistant coaches for one on one development sessions on top of scheduled practice and even if it didn’t always make me any happier at least it helped me sleep better at night.”
The redshirt season wasn’t easy on the family, either. Riley’s parents Kelly and Kathi Nordgaard have made up for it this season, making the 26-hour trip for most of the home games on the schedule.
“I don’t think you can find bigger ‘Riley’ fans than my parents,” Nordgaard said. “From elementary basketball to AAU tournaments to Lancer and Augie games, I think you could count the number of games they’ve missed on one hand. My redshirt season was a long one in the Nordgaard household without any basketball to pass the time, but I think it has made this season in particular all the sweeter. I cannot give them enough of my praises.”
The dedication to improving her craft did not go unnoticed during Nordgaard’s redshirt year. Binford saw the competitive edge Nordgaard brought to the practice courts every day.
“She was constantly asking what else she could do to get better, whether extra basketball workouts, conditioning or strength training,” Binford said. “She was just a total gym rat, anxious to get on the court again.”
Nordgaard’s improvements have also been noticed by Canby coach Kevin Hansen, who has watched a number of her games online. “That’s one girl that is determined to get better all the time,” Hansen said. “It’s absolutely phenomenal how she has fit into that Division I role. She definitely belongs. To be perfectly honest, she went to the right place and I’m glad she chose to play Division I basketball.”
The regular season finale is Friday afternoon at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Because of the conference tournament, the game was rescheduled from Saturday night to a 2 p.m. tip off on Friday. Despite the game starting in the middle of the work day, Nordgaard is looking forward to playing only four hours from home.
“I am absolutely ecstatic at the opportunity to play in North Dakota,” Nordgaard said. “That is one thing that I think my teammates from the Pacific Northwest simply do not understand – you don’t ‘graduate’ from your hometown fans. I am hoping that some of Lancer Nation and company will be able to make the trek to Grand Forks.”