NDSU hired Jennifer Lopez in May to be the interim head volleyball coach, which we all know is a one-season shot to prove that you are worthy of leading a team at the Division I level. It was a good move to elevate a qualified assistant at that point, since the 2017 season was closing in fast. Opening the position up to a nationwide search may not have yielded the best candidates out there.
It turns out the best candidate may have been in their backyard. There is still a good chunk of the season remaining, but it appears the former Bison All-American has done enough to earn her the job. It’s not only the record on the court — and make no mistake it’s all about winning — but the vibe I’m hearing behind the scenes. The Bison are 15-5 and 6-2 in the Summit League, which at the halfway point means they are in contention to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.
They were one cohesive bunch in the three-set beating of South Dakota State last night. The rotations were smooth, with the players going on and off the court in expected fashion. Those that know the sport well say NDSU has been outmanned this year, but never outcoached or outplayed. A big key will come off the court, if she can put together a staff good enough to get back into the Midwest recruiting game. The Bison should be beating the Missouri Valley, Summit or MAC for players, not the NSIC. They need to be getting the best talent out of the Twin Cities this side of the Gophers. UND has apparently been winning the area recruiting battles judging by their success, although Bison freshmen Allie Mauch from Wyndmere and Alexis Bachmeier from Fargo North and sophomore Alex Erickson from Kindred are making immediate contributions.
Since going 26-9 and reaching the NCAA tournament in 2011, the best season since was 19-12 in 2015 and no NCAA tourney. Other records were 13-18, 6-22, 15-17 and 14-18. This program is too well-funded and too steeped in tradition not to pushing for NCAA tourneys every year. Take last night. NDSU volleyball has cost of attendance, SDSU does not. It would take a strange twist to ever lose a recruiting battle to the Jackrabbits, and a whole bunch of other schools for that matter.
Lopez said any decision on her interim label will be made after the season. That’s fair and probably the right thing to do from an administrative standpoint. But so far, she’s done enough to earn the head coaching job.