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DSU’s Dittman produced winners in the 1980s
January 20, 2011
Last year, Ripon (Wis.) College went to their head women's basketball coach Julie (Heinz) Johnson to offer her the athletic director's position. In turn, Johnson went to Dakota State's Dr. Judy Dittman, her former college head basketball coach and one-time DSU athletic director, for advice and counsel.
"Judy was the first person I called when I was considering the AD's position at Ripon College," said Johnson, who has led the Red Hawks to over 280 wins, which is a school record. "She (Dittman) has played a significant role in the present success of her players," added Johnson. "Our success is a reflection of her. I hope we are making her smile every day, and that she is proud of what she has accomplished. I am very proud to say I was a Lady T and that I played for one heckuva of coach."
Johnson was a part of the 1984-85 Lady T’s team which observed its 25th anniversary this past year. They won the South Dakota-Iowa Intercollegiate Conference (SDIC) championship that year.
The Dittman-Johnson relationship almost didn’t happen.
“It’s somewhat ironic and a bit embarrassing for me to admit this, but I wasn’t sure that Julie would be able to play college basketball because of her size,” said Dittman. Johnson was (and still is) a very petite 5-foot-5-inches.
“Fortunately for me and DSU,” added Dittman, “she proved me wrong as she was a three-time SDIC All-Conference player, conference most valuable player (MVP) and first-team District 12 honoree!”
Johnson credits Dittman for that success as a player and later for being a success as a coach. “We were very fortunate to have someone like Judy as our coach,” complimented Johnson. “She was demanding, knowledgeable, a winner and a terrific role model for all of us. Judy expected greatness from everyone and she squeezed every bit of potential out of her players.”
“Judy made us better persons, winners and stronger people,” added Johnson. “With my coaching, I rely on my past experience as a player and a teammate. The majority of my coaching philosophy is based on what I learned from Judy.”
Monica (Matthies) Severson was also on that squad. Like Johnson, she converted her Dakota State’s experience into becoming Wartburg College’s head women’s basketball coach. Her Knights amassed 335 victories, a ‘Top 40’ coaching mark in the NCAA Division III before giving that position up to coach women’s golf and becoming the Waverly, Iowa school’s associate athletic director.
“Coach Dittman always treated us as adults,” stressed Severson. “She tried to know us as people, which created mutual respect between Coach Dittman and us players. If a coach knows their players and has their respect, the opportunities for success are greatly enhanced.”
What Severson gleaned from that close-knit group, which was the Lady T’s, was realized as a Wartburg coach. “The relationships that I have with my current and former student-athletes is what I cherish most as a coach,” added Severson. “It is great to see them grow as people, have success in the careers and have families.”
“Another thing I learned from Coach Dittman was that you have to be organized and detail-oriented. Coach Dittman was organized and made sure she planned ahead. This is important today as life in athletics is fast-paced and you have to be prepared,” said Severson.
Dittman responded, “I appreciate Monica’s comments regarding relationships with my student-athletes as that is a very important part of being a team. There are games won and games lost, and it’s the relationship between players and coach that determines how the losses will be handled and how a team rebounds from the loss.”
“There has to be both trust and confidence in one another and I was very fortunate to have players like Monica that made us successful,” added Dittman. “I remember playing lots of games of hearts and whist on the bus trips to and from the (Black) Hills and how much fun those games were; they were still competitive, but they allowed us to talk about family and friends. I agree with Monica that the friendships I still have with my former players are now that best part of what happened during those years.”
In addition to Severson and Johnson, the other ’84-85 Lady T’s included: Julie (Fiegen) Price, Kim (Tyrell) Blackwell, Robin (Embrock) Row, Robin (Hagen) His Law, Jo Anne (Sten) Clausen, Suzanne (Mallett) Warren, Monique (Nelson) Reed, Marcia (Kistler) Kasoski, Janelle ‘Nellie’ Schaefer, Cella Hermsen, and Beth (Neilson) Breen (the only Lady T on the team who couldn’t be contacted for this story).
Out of that roster at the end of the year, Severson and Price were first-team All-SDIC selections. Price was also named the hoop’s most valuable player. Reed and Johnson were second-team picks. Additionally, Severson reached NAIA All-American status and Reed earned Academic All-American honors.
