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Sisters pulled in two directions over Zags’ matchup

UPDATED: Wed., March 15, 2017, 9:55 p.m.

Susan Minarik at last year’s NCAA Tournament in Spokane. (Courtesy Susan Minarik)
Susan Minarik at last year’s NCAA Tournament in Spokane. (Courtesy Susan Minarik)

SALT LAKE CITY – When Margie Fiedler thinks of college basketball, there’s one game that comes to mind almost instantly.

In February 1976, Fiedler’s Jackrabbits took on cross-state rivals South Dakota Coyotes. Fiedler was a South Dakota State cheerleader at the time and was on the sidelines cheering on the Jackrabbits as they defended their home court.

Suddenly, Fiedler was struck by a large flying object that had been thrown from the stands and had sent her to the ground. It was a frozen coyote.

Throwing dead animals – specifically frozen coyotes and jackrabbits – from the stands and onto the court became an annual tradition each time SDSU met South Dakota. The fans would hide the dead animals from building officials by keeping them under their clothes.

“They had these huge coats in the ’70s that they smuggled 50-pound coyotes under,” Fiedler said.

And then, at the opportune moment, a fan would pull the frozen animal out and throw it onto the floor.

“It was never a tradition that was sanctioned by the school,” Fiedler said. For obvious reasons. Fiedler was taken to the hospital later that evening and was diagnosed with a severe concussion.

But don’t worry, Gonzaga fans, there will be no frozen bulldogs flying through the air on Thursday when the Zags take on SDSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, only some screaming fans rooting for the underdog.

Fiedler said she’ll be pulling for the underdogs too from her home in Montana, a tough decision after following the Zags for so long when she previously lived in Coeur d’Alene for 25 years.

“What I’m really sad about is that it’s the two teams I follow. One of them is going to be done tomorrow,” Fiedler said.

Her split loyalties to the Zags and the Jackrabbits seem to run in the family. Fiedler’s sister Susan Minarik, a Spokane resident who also went to SDSU, couldn’t make up her mind this week about which team she would be supporting when she watches the game at home on Thursday.

“I’m going to wear my Gonzaga T-shirt, and my South Dakota State sweatshirt, so I’ll be covered,” Minarik said.

Minarik said she started rooting for the Zags when she moved to Spokane in the early 1990s. The hype around Gonzaga basketball and the success of the Mark Few era shaped her into the die-hard fan she is today.

“You can’t live in Spokane and not be a Gonzaga fan,” Minarik said. “They’re just infectious.”

But not infectious enough to hope for a Bulldog victory over her beloved Jackrabbits. Minarik, like Fiedler, said she will pull for her Jackrabbits in the first round of the Big Dance.

“Of course, you have to root for your alma mater,” Minarik said. “But let’s put it this way: I also hope Gonzaga makes it to No. 1.”

No doubt, a top spot on the biggest stage in college basketball would be something to marvel at, but an upset would be incredible, she said.

“It would be a Cinderella story,” Minarik said. “If they are that good to beat Gonzaga, then they should be good enough to go all the way.”

Since graduating from SDSU in 1973, Minarik has kept tabs on the Jackrabbits. Traveling back to South Dakota to watch the Jackrabbits has become less common for both of the sisters than it had been in the past, but Minarik said she makes sure to see her alma mater play whenever the Jackrabbits travel 1,300 miles west to eastern Washington, which is not often.

The last time she saw her Jackrabbits was in March last year when SDSU came to Spokane for the NCAA Tournament. The Jackrabbits were knocked out of the tournament in the first round by then fifth-seeded Maryland.

She and Fiedler both said they suspect the same thing will happen to SDSU in the first round again when it will face the Zags at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. They just hope the score will be close.

“I hope it’s a good game,” Minarik said.

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