An unofficial visit was all Melrose-Mindoro High School sophomore Emily Herzberg needed to determine her college future.
Herzberg already knew that her next three winters would be spent trying to help the Mustangs qualify for the WIAA Division 4 state tournament.
But a 4½-hour drive to Brookings, S.D., earlier this month gave her a solid indication of where she’d be studying dentistry and playing basketball after that.
Herzberg, who averaged 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a freshman, gave a verbal commitment on Saturday to NCAA Division I South Dakota State after the only college visit she has made.
“I got the offer after my (unofficial) visit, but I wanted to take some time in making my decision,” said Herzberg, who will be one of five returning starters for a Melrose-Mindoro team that was 24-1 last season. “I talked to my family about it, and it seemed like the right place for me.”
The 5-foot-11 guard/forward was also holding an offer from Montana State and receiving interest from UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee and Nebraska-Omaha.
Her versatility and ability to defend, she was told, are what caught the eyes of SDSU coaches.
Herzberg’s desire to follow her mother, Liz, into the field of dentistry also played a role in her decision. She said she liked what the health science program has to offer.
“My mom’s a dentist, and I just decided that’s what I wanted to be, too,” Herzberg said. “I was happy with the program at South Dakota State.”
Herzberg said playing Division I basketball has always been a dream, but that it gained momentum as a possibility after her eighth-grade season. That, she said, is when the letters and questionnaires started sliding into her mailbox.
She earned that attention by playing with the Wisconsin Flight Elite. Melrose-Mindoro teammates Calette Lockington and Mesa Byom also play with the Flight Elite, and Byom’s current offer list includes both South Dakota State and Montana State.
They have worked together to improve on a season that fell short of the sectional semifinals with a loss to eventual state runner-up Aquinas in a regional championship game.
The Mustangs, who have never qualified for the state tournament, were beaten by the Blugolds 64-43 in front of a packed house at Central High School.
It was a game that was many had anticipated since the regular season began. Both teams tore through the regular season without much of a setback against good conference and nonconference competition.
Herzberg, also a volleyball and track and field standout at Melrose-Mindoro, had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s only defeat of the season. The outcome has the Mustangs focused more than ever before entering a new season.
“It showed us how badly we want to win,” said Herzberg, who placed third in both the Division 3 200 and 400 and helped Melrose-Mindoro’s 1,600 relay team place eighth at the WIAA state track and field meet at UW-La Crosse in June. “I watched it a couple of weeks ago. It was hard to watch. We did the best we could, and now we work on getting better.”
The Mustangs, who have beaten 19 straight Dairyland Conference opponents, will not be grouped in the same regional as Aquinas — another team that returns all of its starters — this season and won’t match up in same sectional of both win regional titles. They will also be a favorite to win a second consecutive championship in the Large Division of the Dairyland.