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In Play with Craig Mattick: Mandy Koupal

Mandy Koupal
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From back-to-back state championships in high school at Wagner to nearly a 2,500 point career at the University of South Dakota - Mandy Koupal is one of the best female basketball athletes in South Dakota history. Her shooting percentage in high school received national attention, and then at USD she was a three-time North Central Conference MVP. Koupal also received DII Player of the Year honors in 2003 and 2004.

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Craig Mattick: Welcome to another edition of In Play. I am Craig Mattick. Today's guest is one of the top girls' basketball players in high school and college in South Dakota. She won a couple of high school state championships, a 2,000 point scorer in high school and college. She was a three time MVP when she played for the University of South Dakota when they were in the North Central Conference.

She averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds a game at USD. In fact, still the old-time leading scorer and rebounder for the Coyotes. She's also coached at her high school alma mater and at two colleges. She's Mandy Koupal. Mandy, welcome to In Play.

Mandy Koupal: Well, thank you for having me Craig. Wow. You're bringing me back to my glory days.

Craig Mattick: Well, I saw you last year at the state, a girls' tournament where Wagner was 21 and 1. They were the number one seed in the tourney. I remember at least six Koupals on that basketball roster. Apparently Wagner and basketball, you got to have a Koupal somewhere.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Yep. It's definitely a family thing, I guess. But yeah, between my brother and my sister-in-law and then I got two nieces and I even had my little nephew. He was our manager. Yeah. It was a family affair.

Craig Mattick: Mike is the head coach, his wife is an assistant coach and his sister, you, was an assistant coach during that season. What was it like for you?

Mandy Koupal: It was pretty awesome. I mean, going back to your hometown and being a Red Raider again, and then obviously having your family around you and Wagner it's just been a blessing to me. I couldn't ask for a better place to grow up. It just the community and the school and everything they did for me to be able to have the opportunity to go back and give back, it was just a blessing.

I'm so grateful and thankful for the time I was able to be there and do that. Then, yeah, to have your nieces and nephews and to be there with them and to watch them grow up and be a part of it, it was truly awesome. As a kid, I always wanted to be on my brother's team. He's my big brother. He'd have friends over and they'd always play sporting events and so of course little sister would want to tag along and he had let me in.

I think that's when it started. He got me started on sports and he'd picked me on his team and all the other boys would be like, "Okay. Yeah. You can have her." We have a little connection and ...

Craig Mattick: Surprise.

Mandy Koupal: Being able to be on his team again, coaching with him that was just an honor. It was just a very proud moment for me and I truly enjoyed it. Yeah. I'm very thankful for it.

Craig Mattick: Well, you grew up on a farm near Wagner and Dante, right?

Mandy Koupal: Yep. Dante. Yep. Dante. Yep.

Craig Mattick: Dante.

Mandy Koupal: Yep.

Craig Mattick: What shores did you have to do while growing up on the farm?

Mandy Koupal: Oh, there was lots of them. I remember getting up every Saturday we had to go and clean out the hog barn. We'd carry five gallon buckets of grain and water from the hydra to the barns. Then when we got older, my mom and dad let us have our own little bucket calves and bottle lambs and we got to take care of them. But there was never a dull moment on the farm. We always had something to do.

I remember in the summer when it'd get really hot you'd have to spray down the hogs. We'd go out. That was one of my most favorite things to do is because you're with the water and they'd come out and you'd make a mud hole for them and they'd splash you with mud and go back to the house. Our grandparents lived, my dad's parents lived on the farm, too. We didn't have to go to daycare or anything. We got to just stay on the farm and it was awesome.

We were always finding something to do and hanging out with them and hanging out with my dad and stuff. That's when they got the hoop and the machine shed, too. Yeah. We could play basketball or do whatever. But yeah, there was always work to be done, too. Once we got our chores done though, then we could go have our fun. But I'm thankful for it because it taught you ... I learned a lot on the farm and I think I got a lot of my work habits things from the farm.

Craig Mattick: Did you get to drive the tractor or the combine or help with the planting?

