For many athletes, playing at the collegiate level is an achievement of its own.
For two area graduates, they are taking their college experience to the next level as the Augustana College women's basketball team prepares for its first trip to the Division II Elite 8.
Murray County Central graduate Emily Bose and Canby graduate Riley Nordgaard will make the trip to San Antonio to face Clayton State (Ga.) on Tuesday and both players are excited to be playing in the post season.
"We've accomplished so many things we've wanted to for years," said Bose. "This is the first time we've ever done this in Augustana history."
The Vikings put together a 27-6 record this season, claiming the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament title with a win over Minnesota State University-Mankato.
"This year coming in we had a lot of preseason press coverage, we were ranked high. We all had high expectations," said Nordgaard. "But I don't think that affected us much. I think we all knew the amount of talent we had on the team, it was just a matter of if we could put it together and do it."
A 75-74 win over Emporia State (Kan.) earned the Vikings the NCAA Central Region championship and punched their ticket to the Elite 8.
Though neither Bose nor Nordgaard are starters, both know they and everyone else on the team play important roles in every game.
"Especially in the last months of our season, we really came together as a team," Bose said. "We really believe we have a lot of talent, but just being there for each other, picking each other up when you have a bad game.
"I think that's what makes the difference between a team that does well and a team that wins championships, is you have that connection on the court and off the court. We've had multiple people hurt this year, but they are still a huge part of our team."
Nordgaard has played in every game her freshman season, averaging 5.8 points per game and is fourth on the team with 159 rebounds.
Bose has had to battle illness and a concussion, playing in 22 games this year.
"I had a few things happen this year. I was out sick for quite a while and I got a concussion. It's been kind of a frustrating year, but the important part was realizing what role you play on the team," said Bose. "We talk about this a lot, especially in the locker room. Everyone has a role and everyone's roles are so important, especially when you have games where you win by two, or our championship, where we won by one.
"Every play, every possession is so important. To be able to contribute a little bit to make the difference between that loss and that win is (amazing.)"
Both players, who were scorers in high school, are more than happy to fill the roles needed.
"I was a scorer in high school. This year I've taken on a different role," said Nordgaard. "It's being supportive of your team. Learning from the upperclassmen has been huge. Our seniors have set a great example so far."
Another aspect of the college game that both find exciting is the amount of community support they both experience. They are amazed at how many people from their home towns still follow them.
"My redshirt year, there were still people that supported me," Bose said. "Now I talk to my high school coach all the time. I get text messages and calls. My parents say people are always asking them (about me). When we play in Marshall there are always tons of Slayton people there to watch."
"Girls on the team that come from bigger cities don't have the following I know we have in Southwest Minnesota," Nordgaard said. "The following has been amazing and I can't stress enough how grateful I am for that support."
Though both players experienced plenty of personal success at the high school level, the one thing that eluded them was post season success.
Now they have the chance to make that happen.
"To finally get over that (hump), it's amazing. It's honestly unbelievable," said Nordgaard. "It's definitely setting the bar high for upcoming seasons, but I would rather experience it once than never at all. I know it's kind of early in my career, and maybe I don't have the biggest impact, but I'm just taking this all in stride and enjoying every moment of it."
"In high school I never got the chance to cut down the nets because we always got beat right before that," Bose said. "To get to do that twice this year and to get to play at such a huge level is a new thing for me. We never made the state tournament. I'm kind of excited for it. None of us have ever experienced something like this, so we are going to take it all in and enjoy every minute of it.
"We play the number one team in the nation in the first round, which is actually pretty cool because we get a chance to really prove how good we are. We are beyond excited about it."