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Sankey new Jimmie women's basketball coach

Thad Sankey

A Greg Ulland recruit working a summer job has been a common sight in Jamestown over the years.

Part of a larger picture, a Jimmie women's basketball player taking hamburger orders in July, for example, enabled Ulland's teams to work out together in the offseason. That type of commitment to team and community has helped guide the program to the past seven consecutive NAIA Division II national tournaments.

Thad Sankey, announced by UJ as Ulland's successor Thursday, received his initial glimpse into the culture instilled by the former coach earlier this week. Ulland resigned July 17 to become UJ's vice president of enrollment management.

"You find out really fast what the team's priorities are, and they want to be great," said Sankey, who visited the campus this past Monday and Tuesday. "They have an incredible work ethic and that is a huge key to success."

Sankey comes to Jamestown after spending the past five seasons as head women's basketball coach at NAIA Division II Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich. A member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC), Sankey led the Cardinals to 22 victories and an appearance in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Division I national championship game this past season.

Sankey's overall record at Concordia is 75-84, as his teams competed to 40 wins and 27 losses the past two seasons combined. The Cardinals received votes in last year's NAIA top 25 coaches' poll and finished fifth in the 11-team WHAC season standings at 12-8.

"We feel really good that we got the right person," said University of Jamestown athletics director Sean Johnson, who added the wheels to possibly find a new women's head coach began turning earlier this month when Ulland became interested in tossing his hat into the vacant VP of enrollment ring. "We've been working pretty hard on this for three weeks. We talked to a lot of different people from all across the country, from (NCAA) Division I assistants all the way to NAIA head coaches."

Prior to coaching in Ann Arbor, Sankey was a graduate assistant women's coach at his alma mater of Concordia (Neb.) in 2012-13. The Bulldogs went 25-7 that season and reached the NAIA national tournament.

Sankey was a four-year varsity player and former team captain for Concordia men's basketball, helping the Bulldogs reach the NAIA Division II national tournament final in 2005 and the Elite 8 in 2003.

Sankey graduated from Concordia in 2006 with a degree in education and served as a graduate assistant for the men's team for one season. Sankey then worked at Immanuel Lutheran Christian Academy in Broken Arrow, Okla., from 2007-12, serving as assistant administrator, athletic director and a junior high and high school teacher. Sankey also holds a master's degree in education from Concordia (Neb.).

"University of Jamestown was definitely on my radar," said Sankey, who, with his wife Sarah, has three sons, Eli, Micah and Benjamin. "I had saw the program's success—the team culture, the commitment to excellence—and year in, year out how they competed at the national level.

"After (visiting) Monday, it was pretty obvious this was the place we were meant to be at."

Ulland will be a tough act to follow. The coach won 215 games in eight seasons with the Jimmies, appearing in the Elite 8 at nationals three out of the last four years.

"For me as a coach, following Greg is a great opportunity to learn more about a program that has had a lot of success, while also continuing to push us forward and into the future," Sankey said. "I'm looking forward to it. Our goal is to win every game that we can this year."

As a former Concordia Bulldog, Sankey's familiarity with the Great Plains Athletic Conference should be a boon during Jamestown's first season competing in the GPAC this winter.

"I think Thad's got all the tools," Johnson said. "He's been a head coach for five years, he's proven himself and he has GPAC knowledge."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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