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Q-and-A: Rotert's Jackrabbit run comes full circle

BROOKINGS -- Kristin Rotert loved her time as a South Dakota State University women's basketball player. Quite frankly, she didn't think she'd ever come back to campus as a coach. But that's exactly what happened last summer, when Rotert was name...

South Dakota State University women's basketball Director of Operations Kristin Rotert, right, watches the Jackrabbits next to head coach Aaron Johnston during a game in December in Brookings. (Matt Gade / Republic)
South Dakota State University women's basketball Director of Operations Kristin Rotert, right, watches the Jackrabbits next to head coach Aaron Johnston during a game in December in Brookings. (Matt Gade / Republic)

BROOKINGS - Kristin Rotert loved her time as a South Dakota State University women's basketball player.

Quite frankly, she didn't think she'd ever come back to campus as a coach. But that's exactly what happened last summer, when Rotert was named the Jackrabbit women's program's director of operations.

Rotert, a native of Salem who graduated in 2011, is a former conference Sixth Woman of the Year award winner, scored 1,484 points at SDSU, and helped the Jackrabbits to the NCAA tournament three times.

In her new role, she helps line up the team's logistical matters such as flights, buses, hotels and meals, along with setting up recruiting visits and organizing the team's summer camp schedule.

As a player, Rotert said she remembers helping current players through summer camps at SDSU. Now she's coaching them every day in practice.

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"It makes things full circle," Rotert said. "I remember a lot of these players here at camp about 10 years ago when I was a player and now they're out here, wearing SDSU uniforms. It's really cool. I think it's what makes our program so special, in that the tradition is such a big part of what we do and kids grow up wanting to be a part of this program and earn a spot on the team, and they represent us in a great way and it just continues."

Speaking with The Daily Republic prior to a game recently at Frost Arena, Rotert discussed coming back to Brookings, joining her former coach Aaron Johnston's staff and reuniting with a program she knows well.

Q: Tell me a little bit about how you got the job and what this job has been like in your first year?

A: Shortly after I graduated, I started getting into coaching, mostly unintentionally. People would ask me, "Do you want to coach my daughter's team?," "Will you coach this skills academy," so it kind of started there. I really kind of fell in love with all of it, and I really enjoyed the game and the competitive side of it. ... About two years ago, I felt like there were some doors in my life that were closing and I was thinking it was time to look at something else, and I felt strongly about trying to get back into college athletics. I still never thought South Dakota State, because I didn't think they would have any openings. I called AJ in the spring about a year ago and I said, "Hey, I'm thinking about some things, can I put you down as a reference on my resume?" He said, "Yeah, absolutely," and then he called back a few weeks later and said, "We've got a job opening. Would you ever consider coming back here?" I never thought it would work but I said to him, "Absolutely."

As far as the actual job, I had no idea what I was in for but it's awesome. I knew it would be good to come back and it would be fun and rewarding but it's been so much more than I could have ever imagined. I have so much more respect than I did as a player for what coaches go through, what they do on a day-to-day basis. I love this program, I love working for AJ. I just like the culture we have here, how we do things and the standard of excellence that we operate under. That's just something that's really important to me, so it's really refreshing to be in an environment that does that on a daily basis.

Q: You had your perceptions about the job, I'm sure, but why do you think it's been a better job than you previously imagined?

A: From a behind-the-scenes perspective, you just see how hard people work and how much they care about the players and the details and every aspect of our program that we can make the best. There's a lot of reward in that, because when you put that work in, you get that end result of winning and having success.

It's fun to be back here, in the community and the culture of Brookings, and see how much they support SDSU. When I came back here, I ran into fans that I hadn't seen in 10 years that came to our games and they still remember stuff and they still want to talk to you about different memories they have of you as a player. That's something that's really special about this community, and it shows how much they care about you as a person.

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Q: You mentioned that you worked individually with basketball players in the last few years. How did you feel those skills of coaching have translated to this particular job?

A: I can't imagine jumping into coaching seven or eight years ago without that experience. It probably looks weird that I'm coming back here at this point in my life, but I feel like the last six or seven years have prepared me so much more for this, because you get that experience of communicating and engaging with kids ... I think that's made this transition a lot easier, and it helps just having played here and I know what it's like to play for AJ, and I know what the stress can feel like and this program and the stress that players can put on themselves, in a good way. Really just grow up.

Q: Can you describe what it's like to go from playing for Aaron Johnston for all those years to now being a colleague and a co-worker of his?

A: I think it helps our kids because I know what that's like and I can help re-relay some of those messages in a way that makes sense for them. He's intense, he sets a high bar and he wants the best out of you. Sometimes you feel like you're missing that, and you don't understand why things are as hard as they are, so helping our kids understand how to embrace that work ethic, embrace what it takes to get that next level and being uncomfortable - because people just don't like to be uncomfortable - so you let them know that it's OK and it's part of the process of getting better. You're trying, not necessarily to be that middle man but to be that extra voice that can relate to them.

Q: What is your view on the SDSU women's basketball program as a whole now, because obviously when you played, so much of this was new, and now with eight NCAA tournament appearances in nine years, so much of this is expected. What do you think about where this program is trying to go and being a part of it at this stage?

A: When we went through it, it was the first of everything and to be honest, we really didn't know what we were doing. The first time you got ranked, the first time you went to the (NCAA) tournament, you had no idea how big of a deal it was. Now you look at our kids, every single year - even though we've done it eight times - is harder, and harder and harder. So to continue to try to find those levels of success and then hopefully advance farther in the postseason, that's essentially what you work all year for. And then when you do reach that moment, things just might not work out the way you want them to. I think to be back now and to see the ways our program has grown and the types of resources available to them; we just built this brand new beautiful practice facility here. When I was here, we were practicing in The Barn (built in 1918). You don't get those types of things when you're under .500 every year. You get those things when you win and you consistently have success. For me, it's really rewarding; you see the hard work I put in during my four years has paid off for these kids and it will again in 4 to 8 years for that next generation of Jackrabbits.

Related Topics: SALEM
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 mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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