Eight hundred eighty-three. That’s how many college basketball wins were achieved in the combined coaching careers of longtime rivals Bob Wachs and Gordon Fosness. Both found great success while concentrating their recruiting primarily on players from South Dakota. The late Wachs led Northern State for 30 seasons from 1956-85. His overall record was 532-286. The late Fosness guided Dakota Wesleyan for 22 seasons, from 1962-83, with a career record of 351-195. Wachs and Fosness each won 10 championships in the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference.
The reliance of Wachs and Fosness on in-state talent was on full display when their teams met 50 years ago last Feb. 27 at the Aberdeen Civic Arena. It was the 1971 NAIA District 12 playoffs and all 10 starters in the game were former South Dakota preps. So were the four other players, two Wolves and two Tigers, who saw time off the bench.
Dennis Smith (Glenham), Gary Evjen (Sioux Falls Washington), Rich Andrzejewski (Arlington), Bill Luther (Sioux Falls Washington) and Rhys Schmidt (Pierre) were in the Northern lineup. Also seeing action for the Wolves were Tim Davies (Aberdeen Roncalli) and Les Hinds (Aberdeen Roncalli). Wesleyan starters were Tom Miller (Stickney), Jim Hall (Spencer), Jim Martin (Chamberlain), Mike Mebius (Wessington Springs) and Greg Hansen (Hurley). The Tigers also got minutes during the game from Harvey Fridley (Mount Vernon) and Steve Withorne (Rapid City Central).
Northern won 92-91 in one of the most memorable games in the long-running rivalry. Luther hit a 15-foot shot with two seconds left for the winning margin. Hall’s desperation shot from midcourt bounced off the rim as the final horn sounded. The Wolves went on to the NAIA National Tournament where they defeated Illinois Wesleyan 88-76 before losing to Stephen F. Austin (Texas) 99-62. DWU was SDIC champion that season at 10-2 with the Wolves second at 9-3.