Mandy Koupal: Oh, well, I never got to drive the combine. I don't think I trusted myself with that. But I did drive. We had four wheelers and I would drive some of the tractors and things like that. I was a good gate opener and things like that. But we were out there doing stuff a lot. It was good.

Craig Mattick: You talked about your older brother and of course you have a younger sister as well.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Yep.

Craig Mattick: How big were sports for you guys when you were growing up on the farm? I mean you're probably middle school. You're not even in high school yet. How important was sports for you guys?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. The crazy thing is I probably didn't start playing sports until Mike started them in school. In Wagner they don't start sports until fifth grade. Nowadays, kids are playing when they're in second and third grade they're going to all these tournaments and stuff. But we didn't really start till fifth grade. He's two years older than me. I'd say probably when I was in third or fourth grade, I probably started doing things with basketball because he would bring things home that he was learning at practice and through grade school ball.

But we played football and baseball and then obviously I had aunts and uncles and then my dad, they would play basketball with us out in the machine shed or get togethers we'd always end up playing basketball. Yeah. Then I had my sister, too. She was four years younger than me. But as soon as she got old enough to be tagged along with us, she was out there, too.

But then my eighth grade year is when we moved into Dante. Then my dad still drove out to the farm and stuff and he still farms. But we got a hoop in the driveway and we had all the town kids. We'd have games on Saturday nights in our driveway because we had these huge spotlights that would light up the driveway and all the neighbor kids would come over and that's what we'd be doing. We'd be playing for hours out there, having a good old time in the driveway.

Craig Mattick: I mean you're tall. I mean you're 6'1". Where was that height when you were even before an eighth grader?

Mandy Koupal: I think by eighth grade, I think I was about 5'10". I always thought I was 6 foot until a few years back. I actually got measured and they're like, "You're 6'1". I'm like, "What?" I'm like, "Did I grow in college because I thought all through high school I was not 6 foot." Even in college I thought I was only 6 foot.

Yeah. I think by eighth grade, I think I was 5'10" already. Then I must have threw the extra few inches through high school. Then, yeah, I guess I was 6'1". I thought always just depends on what type of shoe I was wearing, too. But I actually took my shoes off and like, "No. You're 6'1". I'm like, "Really?" I'm like, "Ah, I must have grew an inch somewhere in there, because I didn't realize."

Craig Mattick: You were an eighth grader though at Wagner when you got a chance to play on the varsity. Did you start as an eighth grader?

Mandy Koupal: Not right away.

Craig Mattick: You only won one game that year?

Mandy Koupal: Yes. That felt like winning the state championship, but we probably did win it. Yeah. I don't think I did right away, because I remember I was playing JV and varsity and then I was still playing my eighth grade basketball. I can't remember if it was my dad or Coach Goter if they kept track of how many games I played in. It was close to 100 games in a span of a few months.

Yeah. It was crazy. It was busy. But I loved it. I loved playing with my eighth grade teammates and I loved playing at the varsity, too. Yeah. Then by the time we won, we finally won that. It was the last game of this regular season. We won our last game. Yeah. You would've thought we won the state championship because everyone came on the floor and we were just celebrating the locker room.

Craig Mattick: But by the time you became a sophomore, Wagner was on his way to a state tournament. What changed with the team?

Mandy Koupal: Well, I had awesome teammates and great coaches and there were a group of us. What was really cool is this last summer Wagner always has a Labor Day celebration. This Labor Day celebration, they had a Wagner alumni basketball game. All of us came back. Wow. It was so awesome getting us all back together and being with my teammates and stuff. Because it just reminded me of how special of a group we were.

I mean instead of going and doing stuff we wanted to ... our thing to do to hang out was go to the gym. We wanted to have open gym and Coach Goter did a great job. He'd go and open it for us. Yeah. There was just a group of us that we just got hungry for it and we wanted to change things.

We were tired of getting beaten and not respected. We said, "You know what? We're going to do this." Like I said, we wanted to hang out, we wanted to hang out in the gym and go hoop it up. Like I said, that was just all brought back to me when we all got together, because a lot of my teammates made it back to the alumni game and we were just competitive.

Craig Mattick: Yeah. The last two years in high school, you only lost one game? You go back to back state titles that lone lost was to Class AA Sioux Falls Roosevelt when they were at their peak. What was that game like, two big powerhouses going together?

