Dickinson State enters the esports game

Tucked away in the back corner of the Dickinson State University Student Center basement, adjacent the cafeteria, is a room like many others on campus.

Seven desks, each with large computers and monitors, complete with webcams, line the room’s interior walls. Next to each desk sits large, comfortable-looking upholstered leather chairs. To the unknowing eye, the room appears to be nothing more than an upscale computer lab.

However, in the fall, the small room painted in DSU blue, white and gray colors will be the core of what the university hopes becomes its next extracurricular activity, and potentially even its next varsity sport.

The lab is home to DSU’s fledgeling esports program.

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Opportunity of a lifetime: DSU CB Jay Liggins hoping for shot at the NFL

Jay Liggins was 11 years old when he left Memphis, Tenn. He remembers it was a Thursday.

Just four days earlier, his mother had made an abrupt decision to move he and his 10 siblings across the country to escape inner-city violence and find a hometown more suitable for raising a large family.

Of all places, they ended up in Bismarck, N.D., a city one-tenth the size of Memphis in a state none of them had ever been to and knew little about.

“It was such a random decision,” Liggins said.

Yet it was one that became incredibly fateful to Liggins’ future, despite numerous challenges he would end up facing along the way.

Later this month, the former Dickinson State University standout cornerback will likely get an opportunity to be the first Blue Hawk signed by a National Football League team.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Liggins said. “It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that it’s in front of me, I had to grab it.”

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After playing days end, Dufault discovers new track as Lakers coaching associate

NOTE: This story is scheduled to appear in the March issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

After Austin Dufault scored an interview to be a coaching associate for the Los Angeles Lakers, it took him about 10 minutes to realize the job opportunity was with one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, not its minor-league affiliate.

The confusion, laughable now, was created by the job history of the people who connected Dufault and Lakers head video coordinator Will Scott. Not to mention the National Basketball Association team shares a nickname with the G-League’s South Bay Lakers.

“For about the first 10 or 15 minutes I was on the phone, I just assumed he (Scott) was with the South Bay Lakers,” Dufault said. “We were talking for a while and he kept saying, ‘Luke likes things this way.’ … I’m like, ‘Wait, are you talking about the Los Angeles Lakers?’”

Dufault, a Killdeer High School graduate, didn’t hesitate when Scott eventually asked him to join Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s staff as a coaching associate. He handles video preparation and some scouting duties alongside two other coaching associates.

“It’s a paid internship,” Dufault said, describing his position. “We work all of our practices and all of our home games. We’re on the court helping guys out with pre-game workouts. They throw me in drills a lot. I’m used as a defender a lot when guys are working out.”

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Culture of Champions: Van Ells has powerful Dickinson gymnastics team seeking fourth straight title

NOTE: This story appears in the February issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

For 36 years, Kent Van Ells has overseen a gymnastics program that annually boasts around 300 athletes from ages 3 to 18.

It’s a time-consuming role with a loaded year-round schedule of late hours and long weekends. But all that time has been worth it for Van Ells.

Dickinson High School has won five of the past six North Dakota state gymnastics titles and will go for its fourth straight championship later this month during the state meet in Jamestown.

“A culture develops,” said Van Ells, who is both Dickinson High School’s head coach and the Dickinson Gymnastics Club coach. “The girls expect the other girls who are coming into the program to keep up with them. They expect to win and to be the best out there.”

In Van Ells’ 36 years as head coach, the Midgets have won nine state championships. The program has 12 titles overall.

As the Midgets enter their final month of the 2018-19 season, they boast the top-two ranked all-around performers in the state — junior Ayanna Fossum and senior Dacia Rambousek — and have six gymnasts with top-five ratings in either the all-around or individual events.

“I’ve been in gymnastics for 10-plus years, and thinking of it being over in a month or two is really hard to take,” said Rambousek, who is also ranked first in the balance beam.

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Eyes on Rio: Dickinson State Alumni Ready to Represent Bahamas in Olympics

So far, the Rio Olympics have been pretty chill for Trevor Barry.

The Bahamian high jumper and Dickinson State University alumnus said he has been spending a lot of time in the training room, taking advantage of the free massages and physical therapy offered to the athletes.

“Just relaxing until it’s time for showtime,” he said.

Showtime is Sunday for the 33-year-old two-time Olympian, who’ll compete in the qualification rounds with the hope of making Tuesday’s finals.

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WHOA CANADA! Thurston Becomes First Canadian to Win Champions Ride With an 87

NEAR SENTINEL BUTTE — One of rodeo’s freshest faces continued making a name for himself at one of the sport’s most tradition-laden events Saturday.

Zeke Thurston, who turned 22 years old in July, avoided disaster in the chute and then spurred retiring bucking horse Lynx Mountain to an 87-point ride in front of more than 3,000 fans to win the 60th annual Champions Ride Saddle Bronc Match at the Home on the Range.

The Big Valley, Alberta, cowboy became the first Canadian to win the Champions Ride and second international cowboy following Australian Glen O’Neill, who won in 1999 and 2000.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have quite a bit of success early on in my career, and you know … you don’t get to go to very many events like this that are this prestigious,” Thurston said with a smile.

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Griemsman Sets Roughrider Days Barrel Racing Record

Tanner Aus, of Granite Falls, Minn., hangs on for an 85-point ride in the bareback riding on Flaxy Lady on Saturday in the Roughrider Days Rodeo at the Dickinson State Outdoor Arena.

When Jana Griemsman heard Dickinson received torrential rain on Friday night, she was discouraged.

The Piedmont, S.D., barrel racer said she and others scheduled to run Saturday evening at the Roughrider Days Rodeo were convinced they wouldn’t have much of a chance to finish in the money.

“We were all a little discouraged thinking we wouldn’t have a chance if the ground was wet,” Griemsman said. “But we got here, and we were all really impressed.”

Griemsman, however, was the one who left everyone dazzled. Three tight turns on a near-perfect path helped her set a Roughrider Days barrel racing record with a time of 15.51 seconds. Griemsman said her horse had struggled recently to make tight turns on the final barrel.

“I knew when she finished it tonight, my other two barrels were so close I knew I was going to have a good run,” Griemsman said. “I knew it was going to be good. I didn’t know I’d be winning it, but I was tickled when they announced my time.”

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