Former Osakis boys’ basketball standout Leif Nomeland has high expectations for himself and his Augustana College (Sioux Falls) teammates heading into the season.
Nomeland made a name for himself in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference as a redshirt sophomore last season. He averaged 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Vikings after redshirting his freshman year and not seeing much time on the court two years ago.
I talked to Nomeland for almost a half an hour last Thursday for a story that will be in this Wednesday’s Osakis Review. We talked about a lot of things, from the lofty expectations Augustana has this year to the process of becoming the player he wants to be at the Division II level.
Nomeland finished his high school career at Osakis as the school’s all-time leader in points scored and rebounds. His 1,469 rebounds are still second most in Minnesota boys’ basketball history and his 2,054 points rank him in the top 70 on the career scoring list in the state.
It took Nomeland a couple years to transition that success from high school to the college level. Now in his junior season, he’s poised to help lead Augustana to the top of the NSIC. Here is a rundown of much of our conversation that didn’t make it into Wednesday’s print edition.
EM: You guys are ranked in the top 25 in almost every Division II poll out there and the favorites to win the NSIC. What do you as players expect from yourselves this season?
Nomeland: We obviously have high expectations. A conference championship is obviously on our mind. We want to win the regional championship and get to the elite eight and then the overall championship. But every team has those goals at the beginning.
As a team, we just want to play together, get better every day. Whether it’s in practice or in games, learn from everything that we do. If we’re able to do that, we’ll be able to win the games and that will take care of itself.
EM: You kind of broke onto the scene last year midway through the season. What are your personal expectations as you head into your junior season?
Nomeland: [Head] coach [Tom Billeter] has kind of been giving me a lot of motivation. He says that if I’m not an all-conference player, that’s my own fault. So that’s in the back of my head. But I just want to contribute as much as I did last year and more to be a nice complement to our guards. I just want to get better every day.
The offensive aspect isn’t the big thing. It’s more the defensive presence with me. A couple games last year I was kind of the weak spot, there were some post players for other teams who came in and scored about 28 points or so. I want to be more of a force down low.
EM: You came into college and redshirted that freshman year. Then you don’t see the court very much the first year you were eligible before busting out last season. How has that process been for you. Is it about what you expected?
Nomeland: Not really. It was kind of tough. I didn’t know if I was going to redshirt or not. Going through the recruiting process, I didn’t have anyone tell me I was going to redshirt. They told me I was going to play right away or they didn’t know. Augustana told me they didn’t really know.
When I was told, I went along with it, but it was tough. The redshirt wasn’t the hardest. It was the second year when I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. We had a good team, and I was hoping to play but only averaged about six minutes a game. That was tough being on the bench and not being able to contribute.
Last year, it was kind of the middle of the year where the fruits of my labor were starting to pay off. It was a little bit slower than I had anticipated…a lot of kids when they don’t play those first couple years, they just think I got to transfer somewhere where I can play. My coach never really said, you’re not good, he just said, you’re not there yet.
During the off-season when things aren’t mandatory, that’s when players get their big gains. Some kids are sitting on the couch, others are in the gym and in the weight room getting better. That’s what I did.
EM: It seemed like things kind of came easy for you at times during high school playing at the Class A and AA level. Did you have to change the way you approached your preparation and how hard you worked once you got to college?
Nomeland: I have to give credit to [Osakis head] coach [Chris] Stroup. I think from the very beginning, he took the time to get me ready for the college game. I definitely didn’t have to work as hard and do as much in high school, but when I got to college and I get this whole workload – I have to do everything and more that’s required of me – it didn’t come as much of a surprise for me because I was ready for it.
Coach Stroup did a good job of keeping me accountable, making sure I didn’t see myself as too good for the high school game. He was always telling me things I needed to improve on. If I was in the gym shooting, he was making sure I was getting up good shots. He was right behind me telling me I can’t slack off.
EM: How has your game changed the most since you got to college?
Nomeland: There are a couple things that come to mind. One is just being more physical down low. I’m not the strongest guy down there, and I definitely wasn’t and didn’t have to be in high school. I only weighed about 205 in high school, but I didn’t need to be big. At this level, it’s just a more physical level. You got to get good position and you got to be strong.
The other thing is being more consistent as far as my perimeter game goes. That’s just another thing that the defense has to worry about. I took some perimeter jump shots in high school, but I probably only shot about 28 percent from three. Last year, I think I shot 40 percent. That’s just another thing I’ve been working on. Getting the footwork down, being shot ready, finding the open spots in the zone.
EM: You have been able to be a part of a turnaround at Augustana under coach Billeter. How exciting is it to be a part of a program that is turning the corner and trying to establish itself as one of the top programs in the country?
Nomeland: It’s very fun. I didn’t lay the foundation for that. There were a lot of players when I came in my freshman year, those seniors and juniors from that team, they were the ones who were turning the program around. Coach Billeter had to go through a couple tough years, but when he was able to get his guys in place, he could establish a solid program.
My class and later, we are the ones continuing that. There’s a hard work ethic behind everything. We were accountable and responsible. We got to work. We can’t take days off. I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in because I don’t think Augie has ever had expectations like this before. It’s fun to be a part of that.