Mandy Koupal: Oh, that was awesome because it was in Wagner, too. They came to Wagner first and then it was a two-year deal or whatever. They agreed to come to Wagner first and then they played again in Sioux Falls for a year after I graduated. But, oh, it was awesome. The gym was packed full.

I don't know if you've ever been in the Wagner gym, but there's bleachers up on this balcony that never ever get used. They actually even pulled them out and people were sitting up there, too. That was really cool. They just showcased, they were the undefeated AA and we were the undefeated in Class A and defending champs in both classes. That was really neat and fun to be a part of that and to have so many people come to our gym and to play in Wagner.

I mean for Sioux Falls Roosevelt to come to our house, yeah, it was really cool and just a fun environment to play in. I knew quite a few of those girls on the Roosevelt team. Yeah. It was just an honor to have them come to our place and to play with them and be on the same court as them.

Craig Mattick: I don't remember. How much did you lose by that game?

Mandy Koupal: We ended up losing by 10, I think it was.

Craig Mattick: Okay. All right.

Mandy Koupal: It was pretty close throughout the whole game. Yeah. I think we ran out of gas and they had a lot of fire power. I mean they had ...

Craig Mattick: Yes, they did.

Mandy Koupal: I mean, they had me capitalizing Krista Orsack…

Craig Mattick: Former Coyotes. Yeah.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. I mean, yeah, they had lots of great talent out there. We ran out of fire power. But to hang with them within 10 points, I thought that was pretty good.

Craig Mattick: That back-to-back run for you guys, Wagner and the state championships, you scored 2,000 points in your career for Wagner. But what made you guys good? What did Coach Goter do to you guys that made you the power that you were for those two years?

Mandy Koupal: Well, first of all, he taught us how to win. I just remember him always having conversations with us. The first when we only won one game and then moving on, I mean next year then I think we were 12 and 9 or something like that. Yeah. Then my sophomore year we made through the state tournament he like, "You got to play to win. Play to win."

He taught us how to win. Then after that sophomore year, he changed it to "Now you got to expect to win. Now you did this." I think there was just a nice progression of how he taught us how to play. Then like I said, my teammates, once we got to the state tournament that just lit a new fire. It was like, "Wow. We want to get there again and we want to do this. We want to do this time."

Coming up short and losing in the championship game my sophomore year and I just made hungry for more and we'd set goals. He was great about setting ... We set team goals and then he also had us set individual goals. I thought that was helpful, too. We were just a close group. We hung out outside of basketball, too. We hang out together and did things together.

I think, like I said, we were just a very competitive group and set the goal and said this is what we want to do and we really want to put Wagner on the map. Then my junior year, you win it. You go undefeated and win it. Then that's my senior year. That was hard defending your title and that was a little more stressful. That first one was pretty sweet.

Then obviously, the second one being sweeter when you can do it, but it just doesn't happen very often. For teams like Roosevelt and the Wakonda to do that many years in a row. It's just crazy. It's unbelievable what they did.

Craig Mattick: Well, with that pressure to try to win every ballgame your senior year, did it mean that you wanted the ball more? Did you kind of put it on your shoulders?

Mandy Koupal: I feel like I didn't really. I mean, there were times, I think. But a lot of times, I knew that I had great teammates around me. I specifically remember a time where I thought I didn't really have a very good game. I remember Coach Goter just pulled me aside and saying, "Don't be down." He's like, "You should feel..." Because we still won the game. But I just was like, "Man."

I think it was with Wessington Springs and we always battled with Wessington Springs to get to the state tournament. But I think it was just a regular season game. He's like, "This should actually make you feel pretty good because your teammates picked up the slack when maybe you didn't."

He was really good about reminding me like, "Hey, they got your back, too." I just always felt that. I knew that they always had my back and I never tried to put too much pressure on myself. I just went out in there and played. I didn't overthink things. I don't know what made me like that.

I know as I got older it, I lost that. But in high school I just went out and played. I was like, "I didn't think about points." I just went out and played. I know Coach Goter commented a couple times. He'd just say, he is like, "I don't know what it's about her, but the bigger the game, the bigger she plays. But she doesn't really overthink it." I just went out there and played the game I loved, I guess.

