Ethan native Karly Gustafson enjoys success-filled senior season with Dordt women's basketball

For NAIA No. 4-ranked Dordt (23-1), Gustafson ranks fourth in the GPAC in scoring (17.1 points), second in shooting percentage (62.1%), third in rebounding (7.4) and 10th in assists (3.0) per game.

Dordt University's Karly Gustafson (30) drives toward the basket while being guarded by Dakota Wesleyan's Lacey Sprakel (52) during a Great Plains Athletic Conference women's basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Karly Gustafson has always stood out on the basketball court.

In high school, she was a four-time all-state selection — twice first-team and twice second-team — with a state championship and two runner-up finishes among her five state tournament appearances at Ethan.

More recently, the 6-foot forward has developed into an all-Great Plains Athletic Conference talent for Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, and she's saved her best college season for last.

Gustafson ranks fourth in the GPAC in scoring (17.1 points), second in shooting percentage (62.1%), third in rebounding (7.4) and 10th in assists (3.0) per game. With those figures, she’s well on her way to a second consecutive GPAC first-team honor (she was also second-team as a sophomore and honorable mention as a freshman) and perhaps even has a case for conference player of the year. At the same time, Dordt is ranked No. 4 in the NAIA, flying high at 23-1 overall and 17-1 in conference play.

“I think what's special about this group is we just keep taking each game as it comes,” Gustafson said. “We face adversity and just grow closer with that. We play very well together, have a great team culture and chemistry, and that's what sets us apart, I think.”


‘An ambassador’

It’s hard to imagine a coach speaking more highly of a student-athlete than how Dordt head coach Bill Harmsen regards Gustafson.

“Karly is an absolute ambassador for our program,” Harmsen said. “She has such a sweet soul and spirit, and that exudes into our team. She has a big-time calming presence.”

“We ask her to do a bunch of different things for us and, obviously, she has a huge impact on the floor,” he continued. “But the Dordt community, Sioux Center community and our program are the real benefactors of her because she's such a great kid.”

Such qualities have their way of shining through on the basketball court, as well, and the “calming presence” Harmsen referred to is a prime example. During her career, Gustafson’s consistency and steady improvement have made her exceptionally dependable and have gone hand-in-hand with the program’s rise.

This year, Gustafson has been looked to more than ever before and responded by making a considerable jump. Her scoring is up 4.5 points per game while maintaining a similar rebounding mark and distributing one more assist per game, as well.

"She's always played with some other great players — Erika Feenstra and Ashtyn Veerbeek (both of whom were multiple-time NAIA All-Americans) — and now she got called upon to guard and score against better players and make those decisions for us,” Harmsen explained. “She understands what our team needs and is willing to give that."

“I'm a senior, so I knew I had to step up as a leader,” Gustafson added. “I've been here for four years and feel like I've helped create the culture, so I had to step up this year and be consistent in that.”

Dordt University's Karly Gustafson (30) dribbles while looking to make a pass during a Great Plains Athletic Conference women's basketball game against Dakota Wesleyan on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic


Not finished yet

Gustafson's most recent trip to the Corn Palace came with some added emotion.

It was a reminder — as if she needed one — that the senior’s standout career is moving to its conclusion.

Dating back to her time as a Rustler and carrying over to the Defenders' annual road trip to face off with Dakota Wesleyan, Gustafson is well acquainted with the Palace and the court within. But as Gustafson put up 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists to help guide Dordt to an 81-75 win over DWU on Jan. 25, it marked what's likely to be the final game she plays in the venue.

While it’s just one in a long string of lasts, it was a moment she had taken a moment to think about ahead of the game.

“Coming back here to play is always fun. It just brings back a lot of memories,” Gustafson said. “(Before the game) I was like, ‘Oh, I'm kind of closing a chapter here at the Corn Palace.’”

A chapter, maybe, but the book on Gustafson's college career appears far from closed.

Last season, the Defenders finished second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference regular season standings but were knocked off by DWU in the conference tournament semifinals. They entered the NAIA tournament with a record of 24-8 and a No. 5 seed.

Five wins later, the Defenders were playing for a national championship.


It’s spurred another special season for Dordt in 2022-23. The top spot in the conference tournament is nearly locked up, and one of the four available No. 1 seeds in the national tournament doesn’t seem too far off.

But no matter the situation Gustafson and the Defenders find themselves in once the postseason comes around, they're committed to sticking with what's brought them so much recent success.

“I feel like we have a pretty big target on our back, but I don't think that scares us. It just makes us focus even more,” Gustafson said. “We're focused on taking it one game at a time as we go and seeing what we can do.”

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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