UND Football:Getting to Know an Opponent-Mississippi Valley State

In a few weeks, on a Thursday night in Grand Forks, the UND Fighting Hawks will end their fall camp and take on the Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) Delta Devils in the Alerus Center. Given how little of the Devils’ conference that UND fans have seen come to Grand Forks, it made sense to check in with one of the people who cover this team on a more frequent basis. I had some questions about MVSU, and the town of Itta Bena, MS where the school is located for one of the writers who covers this team for the Clarion Ledger, Tyler Cleveland. Look for more coverage from Seamore of UND Football with insights on the team in the weeks leading up to this game and throughout the season.

The Delta Devils are lead by first year coach, Vincent Dancy. He takes over a team that won two games last year. MVSU finished 2-9 last season including a 1-6 record in the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC).

Below are my questions for Tyler with his answers included. For UND fans looking to understand more about the SWAC, give Tyler and the Clarion-Ledger a follow on Twitter and read his and work, he goes into depth into MVSU, Jackson State, and Alcorn State, three SWAC programs filled with tradition in their programs.

Questions 

How long of a rebuild do you expect MVSU to go through?

“I don’t want to put a number of years on it, but let’s just say first-year coach Vincent Dancy has his work cut out for him. There are no magic buttons to push when you take over a program that is 3-30 over the past three years, and Dancy wasn’t on anyone’s short list when Valley started the hiring process. He’s a great communicator and solid X’s and O’s coach, but he doesn’t have the built in recruiting connections the other two in-state SWAC schools have. He’ll need to develop some pipelines of his own, and quick.”

Do you see any similarities in coach Dancy taking over now to when Bubba Schweigert took over in 2014?

“I can see the similarities there. Both of their predecessors had struggled against the big boys in their respective conferences. Valley couldn’t get past Southern and Grambling the same way UND had struggled with Montana and Eastern Washington. Both landed their job by presenting a plan to get over that hump. The most glaring difference, to me, is the age difference. Schweigert took the Dakota job at 55. Dancy is one of the youngest head coaches in the country at 33.”

What do you think went into MVSU having a number of players drafted, and how much exposure to pro scouts do the Delta Devils get.

“From its inception until the early 1990s, MVSU had a great tradition of producing NFL players. Deacon Jones helped redefine the defensive end position in the 1960s, and the 49ers drafted some guy named Jerry Rice out of Itta Bena in 1985. Corner Ashley Ambrose was the last Delta Devil to get drafted in 1992. Thanks to the recruiting services like Rivals and Scout, those kinds of guys are no longer getting overlooked by the Mississippi States and Ole Misses of the world.”

When fans head down south to Itta Benna, MS, what is one area of that town they should see?

“Well don’t blink, or you might miss it. Itta Bena is as small-town Mississippi as it gets, with mosquitoes the size of aircraft carriers. Your best bet for food is probably Capricorn’s Internet Café, or you could treat yourself with a visit to Lusco’s for some seafood in nearby Greenwood.”

Why do you think coach Dancy was elevated to full-time head coach?

“Recruiting to Itta Bena is tough. MVSU has the smallest athletic budget of any school in Division 1 and the Delta Devils have not had any real success on the football field in more than a decade. Rather than go out and hire a more experienced coach, Athletic Director Dianthia Ford-Kee decided to go with the younger, more charismatic Dancy. They are banking on his ability to connect with recruits and raise the talent level.”

What type of offense does MVSU run?

“Dancy wants to run the football. The Delta Devils have been running an old June Jones-style run-and-shoot offense – I guess they call it the air raid now – for the past three seasons with little success. They still want to spread it out, but they’re going to try to use the run and intermediate passing game to set up play action opportunities.”

Based on your January piece from when Coach Dancy was elevated to the head coach role, how creative has coach Dancy been in selling his vision for the Delta Devils given the financial constraints of MVSU.

“The short answer is that he desperately needs to win some games so he has something to sell besides a vision. He’s had to be pretty creative this season in terms of recruiting – taking a hyper-local approach and spending a lot of time at Mississippi’s junior colleges.”

Tell us a bit more about the two preseason all conference players the Delta Devils have, wideout Quinn McElfresh and linebacker Patrick Harbin.

“Well Quinn’s a hard-worker from your neck of the woods, up in Brainerd, Minnesota. He’s not a true deep threat, but he was the guy in former coach Rick Comegy’s pass-happy offense last year because of his route-running ability and good hands. Harbin isn’t physically overwhelming, but he can really run and just seems to be in the pile at the end of every play.”

