By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
PORTLAND, Ore. --- The South Dakota School of Mines Athletic Dept. is pleased to announce that the Hardrocker men’s soccer program will join the NCAA Div. II Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) as an affiliate member for the 2013 season.
“On behalf of Interim President (Duane) Hrncir and all the Hardrocker community, we are extremely excited about this opportunity to gain an affiliate membership for the men’s soccer team with the Great Northwest Athletic Conference,” said Hardrocker Athletics Director Dick Kaiser. “We hope the confidence the GNAC is showing in extending our institution an invitation can be the beginning of a long term relationship.”
The Hardrockers will be full-fledged NCAA Div. II members in the fall and the SD Mines soccer team is the first SD Mines sports program selected to compete in a Div. II conference.
“The GNAC is a great league with a tremendous soccer tradition,” said Hardrocker men’s soccer head coach Joe Burger. “It is an honor just to be mentioned in the same breath with the great member institutions of the GNAC and our program is looking forward to the challenge of competing in a Div. II league.”
The GNAC was founded in 2001 and has members in five states and the province of Canada. In men’s soccer, the league is represented by: Simon Fraser (Canada), Northwest Nazarene (Ida.), Seattle Pacific University (Wash.), Montana State University-Billings (Mont.), Western Washington University (Wash.), University of Mary (N.D.) and Saint Martin’s University (Wash.).
“We are excited to add South Dakota Mines to the GNAC for men’s soccer in 2013,” GNAC Commissioner Dave Haglund said. “South Dakota Mines is a logical addition as a travel partner for our other affiliate, University of Mary, and we look forward to incorporating the Hardrockers into our schedule this coming season.”
Joining the league reunites the Hardrockers and Marauders as intense rivals. Both were previously apart of the Dakota Athletic Conference (NAIA) from 2000-2005. Mary departed to compete in the NCAA and SD Mines followed suit in 2010.
“The opportunity to play a GNAC schedule will enhance our student-athlete experience tenfold by allowing our young program the ability to create natural rivalries and allow our players to experience quality competition,” Burger said. “Every game in a conference schedule means we are playing for something as well as giving our team the opportunity to travel to Seattle (Wash.), Vancouver (Canada), and Nampa (Ida.),” Burger said. “It will give our student-athletes a chance to experience areas of the country that they might not have had the chance to experience if not for the ‘Rockers playing in such a great league.
“On the other hand, being able to show off our community and the Blacks Hills to the GNAC will be fun for us at SD Mine. It is not everywhere in the country you can showcase what great people we have here and give them a chance to visit one of the greatest national monument in the world. We look forward to showing the GNAC how SD Mines and Rapid City adds value to their great league.”
As an affiliate member, the SD Mines soccer program will be awarded the same benefits and opportunities as every other member of the GNAC such as: all-conference awards; conference championship participation; player-of-the-week honors; academic all-conference honors; and preseason poll voting.
“Most members of the NCAA Div. II have been watching our ‘lack of a conference’ situation very closely. Being the only independent west of the Mississippi has made scheduling very difficult,” Kaiser said. “This opportunity with the GNAC comes at absolutely the perfect time for our new men’s soccer program to gain creditability,” Kaiser said. “We are sincerely indebted to the leadership of the GNAC for providing our student-athletes this wonderful opportunity to gain a conference and championship experience.”
The Hardrocker soccer team has not only found a home, but also a competitive league with quality opponents. During the 2012 soccer season, Simon Fraser and Seattle Pacific competed in the NCAA National Championships. Simon Fraser ended their season in the NCAA Div. II Final Four with and a season record of 19-2-1.
“Being able to bring two or three NCAA tournament teams to the Black Hills will give us a great avenue to grow youth soccer in Rapid City,” Burger added. “The more quality soccer entertainment we can give our community will only be positive on the impact of the young people that are chasing the dream of playing high level soccer in Western South Dakota.”
Joining the conference also provides SD Mines with a minimum of seven home games a year.
“Giving soccer enthusiasts the ability to see live NCAA games seven to 11 times a year in their back yard will allow our youth soccer players numerous role models to look up to both athletically and scholastically,” Burger said.
As the 2013 fast approaches South Dakota Mines knows this is a great opportunity not only for the Hardrocker soccer program but also for the entire sports department as well as the university.
“The GNAC has opened the door for some of our student-athletes to gain a conference and championship experience. We couldn’t be more delighted or more excited about this wonderful opportunity,” Kaiser said.