Moving forward together

Fighting Hawks coaches embrace higher expectations as champion culture re-emerges on campus

UND coach and Athletic Department staff members gathered on May 1 for a special dinner at the home of President Mark Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy (pictured center) to celebrate a previous academic year filled with conference championships and two national tournament appearances on the heels of a national championship in men’s hockey in 2015-16. Among the coaches present that night: Chris Logan, soccer; Kevin Galbraith, track& field; Dick Clay, cross country; Katie Martinson, women’s golf, Mark Pryor, volleyball, Travis Brewster, women’s basketball; Brian Jones, men’s basketball; Jordan Stevens, softball and Brad Berry, hockey. Head Football Coach Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert, who was interviewed for this story, was not present because he was on a recruiting trip. Photo courtesy of the Office of the UND President.

UND coaches and Athletic Department staff members gathered on May 1 for a special dinner at the home of President Mark Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy (pictured center) to celebrate a previous academic year filled with conference championships and two national tournament appearances on the heels of a national championship in men’s hockey in 2015-16. Among the coaches present that night: Chris Logan, soccer; Kevin Galbraith, track & field; Dick Clay, cross country; Natalie Martinson, women’s golf, Mark Pryor, volleyball, Travis Brewster, women’s basketball; Brian Jones, men’s basketball; Jordan Stevens, softball and Brad Berry, hockey. Head Football Coach Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert, who was interviewed for this story, was not present because he was on a recruiting trip. Photo courtesy of the Office of the UND President.

On May 1, 2017, UND President Mark Kennedy hosted Fighting Hawks coaches for a special dinner at his place.

It celebrated the unprecedented successes of the past year – four conference championships and a trip to the NCAA’s Big Dance, all springboarded by a national hockey championship in 2016.

These were — and are — special times for Fighting Hawks Athletics.

The night also served up reflection of a different kind. It was tough to ignore some of the off-the-field challenges they’d been through together and their deep respect for former colleagues not in the room as a result of state-mandated budget cuts that had led to the elimination of sports programs. Still, the overriding sentiment was that Fighting Hawks Athletics, and UND as a whole, was entering a turning point.

“It was a night where we stepped forward a little bit,” said UND Head Women’s Basketball Coach Travis Brewster. “We weren’t leaving anyone behind. It was more of a ‘this is where we are at; now how are we going to make it even better?’”

Common purpose

UND Head Volleyball Coach Mark Pryor, fresh off a Big Sky Conference championship and a strong showing in the NCAA National Tournament, knows about team building and the importance of leadership. Pryor liked what he heard from the President that night.

“We saw and felt and believed that we’ve got a leader that sees the value in what we do and that we can bring value to the University,” he said.

Whatever the future holds, Fighting Hawks coaches say they are in it together and will do as they’ve always done — lean on each other to move forward as one.

“We want to have championship programs that develop young men and women for the rest of their lives,” said UND Head Football Coach Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert. “That starts with developing a championship culture right here on our campus … and we can only do that by learning from each other and supporting each other in a big way.”

When Schweigert, a one-time UND assistant coach who helped turn the program into a dominant force once before, was hired, he wasted no time infusing his players with the pride of being a UND student-athlete. He looked to another coach, Brewster, who at the time had just led his squad to UND’s first Big Sky Conference Championship and first-ever bid to the NCAA National Tournament, to bolster that message.

Schweigert has done the same for Brewster many times over.

“I just love it when Bubba talks with my recruits,” Brewster said. “He’s got a knack for honestly and passionately expressing what a special place UND is.”

More recently, Pryor tapped into UND’s coaching trust when he needed to boost his team’s confidence as the host school in the 2017 Big Sky Volleyball Tournament. On consecutive nights, Brewster, Schweigert and Head Men’s Basketball Coach Brian Jones took turns giving locker-room speeches that ultimately helped catapult the Fighting Hawks to a clean sweep and a NCAA tournament bid.

“It’s great when you can have all of us together working for that common purpose,” Pryor said.

Elite company

And then there’s the tangible features of UND that helps coaches draw student-athletes to become Fighting Hawks.

“I am so thankful that we have an elite hockey program,” Pryor said. “I can’t tell you how many times that we take recruits and show them the Ralph — what we like to call The Cathedral. For us to have that as well as football and the excitement being generated by the other programs is huge for us.”

The inter-program comraderies aren’t limited to the coaches either, according to Jones. He’s seen a noticeable shift with student-athlete supporting UND sports.

“Our guys are hanging out with football guys, our guys are going to soccer games and volleyball and hockey games and hanging out with hockey guys,” Jones said. “That to me is why this place is special. These kids are investing in one another.”

Soaring GPAs

The coaches are helping Fighting Hawks dominate off the field, too.

UND’s 407 student-athletes combined for a 3.279 collective grade-point average during the spring 2017 semester, the highest-recorded single-semester GPA in UND history. Additionally, UND’s collective GPA was a record-tying 3.24.

Jones, whose team registered its highest single-year Academic Progress Rate score with a perfect 1,000 and had eight players post a 3.0 GPA or higher in the spring semester, also captured the athletic department’s Male Team Community Service Award after logging 386.5 hours in community service (nearly 26 hours per student-athlete).

“It’s never been just about wins for us,” Jones said. “It’s also about academics and getting out into the community to make a difference, because it’s the community that fills our stands and cheers us on to victory.”

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