During the lull in the action on courts and fields during the summer months, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is highlighting some of the many dedicated professional staff and coaches which make the MCAC a great league for student-athletes to pursue athletic and academic opportunity. Today's release is the third in that series and features one of the most successful women's basketball coaches in the NJCAA: Shannon Nelson, head women's basketball coach at Northland Community & Technical College, located in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
While the warm temperatures which have settled in over Minnesota recently may entice a sports fan to the ballpark for baseball or softball action, basketball coaching and recruiting have evolved into a year-round endeavor. With summer showcase tournaments, developmental leagues and countless camps occurring in June, July and August, one can find hoops action in gyms across the state and region. Many basketball aficionados already have their eyes on the 2017-18 season on the hardwood.
The MCAC was able to catch up with Coach Nelson recently to learn more about her background, coaching influences and favorite basketball memories. It is safe to say that the Northland squad is led by one of the most decorated athletes-turned-coach in the NJCAA. As a prep athlete at Marshall (Mn) High School, Nelson earned back-to-back state championships in 2001 and 2002. The successful high school run helped Nelson earn the Ms. Basketball honor in 2002 and was twice named as the 3A player of the year. Nelson ran track for four years, and also played volleyball for two seasons at Marshall. On the hardwood, she poured in 2,143 total points for the Tigers.
Moving on from Marshall to the University of Minnesota, Nelson's Gopher career was marked by several highlights, including garnering the team Defensive Player-of-the-Year on three occasions. Nelson helped lead Minnesota to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, three of which finished in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2004, Nelson and her Gopher squad reached the Final Four. Not surprisingly, the two-time Minnesota team captain has embraced her leadership role at Northland, where Northern Division titles, Region 13B championships and NJCAA National Tournament appearances have become the norm.
What led you to NCTC? SN- "I moved to Grand Forks from the cities in December 2007 for a job at Northland on the East Grand Forks campus. My husband is from the area which prompted the move north."
How long have you been a Pioneer? SN- "I was hired as the head women's basketball coach in the fall of 2010 so I have been coaching for seven seasons now. I have also been a business instructor at Northland since the fall of 2011."
What do you most enjoy about coaching basketball? SN- "When I was first hired as the coach at Northland I thought it would be a one-year thing. It was already fall and they needed a quick replacement for that season. However, what has kept me coming back year after year are the relationships that I am able to develop with the players. I am a competitive person by nature and I love the game, but having the opportunity to influence the lives of young women who have just left their parents' homes for the first time has been the most rewarding thing about coaching."
Do you have a particular team or memory that stands out in your time at Northland? SN- "The memory that stands out the most for me is our 2014 national championship. That team received a 7th-seed going into the national tournament and rose to the challenge. What really stands out to me is that we only had eight healthy players for that tournament, so a handful of players put in a lot of minutes during those three games in three days. By the championship game you could see the pain that they were in, but being able to witness their heart and character to push through it for those 40-minutes made me so proud to be their coach."
Who have been some important influences in your coaching career? SN-"Because I feel like I'm still pretty early in my coaching career, I find that I am constantly learning new and improved ways of doing things. I watch a lot of basketball and read a lot about styles, techniques, and drills that other coaches use... I would say in general that I am influenced by current and former successful college coaches."
Nelson went on to note: "Specifically, though, I am influenced most by my high school coach, Terry Culhane, who is in the MSHSL Hall of Fame and is currently the head women's volleyball coach at Southwest Minnesota State. I also had a couple assistant coaches in college, Dave Stromme (currently at St. Olaf University) and (University of Memphis head coach) Melissa McFerrin (from whom) I learned a lot..."
What does 2017-18 hold for your team? SN- " I am optimistic about our 2017-18 team, but it's hard to say this early about how the season will go. We dealt with a key injury last season and so, first and foremost, we hope to stay healthy. I hope that we have an opportunity to compete for a Northern Division championship again. We will return seven players from our 2016-17 team, and it always makes the coach's life a little easier when a team is sophomore heavy."
Any predictions about how the season will go? SN "... I expect us to rely on our experience and leadership, along with a few key newcomers who will try to fill the shoes of our two graduating sophomores from last season. ShaRon Miller was a two-time First Team All-American post player so we have a pretty large vacancy inside to figure out."