Craig Mattick: You had so many accolades, two-time Gatorade player of the year; you were the Spirit of Sioux Award winner at the state basketball tournament, your senior year; South Dakota's Miss Basketball, your senior year; two national records, career field goal percentage and single season field goal percentage. Because of that you got to have your jersey hung at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Did you ever get a picture of that?

Mandy Koupal: The crazy thing is, is my mom for her job, she got to go to Tennessee and so she actually got to go there and actually see it hanging when it was hanging there. Then while she was there and my mom ... She knew stuff about sports but she didn't know at the time. But the girl that was working was Tamika Catching.

Craig Mattick: Ah. Oh.

Mandy Koupal: She got to actually meet her and talk to her and Tamika took her over to my uniform. Yeah. It was pretty cool.

Craig Mattick: Oh, that's great.

Mandy Koupal: But know all that stuff, my name got all that stuff, but it really goes back to all my teammates and my coaches and stuff. I couldn't have done that without them. I've always said that, and looking back, it's just even more definite to me that the credit goes to them, too. I wish their names could be right there with mine because I wouldn't have been the player I was without them.

I mean, yeah, I put in a lot of hard work and things like that and I did what I needed to do. But a lot of it goes to my teammates and my coaches and just having great people around me, just very supportive. My family was always supportive, having a big brother, having a little sister that were playing with me out in the driveway and pushing me and things like that to get better and supportive parents.

It's a credit to everyone that was around me, even my Wagner community. I mean, just the love and the support that I got from them. Then at USD too, I just feel very fortunate and blessed to always have wonderful people around me.

Craig Mattick: Sure. You played volleyball, too, at Wagner. I mean, okay. You played okay. You did okay with volleyball, right?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Yeah.

Craig Mattick: But you also a two-time high jump champ. Did you have a high jump pit on the farm back there to get? Here's a 6'1" post player and a high jumper.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. I don't know where that came from. It's crazy. The story behind that is one day I just messed around at practice or after practice, I did my running for the day and, oh, I saw some people over at the high jump pit and I'm like, "Well, I'm just going to go over there." All the kids, we all like to go. They always like to go mess around on that pit, you jump and stuff.

I just started jumping and I guess my track coach must have saw me and he is like, "Hey, you want to do high jump?" I'm like, "Well, I don't care. I don't know really what to do or whatever." Yeah. I guess he started having me high jump and I just, yeah, I don't know, that one just fell into place, I guess.

Craig Mattick: It shows the athlete that you were back then.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. I guess. Yeah. A hidden talent that I didn't know about, I guess.

Craig Mattick: Here comes college. College is calling and you go to South Dakota State. You went there one year before you went to USD. What was the reasoning why you left SDSU?

Mandy Koupal: It just wasn't the fit for me. I mean, it's a great place, great school. I mean, I don't regret my year there.

Craig Mattick: It was a pretty good team. Pretty good team, right?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. We had a great year and I had great teammates there, too. But like I said, it just wasn't a great fit for me. I was starting off that in secondary education, but then I wanted to go into elementary ed. At the time, they really didn't have the program for elementary ed. Yeah. But like I said, there's nothing, no hard feelings for the SDSU and it just wasn't a great fit for me.

I don't regret the year one bit, because everything happens for a reason. I think it just helped me to find where I needed to be. I just felt it was that USD.

Craig Mattick: Of course Chad Lavin was the head coach. They also had former Wakonda great Becky Flynn as an assistant. What was it like for you with Lavin and Flynn there at USD?

Mandy Koupal: Well, it was awesome. I mean they were great and obviously playing for Becky, she was actually one of my idols growing up in high school. Her and her dad came and put on a camp for us one summer at Wagner. Mr. Goter invited them to come. I got to meet her while she was still playing at Creighton.

I can't remember. I think it might have been the summer before her senior year at Creighton. I mean, I had her sign a 250-hour club. That was another thing that we did. Coach Goter had us do a 250-hour club every summer. If we got 250 hours, we got a T-shirt or something. We recorded hours on these calendars. He made us these calendars. I had quotes and stuff. I had her sign mine and all this stuff.

