Letcher woman says "yes" to Summit tourney marriage proposal at Jackrabbit game

Couple met through their shared love for SDSU sports

030522 VanWalleghen Baustian Dec 2021.jpg
From left, Madison VanWalleghen and Joe Baustian met at while attending South Dakota State and connected over their shared love for Jackrabbit sports. They are pictured here in Bozeman, Montana in December 2021 after attending the South Dakota State-Montana State FCS playoff game. The couple got engaged on March 5, 2022 at the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls.
Courtesy of Madison VanWalleghen
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SIOUX FALLS — Madison VanWalleghen picked up on the hints left by her boyfriend Joe Baustian before this weekend.

He suggested she make her way from South Carolina to Sioux Falls to the Summit League tournament, which happened to be the place they met two years ago, when they bonded over their fandom of South Dakota State sports teams from the front row of the student section.

VanWalleghen, 24, is a Letcher native who attended Mitchell High School and is currently a lecturer at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, in the school’s department of communications. (She was also a one-time Mitchell Republic part-time sports staff member.)

Baustian, 28, a native of Jasper, Minnesota, works at Daktronics in Brookings.

At the 5:50 mark of the second quarter of Saturday’s women’s basketball game between South Dakota State and Denver, the tournament’s promotional staff used a media timeout to announce its Fans of the Game. It was not a mere coincidence they picked Baustian and one guest to sit in the large recliners located on the end of the court, in front of the SDSU student section and band.


When VanWalleghen was summoned over to the Fan of the Game area, Baustian was waiting and then he got down on one knee and asked VanWalleghen to marry him. She didn’t hesitate, nodding yes and the two embraced.

Baustian had the moment well planned out. He reached out to the conference weeks ago and officials were more than welcoming to accommodate the special occasion, which was SDSU’s first tournament game: a women’s basketball contest between the Jackrabbits and University of Denver.

“(The Summit was) all for it, and they came up with the idea of being Fans of the Game. I got into it that way. The reason I wanted to do it here is because it was the first place that Madison and I met, and I thought I had to do it here, because it would be such a special moment for us.”

The harder part was Baustian convincing his girlfriend to make a quick trip back to South Dakota for a few days.

“This week, it got closer and it got a little more obvious,” he said. “It’s harder to get her up here (this time of year.) I convinced her to come up here for a few days and that we’d have a good time.”

After spending time together at the 2020 Summit League tournament, the pandemic and life intervened, with each going their separate ways. The relationship got serious in June 2021, when the two ran into each other once again and struck up a conversation.

“Wait, you’re that cute, dorky guy that sat behind me at all of the games,” VanWalleghen recalled of starting to date Baustian. “It just sort of happened and we kept talking.”

The relationship went into long-distance mode in fall 2021, with VanWalleghen taking the role at Clemson. VanWalleghen came back to South Dakota for a few more SDSU football games, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since then, they talked about potentially moving to the same place or living together and discussed getting married. In that light, Saturday’s surprise wasn’t completely unforeseen for VanWalleghen.


“The timeline matched up,” she said of their Summit-related anniversary. “It made sense but I didn’t want to convince myself it was going to happen.”

VanWalleghen had another reason to come to Sioux Falls. She is one of the hosts of the Reaching the Summit podcast, which covers Summit League men’s and women’s basketball. In particular, VanWalleghen helps shed light on Summit League women’s basketball, with her goal being to draw more attention to the conference’s teams and players and to help destigmatize the conference’s mid-major label.

But for the rest of their lives, the Summit League tournament and Jackrabbit games will have a special meaning to the newly engaged couple.

“I think the SDSU mantra used to be that ‘You could go anywhere from here,’" she said. “It’s kind of cheesy but I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever made while at SDSU. And a lot of them were right there when I got engaged. It’s easy to create a bond there.”


Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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