Today marks the birthday of the queen of an NDSU dynasty – who also happens to be one of the most successful basketball coaches in North Dakota history.
Amy Ruley has been coaching the NDSU women's basketball team since she was 23 years-old. Since then she has catapulted her team to prominence with five national titles, including four consecutive championships and an undefeated season, in addition to 17 playoff appearances.
Three years ago, she reached an important milestone with the 500th win in her career; that same year, she was inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. And then in January of 2002, Ruley accomplished what few coaches have ever experienced; she recorded win #550 when NDSU beat St. Cloud State at the Bison Sports Arena. Ruley is the second Division II women’s basketball coach to reach 550 wins and is the 17th active women’s coach at all three division levels to hit the mark.
“It didn’t come easy,” said Ruley in an interview. “Reaching a milestone like this makes me think of all the former players we’ve had in the program over the past 23 years. The athletes are the ones out there getting it done, and the coaches are getting all the credit.”
Ruley, in her 24th year at NDSU, has now compiled a remarkable 581-151 record. She ranks second among all active NCAA Division II coaches in most wins and winning percentage, and she’s also been chosen by Sports Illustrated as one of North Dakota’s 50 best sports figures.
Among a host of other awards and distinctions, Ruley has nine times won the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association District VII Coach of the Year award, was given the Carol Eckman Award in 1997 and was named the first recipient of the C. Vivian Stringer Women's Coaching Award given by the United States Sports Academy.
"You try to draw on your past experiences for preparations and, yet, you realize every year there will be different challenges and obstacles. There's a new team and a chemistry to establish," she says. "There's always something new around the corner. I get excited just talking about the season ahead."
Ruley’s background is in education, physical education, and the psychology and sociology of sports. “I've tried to prepare myself from an academic standpoint to have some skills in these areas," she says. "I feel a sense of responsibility to be a mentor for other women involved in athletics and those who look at coaching as a profession."
Nobody can doubt her methods. During her tenure at NDSU, Ruley has coached three national championship “Most Outstanding Player(s)”, six Kodak All-Americans, one AIAW All-American, three GTE Academic All-Americans, and numerous All-North Central Conference players.
“In recruiting, I look for kids who really love the game, want to have fun and take advantage of the opportunity to become the best players that they can be," Ruley said. "The excitement, the fun and the challenge should be the key reasons for their performing. With that, also I look for the person who wants to be a student who will take the opportunity at the collegiate level to prepare for a career and develop themselves as an individual.”
The formula seems to have worked, and the benefits are consistently enjoyed by thousands of fans. The team was first in NCAA Division II attendance last season and nationally ranked 39th among all NCAA schools at every division. In fact, it's the tenth time the Bison have led in women's basketball attendance since the NCAA began recording attendance in 1983.
And it’s probably not the last.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm