Column: Hawks taking a page out of Whitewater's playbook
Dickinson State is taking a couple pages out of Wisconsin-Whitewater's Guide to Becoming a Champion today. After all, scheduling a national championship team in the regular season is all part of what helped Whitewater become the perennial title c...
Dickinson State is taking a couple pages out of Wisconsin-Whitewater's Guide to Becoming a Champion today.
After all, scheduling a national championship team in the regular season is all part of what helped Whitewater become the perennial title contender they are today.
Warhawks coach Lance Leipold said earlier in the week that Whitewater's rise to dominance in NCAA Division III began to take shape when former head coach Bob Berezowitz decided early in the decade that frontloading its schedule with the best nonconference opponents possible -- including St. John's (Minn.) and 10-time national champion Mount Union -- would, in the long run, help the team figure out what it took to become a champion.
"The program had the chance to evaluate itself on what it needed to do and made the necessary changes," Leipold said.
Now, at the end of the decade, Whitewater can be mentioned in the same breath as Mount Union and St. John's. They've been to the Stagg Bowl, the Division III national title game, the past four seasons and won their first championship in 2007 during Leipold's first year as head coach.
Like Whitewater, DSU likes to test itself in the handful of nonconference games it is allowed. Today is a great example of that.
Blue Hawks coach Hank Biesiot just as easily could have turned down Whitewater, the consensus No. 2-ranked team in Division III, and instead went a nine-game schedule.
But, the veteran coach knew that wasn't good for the team in the long run and jumped at the opportunity to bring in one heck of an opponent to complete its schedule.
"We've had good teams here before and I think it's an opportunity for our kids," Biesiot said.
Biesiot strives to schedule the best nonconference opponents he can, all in the best interest of his team. It's safe to assume that more than three decades of coaching has taught Biesiot that playing creampuff opponents early in the season isn't going to do the Blue Hawks any good. Well, you know, except for possibly staving off the injury bug for a couple weeks. But even that's an uncertainty.
Playing a tough schedule is the way the Blue Hawks have been doing things for years.
Back when Black Hills State and DSU were in separate conferences, the teams opened the season against each other from 1975 to 2000. Even when BHSU and DSU were united as members of the Dakota Athletic Conference, the Blue Hawks sought out Montana State-Northern, who gave DSU seven years of good games.
Last year, a tough nonconference schedule featuring Rocky Mountain College, Division III Concordia College and Minot State -- all DAC teams played their geographic rival twice last season -- prepared the Blue Hawks for their conference schedule.
DSU subsequently won all seven of its DAC games, sealing its first outright conference championship since 2003 and a trip to the NAIA playoffs, where it was promptly defeated by eventual national runner-up Carroll College.
However, Leipold said scheduling was only part of Whitewater's building process.
Much like DSU, the university also put money toward the reconstruction of Perkins Stadium, which was completed before the 2008 season.
Leipold said fixing the stadium and improving other areas of the school's athletic facilities has helped them recruit and maintain superior student-athletes.
While the Badlands Activities Center is still under construction, the Blue Hawks will play their first game on Fisher Field today. While it's a soft opening if there ever was one, it's just a single step in DSU's long-term athletic plans.
Heck, DSU has been using the prospect of a new stadium as a recruiting tool for the past two years and Leipold said, from his experience, the Blue Hawks can expect only good things to come their way once the BAC is finished.
"Those facilities (at Whitewater) do give us that opportunity to attract and maintain (student-athletes) and keep them," Leipold said. "I'm sure what's being done at Dickinson will help them keep players there as well."
While the Blue Hawks, who despite last week's loss to Rocky Mountain, are still ranked No. 15 in the NAIA -- the next coaches poll doesn't come out until Sept. 14 -- may be gigantic underdogs, this game will be nothing but good for them in the grand scheme of the season.
Sure, the Blue Hawks could lose today. It wouldn't hurt much. It won't cut into their national ranking as much as last week's loss did.
Then again, what would it mean if they give Whitewater a run for its money? Better yet, what if the Blue Hawks pulled off the upset and won? Crazier things have happened.
It's why they play the game.
Monke is the Sports Editor of The Dickinson Press and covers college athletics. Read his blog at www.areavoices.com/monke and visit his Twitter page, monkebusiness, for more news.