Two decades ago, Lucille Tollifson boarded the Northern State fan bus en route to Louisville, Ky. for the Division II Men's Elite Eight. While that Wolves' team left Kentucky winless, Tollifson's fandom never wavered. Twenty years later, the 89-year-old superfan watched the program's first DII Men's Elite Eight win as Northern State advanced to Thursday night's semifinals.
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Tollifson's adventures with Northern State began 27 years ago. The Minnesota-native and her husband moved around a bit, stopping in North Dakota before finally landing in Aberdeen, S.D. in the late 1960s. They shared a common bond in their love of the game. It just took a little bit for them to get to Wachs Arena.
“My husband retired in 1991,” Tollifson said. “He loved basketball, but he could never go with his job. After he retired, we started buying reserved tickets every year. We just went all the time.”
Oddly enough, growing up Tollfison did not even play basketball. Her passion is equal parts Wolves as it is the sport itself.
“I just love basketball,” Tollifson said. “Especially Northern basketball. I never played. In fact, we didn’t have a girls' basketball team when I was in high school.”
Sadly, Tollifson lost her husband in 2013, but that has not stopped her. Aberdeen's biggest fan continues to go to every game she can, and that included Tuesday night’s Elite Eight matchup in Sioux Falls, S.D. Eighty-nine years young, she boarded one of the many fan buses that took the three-hour trek. "It was all kinds of people on that bus," she said laughing. "About 54 of them.”
Tuesday night's historic 79-71 win over East Stroudsburg had the feel of being back in Wachs Arena. Despite being 204.3 miles away from its home in Aberdeen, the Sanford Pentagon was a sea of maroon and gold Tuesday night. Earlier this season, NCAA.com named Wachs Arena one of the premier venues in DII basketball. The way the Wolves' faithful traveled to pack the Pentagon, it is plain to see why.
“It’s really great," Tollifson said of her home court. "There’s a lot of room in there, but there’s a lot of people crowded in there. Everybody loves their Wolves in this town. I mean they get really, really nice crowds there which makes it really exciting."
Tollifson has missed just one game this season. Unfortunately, there's one more she has to miss, unable to make Thursday night's semifinals matchup against No. 2 Queens (NC) at 9:30 p.m. ET. Northern State's biggest fan not being able to make the program's first semifinal matchup in its history should be plenty of motivation for the Wolves to find a way to play one more game.
"She gets fired up. Oh does she get fired up," Tollifson's daughter Cindy Herr told local TV stations at the quarterfinals win. "When they make a point, when they don't make a point. Even when we are at home and they are on TV, she just screams."
Win or lose, Tollifson is proud of her team. When she reflects on this past Tuesday's win, she remembers it with all the vigor of a NSU student cheering on in the student section. Was it one of the best games Tollifson has been to in her 27 years as the ultimate superfan?
"You bet it was."