Former NDSU coach helps rescue woman in labor trapped in blizzard

You might remember Saul Phillips best as the former men’s basketball head coach of North Dakota State from 2007-14. He took over when Tim Miles left to coach Colorado State and led the Bison to two NCAA tournament berths (picture is from the 2009 tournament at the Metrodome), including an upset of Oklahoma in the first round of the 2014 tournament that he parlayed into a new job at Ohio.

Phillips was let go by Ohio in March after a less-successful five-year run there and is now the head coach at Division II Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D. That’s where this story, as written about by his wife, Nicole, picks up.

Northern State plays in the NSIC, and Phillips’ squad had back-to-back road games Friday and Saturday against Augustana and Wayne State. Phillips, his wife wrote, usually takes the team bus but decided to drive himself on this trip.

But on Friday, after a win at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., he was driving to Wayne, Neb., and got stuck in a blizzard. Visibility was near zero. As his vehicle crawled along the road, with very little sense of direction, Phillips saw another vehicle stranded and turned the wrong way.

Mike McFeely of the Fargo Forum picks up the story here.

“Nine times out of 10 I just keep going. The car had its lights on and you figure they have a cell phone with them to call a tow truck, so you think they’re probably OK,” Phillips said. “For whatever reason this time I thought, ‘I better knock on the window just to make sure.’ It was terrible outside and I was stopped anyway, so I got out and walked over to the car.”

What greeted him in the car was a young man and a young woman who appeared to be in their 20s and an older woman. They were enveloped in a sense of desperation. The young woman was very pregnant, in obvious distress. When Phillips asked how she was doing, she answered, “I’m in labor.

Phillips said he started to think about how he could deliver a baby in his vehicle — that’s how far labor had progressed. But he helped the family communicate with emergency dispatch. A snow plow, police car and ambulance were able to locate them stranded near Wakefield, Neb.

They were able to make it to the fire hall in Wakefield — too small for a hospital, and the nearest hospital was too far away given the progression of labor. McFeely writes that Phillips later found out the woman delivered a healthy baby girl there.

“I was stopped next to a car in a snowstorm and I went to check on them. I would like to think others would have done the same thing,” Phillips told McFeely, downplaying his role in the feel-good story. “It wasn’t like I was some calm guy making things happen. It was chaos and I just happened to be there.”

Phillips arrived in Wayne at 2 a.m. and fell asleep at 5. And oh, yeah, Northern State won its game about 12 hours later to improve to 14-4 this season.

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