Years later Price, Johnson, Severson, Reed and Coach Dittman became DSU Athletic Hall of Fame members. Also, Johnson and Severson gained sports on the university’s Alumni Coach of the Year’s list.
Joining Severson and Johnson on the current active organized sports coaching list are Blackwell and His Law. Other ’84-85 Lady T’s have also taken turns as coaches.
“I have very fond memories of my coaching years,” added Dittman. “We were very successful because my athletes have these characteristics – the willingness to work hard, the dedication to being successful, which meant putting in additional time, and a commitment to the success of the Lady T’s basketball program. I get great pleasure when I get together with former student-athletes to participate in the DSU Golf Classic or when I receive Christmas cards learning how they and their families are doing. That is what makes it all worthwhile.”
Here’s an update of some of the ’84-85 Lady T’s:
Julie (Fiegen) Price
Price was an assistant then became the head girls’ basketball coach at St. Mary’s High School in Dell Rapids. She left coaching and has been a U.S. Postal Service employee for the past 22 years, including the past 16 years as a city letter carrier in Dell Rapids.
Hermsen was White River’s head girls’ basketball coach for 15 years, and also coached volleyball and track for 10 years. She is presently a fifth-grade teacher at White River Elementary School Hermsen is also completing her master’s degree in administration at University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.
Kim (Tyrell) Blackwell
Blackwell is the head girls’ basketball coach for Miller Junior High School. She is also a customer service representative for Dakota Energy in Miller, S.D.
Robin (Hagen) His Law
In addition to being an elementary school teacher at Crow Creek, Hagen has been part of the school’s coaching staff for 17 years either as a girls’ basketball or volleyball coach. Her husband, Nathan His Law, is the athletic director for Crow Creek.
Robin (Embrock) Row
For the past eight years, Row has been the sixth-grade teacher at Tea Area Middle School. Prior to that, Row was a one-time assistant girls’ basketball coach at Custer and White River. In 1987, Row was tabbed as South Dakota Coaches’ Assistant Coach of the Year award.
Jo Anne (Seten) Clausen
Clausen, her husband and family are now living in Hartford after living for many years in Columbus, Ind. She has been a stay-at-home mother for the past 12-plus years. While living in Columbus, Clausen was a fifth- and sixth-grade girls’ basketball coach. Even before that, however, Clausen had completed her bachelor’s degree at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn. And then went to work for Nash Finch Co. in Minneapolis. Their blended family included Drew Clausen’s two daughters, Kelly and Ashley and son, Chris. Together, they have had a son Deven and daughter B.J.
Warren, Reed and Kasoski, while being involved as coach in organized sports, have had experiences coaching in youth sports programs.
Suzanne (Mallett) Warren
Warren occupies a spot on the stay-at-home mothers’ list in Watertown (Wis.). She has two children, Ben and Samantha. She has coached both of them in baseball and softball.
Monique (Nelson) Reed
Reed has been a chemistry teacher for Sioux City North High School since 1988. Like Warren, she has coached her two children, Kelli and Cody. They are both students at Elk Point-Jefferson where Reed and her husband Bret (a former DSU student-athlete) live.
Marica (Kistler) Kasoski
As for Kasoski, she has been a part-time employee of United Parcel Service for many years. She and her husband David have three daughters – Stephanie, Nicole and Samantha – and a son, Jacob. Kasoski has coached all of them in youth programs. “I would rather coach and play with the kids,” said Kasoski.
Janelle ‘Nellie’ Schaefer
After attending Dakota State, Schaefer went on to become a social worker, helping out programs in Huron, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. She specialized in helping adults contend with their various development disabilities and mental illnesses. A few years ago, Schaefer moved back to the Schaefer family farm near Hayti, raising Black Angus cattle. Also, she has been employed by the Hamlin School District as a special education instructor for the past four-plus years. She has taken an active interest in her nephew’s sports activities and fishing on the area’s lakes.
Dan Holsworth, Dakota State University Athletics Assistant
Edited by Nick Huntimer, Dakota State University Sports Information Director