The new hat was a little too big, but Ryan Larsen believes he’ll be a good fit as the new head women’s basketball coach at the South Dakota School of Mines.

Larson tried on his new Hardrocker headgear after being introduced as just the third head women’s basketball coach in the 37-year history of the Mines program Wednesday at the King Center.

Larsen, a native of Spearfish, comes to Mines after five years as assistant women’s coach at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

“Yesterday morning, I said goodbye to a group of young ladies that I’ve worked with for five years that I considered the best of my professional career, up until now,” Larsen said.

Larsen said he took advantage of a long drive across the state to get to know his new team.

“Starting at Exit 26 on I-29 and all the way to my dad’s driveway in Spearfish, I’m on the phone nonstop with all 19 Lady Hardrockers,” he said. “My feelings went from sorrow and sadness in saying good bye…to absolute joy and enthusiasm and utmost pride after listening to all those young ladies, just a tremendous feeling.”

Larsen also has big shoes to fill, taking the helm of a program led for 32 years by former head coach Barb Felderman, whose contract was not renewed earlier this spring.

“Coach Felderman leaves an incredible mark on this program and this school. I hope to build on her legacy,” Larsen said.

Mines president Heather Wilson introduced Larsen and lauded his abilities in recruiting student-athletes.

“He knows many of our players and some of our recruits because he tried to recruit them to the University of South Dakota, and they were smart enough to come to the School of Mines,” Wilson said.

Mines athletic director Dick Kaiser said Larsen’s experience will help Mines complete its transition to NCAA Division II and help in the school’s ongoing search for a new conference home.

First-time head coaches, said Kaiser in a news release, “bring a great energy, exuberance, knowledge and willingness to go the extra mile to their positions.

"Coach Larsen definitely fits those characteristics but more importantly is a good fit for the university. I am excited to see him put his footprint on the Lady Hardrocker basketball program as we move into the next phase of being a NCAA Division II member,” Kaiser said.

Larsen was one of three finalists from a pool of more than 50 applicants who participated in interviews, which included a question-and-answer session with the public and media last week at the school.

Mines junior player Janelle Strampe of Green River, Wyo., participated in last week’s interviews and also spoke with Larsen on Tuesday.

“I think he cares and I think that’s what our team needs. We’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years with all the transitions. I think we need someone who cares, which is good,” she said.

“Hopefully this is the last change,” junior-to-be Jordan Needens of Eaton, Colo., said. “It’s just been a different thing every year for me. I’m hoping for something concrete, stable. Hopefully we can grow a lot in the next couple years,” she said.

Larsen served as a graduate coach at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, and at Minnesota State-Moorhead, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2002.

His first coaching experience came at Black Hills State University in Spearfish as a student-assistant to then Yellow Jacket men’s coach Mike Olson. Those ties will make for an interesting matchup between Mines and Black Hills, two longtime arch-rivals, Larsen said.

“It’s even more difficult because (BHSU head women’s coach) Mark Nore and I are really good friends. He played my first year there. You never want to compete against your friends. That’s hard,” Larsen said.

“There will be some mixed emotions being back in that gym (BHSU’s Young Center) with the fond memories that I have. Just because I know the rivalry so well, I’m really excited to compete in it,” he said.

Spearfish ties notwithstanding, Larsen said he and his family have made the transition.

“My dad (Merlin), he’s been a loyal Yellow Jacket fan for 32 years, up until today,” Larsen joked.

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