Yeah. She was my idol. To go play for your idol is like, "Oh, my gosh. This is really awesome." Coach Lavin, you can ask for a more caring. I mean he was a dad to us and still is. He's always telling us, "If you ever need anything, give me a call. It was just really cool. It was like another family down there. I had awesome teammates there, too.

I mean a lot of my great friends from high school are girls that I knew from high school played there like Heather Nelson and Stacy Schooley, Dawn Sudbeck to be able to play with them and then obviously get the rest of the teammates.

Craig Mattick: Is Meghan Wooster of O'Gorman she was down there too, I believe.

Mandy Koupal: Yep. She came. Yep. She came. Then I had Vanessa

Craig Mattick: Yanez?

Mandy Koupal: Yanez? Now Iverson. She was from Wagner. That was really cool.

Craig Mattick: I remember that. Yeah.

Mandy Koupal: Yep.

Craig Mattick: But what was it like that first time as a USD Coyotes you played at SDSU?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. That was hard. That was definitely a lot of emotions in the building by everyone. That was tough. That was really tough. They let me hear about it. But I played through it the best I could.

Craig Mattick: I'm trying to remember, you never beat SDSU, did you, when you were at USD?

Mandy Koupal: We did.

Craig Mattick: Once?

Mandy Koupal: We beat them at the dome. We beat them at the dome twice. My sophomore year in junior year we beat them at the dome.

Craig Mattick: There was great teams. Those were two great teams.

Mandy Koupal: Actually, my sophomore year when we played at state, we came out on fire and we were up by 20. But then they came back and they ended up beating us. But we came out, guns are blazing. I mean every shot was going in and we were just on fire and then we must have got cold. Yeah. I think I might have even fouled out there. But it was definitely a tough environment.

But then obviously, and then you go down ... I remember playing as a Jackrabbit down at USD and it was a tough environment down there, too. It's just crazy how that rivalry is just ... I don't know if it's ... I mean, it's still a rivalry today, but I don't know if it's as intense as it used to be back in the day.

I even heard stories before I played how they would throw out Coyotes heads and stuff like that. I mean we have the Jackrabbits thrown out.

Craig Mattick: Yep. Yep. Those are the good old days.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Yep. To have a rivalry like that, to have the history that, that's pretty cool to be able to be a part of it.

Craig Mattick: Yeah. They don't allow dead animals to be thrown on the floor anymore.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. No. Yeah. I'm surprised. I remember my senior year at USD, they actually locked down the dome and we had to shoot around. We had to get out. They're like, "Well, we have to lock everything down." Then when we came back for the game, they had to check our bags. But they locked down the dome to check the freezers and everything. The locker rooms to look for dead animals. But by golly, someone still got one in there. I don't ...

Craig Mattick: I don't know how. While you were at USD League MVP three times, you won the division two player of the year. In 2004, you averaged a double-double while at USD. Which teams or players that you played against always made it a little tougher for you to get that double-double?

Mandy Koupal: Like opponents you mean?

Craig Mattick: Yes.

Mandy Koupal: Oh, UND was hard. I don't know if their philosophy was to just pound me and just beat me up. But I mean they had a post player that ... She always guarded me. I think it was her job to just go out and physically just try and beat me up because I had so many bruises and I just that ... they were so physical.

Actually, when I was coaching, I actually then did ... I became pretty good friends with their assistant coaches and I thought I'd ask them. I said, "Was your goal to just have your girls just beat me up?" They said, "Yep. They were going to be physical with you. They were told to be physical with you."

UND was definitely probably the hardest team. Then obviously state, they're very physical team. But I mean the NCC, I mean going back to the old days, the NCC to be able to play in that conference and to be ... I mean that conference was one of the best in the nation. Every game, you had to be ready. Every night, you had to be ready. You never knew what was going to be thrown at you.

But by far, UND was definitely the toughest. I think I had some of my lower scoring games, those games. But like I said, I had great teammates that brought the best out in me and great coaches that brought the best out in me, too. But I think that competition of the North Central Conference really brought the best out in us players, too.

