Perhaps no person in southwest North Dakota sports exhibited more courage than Jennifer Hartman did in the fall of 2012. The 22-year-old former Dickinson State volleyball standout was put in a position she had never expected less than a year after she completed her final season playing for the Blue Hawks.
On Sept. 18, the day of a road match against Jamestown College, Hartman was named DSU’s interim head volleyball coach following the resignation of second-year head coach Maura Bronte.
“I was surprised,” said Hartman, who is still a student and was in her first season as an assistant coach. “That’s the best word. I went into a little bit of a shock state.”
Over the next two months, Hartman led the beleaguered and often overmatched Blue Hawks to a 2-15 record.
Wins and losses aside, Hartman and the Blue Hawks improved to the point that their first Frontier Conference victory came during the league tournament’s play-in match against Montana Western on Nov. 8 in Butte, Mont.
Hartman’s adjustment from a being DSU volleyball player in 2011 to becoming the team’s head coach in 2012 while still a student at the university is The Dickinson Press’ No. 4 sports story of the year.
DSU athletic director Tim Daniel said Hartman proved herself mature beyond her years during the season.
“The things we discussed with Jennifer, as an athletic department, is it wasn’t about wins and losses,” Daniel said. “It was about putting the young ladies in a situation to try and have a chance to be successful. That’s the number-one priority of a coach, to put your athletes in a position to be successful no matter where you’re at. Sometimes that’s difficult and you’ve got to make changes as a coach. As you watch what Jennifer did throughout the year, I think she did a really great job of that.”
The Blue Hawks finished the season with a 4-24 record and didn’t win a regular-season Frontier match. None of that seemed to matter though.
The year was all about learning for the team, as well as its interim head coach.
“It was a great learning experience for me, as well as the girls,” Hartman said. “I think they’ll remember this season more than any other season in their career, just because of the adversity that we had to face and how they overcame that in turning such a negative situation into such a positive.”
There was elation following a four-set victory over Valley City State on Oct. 4 at Scott Gymnasium. More than anything, Hartman said, the match was a morale booster.
“That was kind of the turning point where they really grabbed onto the concept, they played without any fear and gave it everything they’ve got,” she said. “It was really fun to watch.”
Hartman credits her support system, which ranged from the players and Daniel to head softball coach Kristen Fleury, who stepped in as the team’s associate head coach, and Pattie Carr, the school’s interim vice president of student development who sat on the bench with the team during home matches.
Though DSU’s season ended in a four-set loss to Frontier top-seed Lewis-Clark State College on Nov. 9, Hartman said she is fortunate for the experience.
Hartman will do her student teaching at Heart River Elementary School in Dickinson this spring. When she graduates from DSU in the spring, she will be pursuing teaching jobs that allow her to continue coaching.
“I don’t think there’s very many people out there that can say they had this kind of experience,” she said. “I think it’s something I shouldn’t ignore and I should pursue to the best I can.”