This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) historically has served as an Only One experience for many local Blacks. That has not proved an obstacle for LaShay Holt, who racked up the MIAC honors this season.
We first met Holt a season ago, then a freshman forward on her St. Catherine University basketball team. The Minneapolis native and St. Paul Humboldt graduate recently finished her sophomore season, and her team accomplished its best finish since 2009-10 with a three-game winning streak.
Holt led St. Kate’s in almost every category — scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounds (nearly 10 per game), and setting a single-season school record for steals (79). She was the MIAC rebounding leader as well with 12 double-doubles, including 21 times in double-figure scoring this season, racking up a career-high 28 points against Northwestern-St. Paul in December.
She later joined 20 other players in the nation to post a triple-double (24 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists). As a result, Holt was among several MIAC players who earned postseason honors for their on-court performances. She became the first St. Kate’s player since 2010-11 to be named All-MIAC.
“Basketball is a team sport, and any award I get, they get,” said Holt of her teammates after becoming the first St. Kate’s player named All-MIAC. The 2014-15 Wildcats finished 10-15 overall — more wins than the previous three seasons combined. “I couldn’t and wouldn’t ask to play for any other team.”
Rather than calling her second collegiate season a breakout one, Holt instead proudly sees it as a point on her playing continuum. “I started playing basketball in the 9th grade… I have a lot of room to grow,” she pointed out.
Finally, with her junior season coming up later this year, “I plan to bust my butt in the off season — off season is where it all happens,” said Holt, adding that she also plans to help her high school basketball team’s summer league.
Proud of ‘Only One’ label
The third year wasn’t charming, but according to Jamison Rusthoven, the St. Mary’s University men’s basketball team is “getting closer” to becoming a perennial MIAC contender.
“We don’t have enough” good athletes to consistently compete in the league, admits Rusthoven, who’s in his third year as head coach at the Winona, Minnesota school. This year’s squad finished 4-21.
Since Division III doesn’t offer scholarships, it’s hard to attract the type of athletes he wants, Rusthoven explains. “You can’t go dangling scholarships out there and get it done. It takes a little bit longer because you’ve got to do it one class at a time.”
Rusthoven’s hiring in 2013 made him the first Black head basketball coach in MIAC history. “I’m proud to have the label” of being the league’s Only One, notes the St. Agnes graduate, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Thomas and plans to earn his doctorate from Hamline this summer.
“The people who tried to get to this level for whatever reason in this state and in this league haven’t been able to. I want to use it as an opportunity to continue to give young men, regardless of who they are, opportunities to get a great education and play in one of the best leagues in the nation. I’m always looking for kids who can get it done.”
It’s his first head collegiate coaching opportunity after over a decade of assistant coaching at four schools — University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Hamline, MCTC, Concordia-St. Paul. He also was a student assistant coach at Minnesota under Clem Haskins and head coach at Southwest and Osseo High Schools. Rusthoven is now working to move St. Mary’s into the league’s first division on an annual basis.
“I would like to win more in the league, but that’s going to happen in the next couple of years,” states Rusthoven. The MIAC “is a high level” of college basketball. “Our league is a great league,” he concludes. “It’s a fabulous league. I’m excited to be in the league.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.