I mean, you had to be very competitive and you had to work hard to put your time in. Because like I said, every night you never know what could have happened. It was a very competitive league.

Craig Mattick: You played all of your home basketball games at USD in the Dakota Dome. Did you like playing in the dome?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. It was a very unique ... I remember when I first went to USD and we'd have our open gyms or our best girls would get together and play. It took a while to just to like shooting in the facility because it's so big and just so open. But yeah. No. We took pride in it. We were pretty proud to ... We always said "Defend the dome and it's our house."

Yeah. It was definitely a unique facility to play in. I thought it probably had a little home court advantage there just because of the openness behind the hoops. You had to adjust to that. But they made it great. Having such a big place when we played SDSU and when you came out of the locker room and you turn around and you see all of that permanent seating just full.

I mean, I'll never forget that. I think that was both my junior and senior year, just the record attendance we had. Then I went as a fan when USD was playing in the NIT, the WNIT, and they hosted those last four games and they won it that year. I actually went to those last four or five. I got hooked. I'm like, "Yep. I got to go. I got to keep going.

Craig Mattick: It was packed. It was packed. No doubt.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. It was packed. Then I think the last game, I think there was only standing room available. To see that, that was pretty cool to see that many people in one place. Like I said, most of them were USD. That was awesome.

Craig Mattick: 2004, you graduate, you're done playing basketball all those years of playing ball and you graduate and you get a teaching job at Watertown. What was that like? No more basketball for you and getting into, I suppose, the real world of working.

Mandy Koupal: Yep. Yeah. I still can feel like I still have the feeling of that last game when we lost in the regional tournament to NDSU. We lost. Just that feeling that, yeah, at the end, it's over. That was hard. But yeah, I got my degree and I wanted to use it. I was excited to go and put it to use and to get out in the classroom and to just be a positive role model for kids and to hopefully give back what was all given to me.

Craig Mattick: Sure.

Mandy Koupal: I had such great teachers growing up in Wagner. I had great teachers that I looked up to and obviously they had an impact because I wanted to go into teaching. I wanted to do the same. Watertown, that was my second home. Great people there. I loved it. It was awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better place to start my teaching and coaching career.

Craig Mattick: But you're there just a couple of years and you go back to Vermilion to get your master's and apparently some great timing because then USD has hired a new women's basketball coach, Ryun Williams, and he hires you. Now it's coaching. You're looking at coaching. Did you ever think you would be getting into coaching?

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. I was at Watertown for four years and I just got ... Always in the back of my head. I just remember as a player thinking, "Wow. Coach Flynn, she has a great job and I think that'd be kind of fun."I was like, "Maybe I need to just try it so I can get rid of this itch or whatever." I actually talked to Coach Lavin and then he told me that Coach Williams was probably ... I mean obviously him and Coach Williams were good friends and so he thought he had put a bug in his ear.

Then Coach Williams got ahold of me and so then they did have a GA opening. I actually could go down and be the grad assistant because I needed to get my master's anyway. I thought, "Hey, this was a great opportunity to get ...

Craig Mattick: Great timing. Great timing.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Then I could just get my feet wet and see if this is something I want to do. Yeah. It was great. During that time then we were going through the transition of going to be one. I had to experience that, too.

Craig Mattick: Yes. Flying all over the place. Yes.

Mandy Koupal: Yep. Flying all over and then trying to still have motivation to play for something. Because you couldn't really play for the big tournament, but then they created all these other tournaments that you could play in at the end of the year. Yeah. But yeah, going from just recruiting, usually just in a car or taking a road trip in a car, but then now you're flying all over to recruit or to go to games.

But yeah, it was a great experience going back. Like I said, I just had pride in it and it was easy for me to recruit because it was my alma mater.

Craig Mattick: Yeah. But couple of years later, coach Williams gets the job at Colorado State and he wants you to go with to be on the staff. How tough a decision was it for you to make that decision to move to Colorado?

Mandy Koupal: That was very tough. Yeah. Life's taken me many places and I feel like at each of those places, that's where I supposed to be at that moment. God's put me in that spot for that moment and every place was hard to leave. Watertown, it was very hard to leave there, because I grew very close to these girls that I coached from when they were eighth graders all the way through when I was there. They were seniors that year that I left. That was very hard.