What are some of coach Dancy’s goals for his first camp as the head coach?

“He wants to change the culture and put his stamp on the program, but those things take time. In terms of camp, he just wants to identify leaders early on, find his best 22 players, then his second-best 22 players and try to find a way to put them in a position to be successful. It really is that simple right now.”

Do you think that Delta Devils bring their marching band north for this game?

“They will if it’s in the contract. And if it is, ya’ll are in for a treat.”

What are MVSU’s biggest concerns that the Fighting Hawks present as well as MVSU’s biggest strengths that the Fighting Hawks could overlook?

“Valley has really struggled to protect its quarterback over the past couple of seasons, and to disastrous results. The Delta Devils averaged around -10 rushing yards a game last season – that’s no typo – and it’s not like they’ve upgraded at all five offensive line positions since then. Pass rushers like Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner might be able to make a living in MVSU’s backfield, and that’ll make it a long game for the Delta Devils.”

 

 

UND Soccer: Soaring to the Summit

When you think back to UND Sports and the season all of their Big Sky Teams put together, which team had the most improvement in their overall record? Without a doubt it was Women’s Soccer. They improved from two wins in 2016 to eight wins last year, and just narrowly missed the conference tournament due only to tiebreakers.

In 2017, new Head Coach Chris Logan took a team struggling to find an offensive identity, and provided them one built on finishing chances and increasing the pace of play from the previous few seasons. Last year, Logan took the UND Soccer team their best finish in the Big Sky Conference. In the process he garnered himself Big Sky Coach of the Year for his efforts.The team was lead by strong goaltending from Big Sky goalkeeper of the Year Catherine Klein. She returns for her junior season along with Big Sky First Team All-Conference forward Katie Moller returning for her senior campaign.

Going into this year, Logan leads a staff featuring new assistant coach Josh Davis. He was previously at the University of Idaho. When talking with Logan, he noted that his relationship with Davis has been on going in a professional sense for four years. Davis was his first call.The former University of Idaho assistant jumped at the chance to come to work with his friend and mentor this year. New goalkeepers coach Amanda Raso comes on to lead a superb trio of goalies headlined by Klein.

Regarding this recruiting class, Logan focused on adding more attacking players. The majority of his new recruits are focused on scoring goals. This new class will give UND more depth and allow them to not press as much. The staff appreciates all of the incoming class and each of them highlighted different players to watch for.The underlying theme of this is that each of the 10 new recruits coming to campus all have unique traits.

One freshman fans should watch for as she makes her Fighting Hawks debut this season is forward Olivia Knox. From the official annoucement of the recruiting class, Logan said of Knox : “Olivia is a strong, fast forward who is powerful in the air and extremely aggressive. Olivia’s competitive edge will be a massive asset as the program continues to grow and she has a great winning mentality. ”

Logan said of his recruiting class “we’re very blessed with a talented group”.

The Fighting Hawks play a non-conference schedule designed to help them deal with overcoming adversity to prepare them for the Summit League. One key aspect to look at is the two southern trips UND will take early in the season. The Fighting Hawks face Nicholls State, and Southern University in their first southern swing. After that, UND faces Idaho and Montana in Missoula, then returns home to take on Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State. Following those key games,  the Fighting Hawks return to the south to take on Grambling State and Alcorn State. These southern swings will feature UND playing tough competition on the road, in heat. As the staff noted, while UND does not play any non-conference matchups at an altitude of Denver, these tests should equip UND to deal with challenges in unique scenarios which will benefit them later on this year.

Logan also highlighted one unique game in the non-conference portion the season for his side. He noted the September 21 game against the University of Portland. He expects the Pilots’ style of play to test the Fighting Hawks early on in the season. The Pilots are lead by new head coach Michelle French, a former assistant coach for the US Women’s national team. French got into coaching and player development after a superb four year career (1995-1998) playing for the Pilots. French, a four year starter at defense,  helped the Pilots reach three NCAA Tournament Final Fours (1995-1997), including a trip to the 1995 National Championship along with three West Coast Conference Championships. The unique style the Pilots play will make this matchup a highlight for Fighting Hawks’ fans in the important non-conference schedule.

Look for this team to feature an exciting and up-tempo pace of play just like last season. This season, the team will have more depth up front to compliment their superb goaltending, and defensive play.

This depth, combined with the culture Logan has instilled here, and the talent of returning forwards like Katie Moller and Mimi Eden are some of many good reasons to venture out to East Grand Forks and check out this team as they soar into their first season in the Summit League.