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Natural born leader: Duran controls DSU’s backcourt after transferring from Northwest College

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson senior guard Mariah Duran goes up for a layup during a nonconference game against Johnson and Wales (Colo.) on Nov. 9 at Scott Gymnasium.

Some people are born to follow and others are born to lead.

On the Dickinson State women’s basketball team, senior Mariah Duran is a natural born leader.

Duran is easily one of the most irreplaceable players on the court with her talent, averaging 34.1 minutes per game, shooting 43.2 percent and racked up 97 points on the season. Besides her basketball talent helping her team to a 5-2 record, her innate ability to lead by example and ferocity to become a great player are qualities which also can’t be replaced.

“Mariah is a leader in that she’s not afraid to voice her opinion,” DSU head coach Mark Graupe said. “We just watched film and Mariah talked more than anybody on the team. Mariah just leads on the court, she leads in the classroom, weight room. In everything we do, she’s just a great leader.”

Before coming to DSU, Duran played basketball at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., a town of 6,000 where she felt safe, at ease and at home. Besides refining her game, the biggest thing Duran took away from her time as a Trapper was the meaning to team bonding and the relationships built through sports. Northwest head coach Janis Beal heavily emphasized getting her teams to click and recognizing they’re each other’s home away from home.

“I was really nervous about going and stuff, but honestly I got 10 sisters there,” Duran said. “We clicked so fast. The coach was very big on showing that it’s not about who scores, what you’ll take away is the memories with these girls.”

The relationships built on her team helped Duran most when she transferred to DSU for the 2012-13 season. She craved to have close relationships with her new teammates, a desire which initially helped Duran acclimate and become a leader through her people skills.

For transfers, especially on sports teams, it can be difficult to try and find an identity within the system and risk falling to the wayside. Duran never had the problem and easily transitioned to DSU and found her role as a captain along with Dawne Degel, Janae Moore and Ashley Jelly. In order to become a part of the team, Duran played to her strengths of talking with players instead of talking at them which helped her gain the respect needed to connect with the team.

“I’m not the type of person to get on people, I’m more of a person to talk to someone in a positive way,” Duran said. “I felt like last year with the four captains we had it was very equal with our roles as leaders and I had more of the leadership role of being positive with the girls and I think that’s how I earned my respect in that way. Last year if you gave respect, you got respect back and that is what helped me get into a leadership role where I felt girls did want to listen to what I had to say.”

Degel added: “We had so many different personalities and when you get those mixed with the new girls, we really didn’t know what to do. It’s kind of hard finding that balance and chemistry. She did a really good job of keeping everyone balanced and trying to lead the people who weren’t as confident and also keeping the people who have been there and letting them know how to help the transfers coming in, the other girls who aren’t confident. She’s a good mediator.”

To further make her mark with the Blue Hawks, Duran led by example and left the orders to the returners. Whether it was in the weight room, on the court or in the classroom, Duran strived to establish a work ethic among her teammates which in turn helped the team as well as build her credibility as a true leader.

“At first I needed to lead as an example in how hard I played before I could start telling girls what to do,” she said. “I think that’s kind of what made me put a spot on the program because I am a hard worker and things like that and I think I earned girl’s respect by showing ‘Mariah works hard’ rather than coming in here and thinking I own the place.”

Graupe added: “She leads by example. When you want hard work, you just watch her because she works extremely hard … she logs more minutes than anyone. She’s a trooper and logging a lot and just keeps sucking it up and playing hard.”

At the beginning of this season, the Blue Hawks were faced with several stressful situations, starting in August with the death of sophomore Janae Moore. Moore’s death was a tragedy and a blow to the program, but hit Duran harder since the two were roommates and Duran considered her a best friend.

“I knew coming back without Janae was going to be really weird because she was one of my best friends,” she said. “Just like little things like goofing off before practice, at first it was very strange because everybody was still processing … I think everybody was coming in thinking what do we do? She was a great player and a great leader, she also helped me a lot with being able to lead. We all miss her very much.”

In September, former head coach Caleb Harrison resigned from the university and abruptly left the team, leaving the returners, and a large number of transfers he recruited, in turmoil. Duran and the team’s other captains, seniors Dawne Degel and Jess Bygate, had to be strong for the rest of the team in order to get through their adversities. Duran said at first it was tough because there were more transfers than returners and she had to earn their respect all over again.

“It was difficult at the beginning,” Duran said. “Those girls didn’t know me, they didn’t have to respect me and stuff. I had to earn, as I did last year in my leadership role, I had to do it again again with these girls. I love these girls, they’re great.”

Although the season just began, the end to Duran’s lifelong basketball career is around the corner. Basketball has always played a large role in the Duran family, both her brother and sister played as well as her father. Duran had a special relationship with her dad through basketball, as the two would go to the gym to shoot around or work on 3-pointers back home in Utah. With a majority of her life revolving around basketball Duran is a little nervous what life after the sport will be like.

“It’s so weird to me. I’ve been playing basketball my whole life. It’s my hobby and I think about how I need to pick up some other hobbies,” she laughed.

Graupe is also wondering what life after Duran will mean for his team. With all the qualities she brings to the table between shooting, defense and strong character, he said whoever he recruits has big shoes to fill and that he could never find a player who can truly compare to Duran.

Through transitions, turmoils, heartbreak and frustrations, Duran has weathered any problems she faced with true style and poise. No matter what has happened in the past or what will happen in her final season as a Blue Hawk, Duran will always cherish her memories and embrace the “25 new sisters and best friends” the sport has given her.

“I’m very happy, I can honestly look back and have no regrets about basketball,” Duran said, smiling. “I love it.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.

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