BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — Whether it was up in Watertown or out in Colorado, Mandy Koupal always seemed to find her way back to her alma mater.
Koupal, a Wagner native, was inducted last Saturday into the Henry Heider Sports Hall of Fame at the University of South Dakota, where she was one of the most decorated women’s basketball players in school history.
The Coyote all-time scoring leader was most recently on the women’s basketball staff at Colorado State University, along with two coaches also with ties to USD — CSU head coach Ryun Williams and Chad Lavin (also a former Coyote head coach).
Sure, they were all busy with their own team, but they never stopped checking in on USD, Koupal joked Saturday.
“We were following closely out in Colorado,” she said with a smile following a halftime ceremony during USD’s football game against Northern Arizona.
“I’m excited this year to hopefully catch some games, and come support the Yotes and these girls.”
Koupal, a two-time Division II Player of the Year and three-time All-American, scored 2,142 points in just three seasons (2000-04) at USD.
While it was no surprise that she was inducted into USD’s nearly 300-person Hall of Fame, Koupal said she struggled to say exactly how she felt about the honor.
“Everyone asked me about my speech, and I didn’t feel like I could come up with words that could explain the feeling,” she said.
“You dream about something like this when you’re a kid, so it’s a very special feeling.”
After graduation from USD, Koupal spent the next four years teaching fourth grade in Watertown. She then returned to Vermillion to complete a Master’s degree in 2010, and was on the Coyote women’s basketball staff for three seasons.
Koupal then followed Williams to Colorado State University, where she spent two seasons. Last season, the Rams won 25 games and reached the WNIT.
Ultimately, Koupal decided to leave Fort Collins and return to her hometown of Wagner.
“I missed my family; that’s really important to me,” she said. “We’re all really close. I didn’t get to see them enough.
“But I guess you couldn’t take the South Dakota out of me.”
Back in Wagner, Koupal is teaching fifth and sixth grade, and will also coach fifth and sixth grade girls’ basketball. She will also help her brother Michael coach the Wagner varsity girls’ basketball team.
And once again, Mandy Koupal found herself back on the USD campus Saturday.
“You always get the same welcome,” she said. “And that’s what’s cool about USD. It really is a family.”