Then going to USD and leaving my alma mater and leaving the girls there, too, that I recruit. It was recruiting, the recruits coming in. That was very hard. But they were also so understanding and they were happy for me. That made it easier. But yeah. It was very tough because, I don't know, I'm a South Dakota girl. I'm just all South Dakota. But I'm like, "You know what? This is a great opportunity."

Craig Mattick: You were there two years though. You did it for two years, but you wound ...

Mandy Koupal: Actually I was there for four years. I was there for four, two for a grad system and two full-time.

Craig Mattick: But then after that ...

Mandy Koupal: I was there four. Yeah.

Craig Mattick: Yep. Then you wanted to come back to South Dakota after that time, right?

Mandy Koupal: Yep. Then I was out at Colorado for two years. Yep. I went out to Colorado and did it for two years. I loved it out there, too. But it was just the lifestyle of a Division 1 coach, it was just a lot of travel, and I felt like I was living in a suitcase a lot and I missed home. Like I said, I was a South Dakota girl at heart.

I got the opportunity. When the opportunity came that I could go back to Wagner and teach and be there. I was like, "You know what? I think it's probably good. I want to give back to where things all started." Yeah. I loved it.

Craig Mattick: You're an assistant coach for Wagner last year for the girls' basketball team under your brother. But now you're living in Moorhead, Minnesota. What has changed in Mandy Koupal's life?

Mandy Koupal: Well, I enjoy being just a fan of the game. I feel like I was a player and a coach for a lot of years and I had enough time in the spotlight. I'm just enjoyed being a fan of the game. But I actually got engaged. I'm helping my fiance with his business and planning a wedding for this coming summer. Yeah.

Craig Mattick: Sounds like another alumni basketball game for the wedding.

Mandy Koupal: Yeah. Yeah. Because he was big into basketball, too. But nope, it's been great. It's just a nice change of pace. But I still can be around basketball. I watch lots of basketball. I obviously still. I love that they have a lot of the games online now. If I don't make it to the game, I can still watch my nieces play online. I watch the games when they have the live stream and we have flexibility where I can get back.

I'm actually going to be heading back to South Dakota this weekend and staying for a week. I still have my place in Wagner. We head back to Wagner a lot and I'll get to catch three games while we're home and get to catch up with the family and stuff. It's been great. I miss the kids. I miss certain things.

But I really truly enjoy this change of pace of life and I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be and where God wants me right now. Yeah. I'm just enjoying being a fan, catching lots of games and watching from fans.

Craig Mattick: You're in the South Dakota Basketball Hall of Fame, you're in the USD Athletic Hall of Fame and you're in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. What do those hall of fame mean to you, Mandy?

Mandy Koupal: Well, it's an honor. Just something that I think still really gets me emotional because it just now, when you have time to actually ... When you're out of the heat of the moment and the craziness like now, even just this last year now, not being a coach or being so close to the game, you really have time now to reflect on things.

Having that alumni game and seeing my old teammates and just laughing and sharing the memories and just looking back on what we did. It just gives you time to reflect on things. Sometimes I still get goosebumps and just that feeling of like, "Wow." I was so blessed and I'm so thankful.

To be in the Hall of Fame, it really means a lot. Like I said, I wish that it wouldn't just be my name though. I wish it would be all my teammates and my coaches and my family. It just makes me so appreciative of all of them and just the support that I got from my community, from USD, from everywhere I've been, and just the state of South Dakota.

I am so proud to be from South Dakota and so proud of South Dakota basketball and everything. It's just done so much for me, all the people I've met through basketball and just all the experiences. I'm just very thankful. I think having this time now to really reflect on that, to see like, "Wow. You were very fortunate, Mandy, to have the experiences that you had."

I'm thankful to have had the opportunities to hopefully give back and to share that with these girls that I coached or worked with. Hopefully someday, we've hoped to get back to South Dakota. Who knows, maybe someday I'll be back in this position where I can do that again. But I feel like I've given time as a coach and things like that to hopefully have touched a few lives and made a difference. I mean, that was my goal as a teacher and as a coach.

Craig Mattick: If the head girls basketball job in Wagner becomes available?

