UMD a better fit for Freeman

Dave Stromme knew Katy Freeman was transferring to Minnesota Duluth from Southern Illinois when he accepted UMD's women's basketball coaching position on an interim basis last spring.

Dave Stromme knew Katy Freeman was transferring to Minnesota Duluth from Southern Illinois when he accepted UMD's women's basketball coaching position on an interim basis last spring.

Stromme didn't know Freeman's reasons for transferring from the Division I school and didn't really care. He was just happy to have the Duluthian on his team.

Fast forward to tonight's North Central Conference opener at Minnesota State-Mankato (11-2), and the junior has made a positive impact in her first season with the Bulldogs (9-4). UMD relies on the 5-foot-11 guard/forward for defense and scoring, but Freeman's importance goes beyond her versatility. The Bulldogs look to the junior for toughness and energy.

"Katy is someone who shows up to practice and games ready to compete, and that's something we desperately need,'' Stromme said. "Her ability to run and defend helps us get some baskets on the offensive end, and the effort she puts out every day gives us a spark.''

Freeman, a 2004 Duluth East graduate, helped make the Greyhounds a Northland power and was one of 20 finalists for Minnesota's Miss Basketball award her senior year before going on to Southern Illinois.


Despite being sidetracked by a knee injury, Freeman played in 22 games as a sophomore last year and started eight. She averaged 4.4 points for the Salukis but knew it wasn't the right fit for her. The biology major was missing too many classes and labs because of her commitment to Division I basketball.

"At Southern Illinois I got a lot of playing time, so my reason for leaving wasn't anything like that. The main reason was it wasn't the right academic fit,'' Freeman said. "It was hard to be a student-athlete and a science major at Southern Illinois. To me, academics are really the most important thing, so I had to start focusing on that first and foremost.''

Helping Freeman's transition to UMD was her familiarity with the Bulldogs. Freeman and UMD guard Jenna Reinemann were teammates at Duluth East, plus she played against many of the other players in high school or summer leagues.

"It seemed like everyone on the team either knew Katy or knew of her, so it's been a pretty easy transition. Her style of play fits right in,'' said junior teammate Alissa Pauly. "And part of it is just the kind of person she is. She's a very easy girl to get along with. She didn't come in here like, 'I'm a Division I transfer and things will be given to me.' Instead, she worked hard and earned her place.''

Freeman has averaged 10 points and three rebounds per game, and has guarded everyone from point guards to centers. The Bulldogs are winning games, and even more than that, she's having fun.

"I love it,'' said Freeman, who had a 4.0 grade-point average last semester and is leaning toward taking pre-med courses. "All my teammates are really nice and have accepted me, and there's a new science building with all kinds of new stuff in there. It's awesome. Everything is going really well.''

And that's all Stromme needs to know.

"We tried very hard to recruit Katy out of high school, but she had an opportunity to play at the Division I level and took it,'' said Stromme, a former Minnesota Gophers assistant. "I haven't ever asked her why she transferred, but I do know that for some kids, sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side than they might think. Katy's an excellent student, so the Division II model might be better for her. I do know we're happy to have her.''


NCC outlook

The UMD women play at Mankato at 6 p.m. today, followed by the men at 8 p.m. The Bulldogs return to Duluth Saturday for their home openers against St. Cloud State, with the women taking on Duluth native Erika Quigley and the Huskies at 1 p.m., followed by the men at 3 p.m.

The Mankato men are the preseason favorite to win the league and, so far, the hype looks justified. The Mavericks are off to a 14-1 start and have one of Division II's best players in senior forward Luke Anderson (18.1 points per game, 4.3 rebound per game).

The Bulldogs (9-6) could make an impact if they continue to rebound well and find a way to win the close games.

Augustana (13-2), St. Cloud State (11-3) and South Dakota (11-4) also are off to great starts.

On the women's side, everyone in the league is off to a great start, with the seven teams combining for an 87-15 nonconference record and three teams being ranked in the top 22 nationally. At 9-4, UMD actually has the worst record in the league, and the Bulldogs will need to rebound better to compete against the top teams in the league.

"This year, top to bottom, is as strong as the league has ever been,'' Stromme said. "North Dakota is perennially strong, and Augustana and South Dakota are on great winning streaks. And with Quigley and St. Cloud, you're talking about a player who is one of the very best players in all of Division II, so that says something. It's a great league."

JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at .

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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