Stevens: Kielpinski From North Dakota Cold To Pit's Warm Embrace
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/07/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

March 7, 2011

BEST ON ALL-MWC TEAM Lobo senior Amanda Best was named to the All-Mountain West Third Team today. Freshman Jasmine Patterson made honorable mention and Porche Torrance was placed on the All-MWC Defensive Team.

Best, from Snohomish, Wash., is averaging 11 points and 8.1 rebounds heading into the MWC tourney. She is coming off one of the top performances in the conference this season with 20 points and 21 rebounds in UNM's win at Air Force. Best was honorable mention All-MWC in 2010 as a junior.

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    By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer / GoLobos.com

    When you grow up in North Dakota, you really have no choice. You have "cold" stories -- stories of ice and snow and wind and abominable snowmen.

    OK, Jessica Kielpinski has no abominable snowmen story, although wet hair on a cold day in Mandan, N.D., can create a bad hair day and you might look different, especially if you are 6-foot-2 and wearing a snowsuit.

    For sure, the Lobos' senior post can relate to one of the more memorable scenes in the movie "A Christmas Story," where one of Ralphie's toadies get his tongue stuck to a frozen pole on the school ground.

    Jessica has been there, done that, although her tongue-sticking experience came on the way to daycare when she decided to lick some frost on the door.

    "My mom had to go inside and get some hot water," said Kielpinski, whose Lobos open up the Mountain West Conference Tournament at 8 p.m., Tuesday against San Diego State in the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack Center.

    Jessica's older sister, Rebecca, had it even worse one blustery, frozen day in Mandan. "She licked a sliding door outside a store," said Jessica. "My mom had to guard the door and make sure nobody opened it until we got her tongue off.

    "It can get so cold up there. If you walk around outside and your hair gets wet, it's like hard spaghetti sticking out everywhere. My parents came down last week and people back home were telling them how warm it had been lately. I think it was like 20-below. I've definitely become spoiled by the weather in New Mexico."

    The high in Mandan was supposed to soar up to nine degrees today (Monday). Albuquerque could reach 70 this week.

    Kielpinski was born in Bismarck, N.D., but raised in Mandan, which is separated from Bismarck by the Missouri River. In the wintertime, the river has pockets of ice you can scratch the snow off and skate. But not Jessica.

    "I was too scared to go on the river when there was ice on it," she said. "You would hear the stories of kids falling in."

    It might have been a good thing that Kielpinski grew up loving basketball instead of ice hockey, curling or cross country skiing. Basketball is an indoors sport. Indoor is a good place to be in North Dakota in wintertime.

    Her father, 6-foot-8 Mark, played and coached basketball. Her sister, Rebecca, was a high school star two years before Jessica began tearing it up for Mandan High. Jessica was North Dakota's Miss Basketball and Gatorade Player of The Year. Jessica led Mandan to its fifth-straight state title her senior year, averaging 19.8 points and 8.1 rebounds.

    "I think I started playing with a basketball as soon as I could walk," said Kielpinski. "My dad was a coach in Carson (N.D.) and we went to the games when we were babies. We got so used to the sounds and the horns that we would sleep through a buzzer going off."

    When Jessica went looking for a college, the groundwork for going far away from home had already been set by Rebecca, who went to Alaska-Anchorage where she eventually was a Division II All-American.

    "I was looking at North Dakota State early and researching other colleges when my sister takes off for Alaska," said Kielpinski. "I was thinking, `Wow, that's really far away. ` But that kind of opened the door for me to think about other schools and getting away from home."

    There was a link at Alaska-Anchorage that worked out in Jessica's favor. The program had an assistant named Katie Kern, who played for Lobo coach Don Flanagan at UNM and also at Eldorado High. Kern mentioned their Seawolves' star (Rebecca) had a younger sister looking to escape the tundra.

    Senior Jessica Kielpinski

    The rest is history. "I didn't know anything about New Mexico at all, but my dad told me how we had watched New Mexico play in the NCAAs on TV," said Kielpinski. "I visited and it just felt right in my gut that this could really work for me."

    And it did work. Kielpinski played every game as a freshman, played 35 games with one start as a sophomore and made All-Mountain West honorable mention as a junior. She has battled a variety of injuries this season, but has played in 27 of UNM's 28 games with 21 starts. She averages 7.0 points and 4.5 rebounds heading into the MWC tourney in Vegas.

    Jessica said one of the biggest adjustments coming to Albuquerque was moving from a big town in North Dakota to even a bigger town down South in New Mexico.

    "Growing up in North Dakota, you feel like Mandan is a big town," said Kielpinski. "You think that way because most of the other towns around you are smaller. So, you think you live in a big town until you come to a bigger town.

    "In Mandan, no matter where you go you run into somebody you know. You go to the mall, and you know somebody. That's nice and I miss it. Albuquerque is like a big city to me.

    "I'm not sure what I was expecting when I came here, but everything has gone fine. I wouldn't say everything has been picture perfect, and I've had some good days and some bad days, but I've grown as a person and I wouldn't change anything."

    However, there might be one thing Jessica might change in North Dakota should she decide to return there some day - the cold. "I'm not ruling out going back there," she said. "But if I do, the weather will be a rude awakening."

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