FARGO — Emily Dietz didn’t grow up aspiring to play college basketball. The 6-foot-3 junior forward, who currently leads the North Dakota State women’s basketball team in points, didn’t think she was capable of earning a scholarship.
In fact, Dietz, a 2017 Fargo Shanley graduate who hails from West Fargo, never thought about playing college ball, let alone Division I, until late in her high school career when college coaches came knocking.
“I didn’t even know that was a possibility," she said. "I was pretty surprised that I even had enough talent or skill to receive a scholarship, and especially Division I. I thought that was amazing.”
Her goal of playing college ball developed over time. Neither of her parents or two older sisters played the sport, so basketball was never really around her family, until the day she asked her mom if she could try it.
“Ever since (that day) I’ve just continued to improve,” Dietz said. “It was never really a long-term goal. Once they started calling us, I started to think about it more. And it’s gone from there.”
Dietz has chalked up 211 points in 16 games this year for the Bison, averaging 13.2 per game, and scoring a season-high 24 against Western Illinois earlier this month. She’s two points ahead of the Bison’s second-leading scorer Michelle Gaislerova, who has tallied 205.
The 6-3 forward has shot 54% from the floor and 62% from the free-throw line to help fuel a successful junior-year campaign. The Bison will need her production Sunday when they host the University of North Dakota at 3:30 p.m. at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
The Bison (3-12) have had to adjust and adapt to a new coaching staff this year. Jory Collins was named the new head women’s basketball coach in April after Maren Walseth agreed to part ways with NDSU after five seasons at the helm.
It wasn’t difficult for Dietz to adjust to her team’s new reality after the coaching shakeup.
“I've been super blessed that the new coaching staff has trusted me in particular to be a consistent player for them,” she said. “I’ve just been really appreciative of that and I’ve worked on being consistent for them to allow our team to find some success.”
The former Deacons standout, who tallied 289 points, 256 rebounds, 42 assists, 50 blocks and 24 steals during her senior year of high school, said the transition has gone smoothly for the entire bench. The current group of girls responded well when the new coaching staff first rolled in.
“Everybody bought into what they're trying to do with our team,” she said. “The coaching staff has been super patient with us, knowing that a lot of us are new to their system and new to a different style of coaching. It’s been really good.”
After a shaky start to the season with a string of tough losses, the Bison bench is finding their rhythm. In the last seven games, NDSU’s five losses have been all within 10 points, falling in double overtime in one and losing by one point in another. Dietz said her team continues to get better.
“People that are coming to our games consistently say that they see us playing harder, playing faster, getting the best out of us athletically,” Dietz said. “I just think that continual improvement, and, it's coming. We can see it.
“Looking back on the last couple years and where we are now, and even looking at the last two games, we just continue to improve so much. So finally getting over that hump and maybe turning that improvement into more wins I think is something that I'm really excited for.”
Dietz led the Bison with 20 points in NDSU’s 70-62 loss to Oral Roberts on Wednesday, Jan. 8, in Oklahoma. She finished with six rebounds in the game, surpassing 300 boards for her career.
Like her team, Dietz continues to be on an upward trajectory. After emerging as a key role player for the Bison last year, she’s replicating the success of her sophomore performance.
Dietz started all 29 games as a sophomore, and ranked second on the team in scoring with 9.1 points per game. She became the third player in school history to score 20 or more points in a Summit League tournament game, putting up 20 points against South Dakota in the Summit League quarterfinals last year.
When Dietz thinks back to a couple seasons ago, she also sees how much she’s developed on the court. Dietz was out for some time during her freshman year from a stress fracture she suffered at the beginning of the season.
Her first Division I game was at the University of Colorado. The players were big and quick, and the altitude didn’t help, either, Dietz said.
“It was pretty nerve wracking, pretty physical, pretty tiring," she said. "Big change of pace from high school, big change of pace from AAU. It was pretty scary right away."
Dietz, who played AAU basketball for ND Pro, played in 19 games as a freshman, averaging 3.9 points and two rebounds per game.
“But I look back on that, how I felt then, and how I feel now about games, it’s like night and day difference,” she said. “It’s the experience that helps you continue to improve and continue to not feel that way.”