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Native Sun News: Native athletes rise to challenge in college

The following story was written and reported by David Michaud, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Brooke Pond signs her letter of intent to play at Black Hills State with her coach Laura Big Crow (Left) and her parents.

Moving on: From high school to college
By: David Michaud
Native Sun News Correspondent

Every year as students travel off into the big bad unknown, also called college, there are the select few who will be doing a little extra to go along with the classes, studying and late night Wal-Mart trips.

That extra is being a college athlete. Being a student-athlete at the next level is not all fun and games though. When you get right down to it, it actually is extremely difficult.

All that people think of is what they see, the competitions. But in reality, that is less than one per cent of what athletes put into their sport. Being a college athlete is about more than just going to practice and competing.

What people do not see in college athletics are the 5 a.m. lifting session. The pre-season conditioning that goes year-round, because as every coach says, “There is no off-season.” The late night film session, watching your upcoming opponent and learning everything you can about them. Hitting a four-day road trip and having to take all your school work with you and get it done while on a bus.

All of this boils down to about an extra 15 hours a week before season, and once the season begins it is practically a full-time job where the kids put in 40 hours a week.

No one knows these struggles better than Shauna Long. After graduating from Standing Rock High School in North Dakota, she is now competing for Lamar University, a Division 1 program, in women’s basketball.

“The biggest challenge playing basketball at this level is not physical,” said Long. “Yes, of course the workouts and practices are extreme at times but at this level you have to be head strong.”

Long says that with all the early practices, off-season workouts and travel to away games she has learned how not to waste her time so she can complete everything she needs to.

Without having a strong mind and knowing what to spend time on, she would not have been able to continue as a college athlete.

Many others feel the same way.

Another Division 1 athlete, Trevor Gregor of Wagner, South Dakota, plays football for South Dakota State University. Gregor has been playing football for SDSU for the past several years and understands the difficulties that come with being a college athlete.

These challenges are things that most people will never understand.

Brooke Bair, who graduated from Bennett County High School, played softball for Dakota Wesleyan University last year and this year will join the basketball team. She understands what it takes if you want to compete in any type of college sport.

“In college, if you’re playing a sport you basically have to dedicate almost all of your free time towards athletics,” said Bair. “Also knowing the work is more challenging than high school, when you’re a college athlete you travel so much, which does make it difficult to keep up with studies.”

Bair is not the only Native athlete participating at DWU this year though. Joining her will be incoming freshmen Falcon Albers, a Red Cloud graduate playing basketball, and Ryan Kornely from Todd County who will be participating in football.

Being on the teams at DWU is something that both have had as goals, Albers for basketball and Kornely for football.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to be on a college basketball team,” said Albers. “It’s going to be harder playing at the next level. It’s a big change from high school and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Likewise, Kornely is excited about what the future holds.

“It’s an exciting and overwhelming experience. It’s awesome that I get to keep playing football for another four years,” said Kornely.

Another freshman competing at a South Dakota University is Brooke Pond, of Pine Ridge. Pond signed her letter of intent for Black Hills State University last year and will be competing in women’s basketball.

The first game that Pond plays at BHSU will be her first organized game in almost two years, as she tore her ACL during volleyball season her senior year and was not able to play in any games for Pine Ridge girl’s basketball.

“I am pretty excited to hopefully get some playing time this year now that I am finally able to play again,” said Pond. “I just hope they use me and my knee holds up so I can show what I can do.”

Another female basketball player from the area who will be competing in college is Allie Morrisette. Morrisette enrolled at Chadron State College after completing her basic training for the South Dakota National Guard. Morrisette, like Bair, graduated from Bennett County High School.

Her plan was always to attend CSC, but it was not always to play basketball.

“My great grandpa Quentin graduated from Chadron State College and when he was alive before I enlisted into the South Dakota Army National Guard I promised him I would attend Chadron State just like he did,” said Morrisette. “A month to the day after I left for basic training he passed away so I kept our promise.”

With her grandpa’s memory still pushing her she went to CSC. While there she decided to speak with the coach about a spot on the team and he was more than happy to have her.

“There is only two point guards on our team, that is me and another junior,” said Morrisette. With only one other player at her position, Morrisette believes that if she works hard and stays dedicated she can see playing time this year.

There is another athlete from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who is also playing basketball in college, as one might expect from a basketball rich area such as it is. That is Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins graduated from Little Wound High School in Kyle last year and this year he is attending Doane College in Crete, Neb., on the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Also, from Todd County High School, Zach Cox is attending Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D. He decided to stay in state and continue his education, along with his basketball career.

Bucking the trend of so many Native Americans competing in basketball, Joe Merrival is attending SDSU as a baseball player. Merrival, who attended Pine Ridge High School until midway through his junior year then transferred to Bennett County, has always known he was a baseball player.

“I always loved baseball more than any other sports,” said Merrival.

This summer Merrival upped his level of competition as well, he was chosen to play with the best Legion Baseball team in S.D., Post 22 out of Rapid City. Spending the summer playing and practicing with Post 22 helped prepare Merrival for what he will experience while at college.

Going up to the next level is hard though, and the incoming freshmen have their expectations in place. They realize that it is hard to step right into a starting spot and they are just hoping to help their teams however they can.

There is also the challenge of students from small towns and reservations even getting noticed by colleges. That is something that keeps many students away from competing in college athletics; many times college coaches will not even look at a kid because of pre-conceived notions.

“Colleges don’t think that there is much talent in the area I come from,” said Bair, “and that is where they are wrong. There are so many talented athletes where I come from but they don’t ever get the chance to get noticed.”

Luckily now there seems to be more college athletes that kids can turn to. At Red Cloud High School kids can talk to Christian McGhee who is in his second year as Athletic Director and played four years of basketball at Chadron State. Or Pine Ridge, who has Laura Big Crow as the Girls Basketball Coach, who played at Mayville in North Dakota and was All-Conference while there.

“Laura [Big Crow] really helped me talking to coaches and figuring out where I wanted to go,” said Pond. “She knew stuff that my family didn’t so it was cool to have her there for me.”

With kids able to have these resources, people who have played in college and know the process of getting there, it is no surprise that more and more kids are now able to go onto the next level and show their skills on a bigger, national stage.

One thing that all the athletes have in common though is that they are trying to make their hometowns proud.

“Chadron State isn’t too far away from my hometown and I’m glad, since I’m playing basketball I’m hoping to see a lot of familiar faces in the crowds this season,” said Morrisette. “I’m hoping to have a great season and make everyone back home proud.”

Throughout her time at Lamar, Long has seen the positives from her playing at a big college.

“Many people say they are proud of me, and it makes my day,” said Long. “Because of the sacrifices that I’ve made I am able to make people on the reservation happy, even if it’s only for a moment.”

With so many athletes competing for colleges this upcoming season, there is no doubt that Native Americans all over the Midwest will have tons to be proud of. With all these great athletes, let’s hope that they have some of their fans in the crowd while they are doing their great things.

(Contact David Michaud at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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