Mandy Koupal: Well, I don't know. I guess if my brother ever wants to step down. But there's a possibility. Like I said, I love going back to where I've been and where it all started. That would be pretty cool to go back. It was. To be in Wagner for eight years, the eight years that I was there, and to give back to where it all started, definitely took a lot of pride in that.

Craig Mattick: If a head basketball coaching job in college becomes available?

Mandy Koupal: I don't know. I mean, just depends on where I'm at in life and if I'm ready for that lifestyle, kudos to all those coaches out there. I want to be a mom and stuff. Those coaches that can be a mom and juggle all that stuff and do all the travel or be a dad ...

Craig Mattick: It's tough.

Mandy Koupal: ... and juggle all the family life. It's tough. It takes a special person to be able to do that and special families to do that and to have the right people around you. But I don't know. I guess time will tell. Right now, like I said, I'm enjoying the little break from that spotlight and just enjoying kicking back, maybe eating popcorn and watching the game versus being the one that has to make all the calls.

Craig Mattick: Got a couple more for you there Mandy. Back on the Koupal farm near Dante, South Dakota, is the basketball hoop still up?

Mandy Koupal: There is a hoop in the machine shed yet, but it's not the actual one we played on. My gosh, I just was talking to my dad about this. I think they gave it to someone else, to another family because it was there for a while, but then it was just sitting there. But there is a hoop in the machine shed because now my brother and his family, they built a house out on the farm. But they have a nice court that they had, too.

But they did at one time have the hoop down there so that in the winter months they could ... the kids can go down there. There is a hoop in the machine shed, but it's not the original one that ... You got to hear this. The one that we had, it was made with a huge truck tire on the bottom and a guy made it was handmade.

He welded a huge pole, the pole to hold it. Then the hoop was ... You could adjust it. It would slide up and down, but it was very heavy. It was on this huge tire. We could actually move it around the equipment in the machine shed, we'd just lower the hoop and we'd roll it on this tire so that we could move it around the combine and the truck and all that stuff.

In the winter we'd play too, and we'd turn on the big ... They have those big gas heater, the heaters, the electric gas heater. We'd plug that in and it'd be heated in there. Yeah. The original one, darn it, we don't have that one, but good memories of it.

Craig Mattick: Last one, basketball's been very good to you. What memory stands out the most to you from practicing that shot on the family farm to coaching at the college level? What memory stands out the most for you, Mandy?

Mandy Koupal: Oh, gosh. That's a tough one. But yes, basketball has been very good to me. I'm so thankful for it. But I think, I don't know if I have just one. But I'm sure there's lots from different timeframes. But obviously from when I was a kid, the memories of my brother and I and my sister and dad and uncles and all the cousins, obviously, those are special to me.

Mike and Michelle being out there with me and then my dad and my uncle stuff in the machine shed. High school, obviously, winning the back-to-back titles and going through that experience, going from winning one game to, like you said, losing only one game that all together, collectively accomplishing that and sharing that with my teammates and my community and things like that. That always hold a special place in my heart.

Then at USD, same thing. We built the program there, too. But probably my junior year, winning that ... or having a tie and winning the conference championship and just the accomplishments we made there. Then post playing, just all the friendships I have made and all of the ... there'll be times where I get texts from my former players and just those relationships you make with the kids.

Even in the classroom, my students, that means so much because that was my goal was to ... I was given so much that I wanted to give what I was ... I wanted to share what I was given and I wanted to do the same. I wanted to pay it forward and pay it back. When you have those special moments when I'll go back to Wagner and I'll see my students from last year and they'll just come run up and hug.

Or actually the girls on the team, I went back over Christmas break and I made it back for the game. I mean, the timing was perfect. I walked right in the gym and they were just coming over to get ready to warm up and they saw me and they all just came and hugged me. I mean, that just brought tears to my eyes. I don't know. It just touches my heart. It's things like that, just the relationships that you make with people.

Craig Mattick: If you like what you're hearing, please give us a five-star review wherever you get your podcasts. Programs such as this are only possible to the continued support of our listeners like you. For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I'm Craig Mattick. Join us again on the next episode of In Play.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.