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Coach Rick Nikunen reaches 300 win milestone

Rick Nikunen (right) was presented with a plaque that marked the 300th win of his basketball coaching career by Northland Community and Technical College athletic coordinator Paul Peterson. Nikunen is in his 20th year at Northland, where he coached the womenís basketball team for six years before assuming his current position as coach of the menís team. He began his head coaching career at McCook Community College in Nebraska.
Rick Nikunen was recognized for a coaching milestone Tuesday prior to the 2011-12 season and home opener for the Northland Community and Technical College menís basketball team.
Paul Peterson, the schoolís athletic coordinator, presented Nikunen with a plaque for reaching the 300-win plateau as a college basketball coach.
The feat was actually accomplished when the Pioneers beat Minnesota State-Fergus Falls 80-75 in the 2011 Minnesota College Athletic Conference state basketball tournament quarterfinals at Anoka-Ramsey. Tuesday afforded Peterson and the school with an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the accomplishment.
This is Nikunenís 20th year at Northland. Arriving in Thief River Falls from McCook (Neb.) Community College for the 1992-93 school year, Nikunen coached the womenís basketball team for six years before exchanging that job for the menís coaching position that heís held since the 1998-99 season.
A Biwabik native, Nikunen graduated from Mayville (N.D.) State and later received his masterís degree from North Dakota State University.
Nikunen began his teaching and coaching career at the high school level as an assistant girls basketball coach at Alvarado in 1979-80. He spent two years there and then two years on the staff of the NDSU menís basketball team.
A three-year stint as assistant menís basketball coach at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. preceded a four-year run as head menís basketball coach at McCook before arriving at Northland.
Fifty-three of his basketball wins came at McCook; the rest at Northland.
He took the Northland women to the state basketball tournament in 1994 and 1997. His Northland men have reached the state level seven times Ė in 2003 and 2005 before beginning a current string of five straight post-season appearances in 2007.
His 2006-07 Pioneers went 29-5 as they won state and region titles and went on to finish as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III national runner-up.
During his Northland tenure, Nikunen has also served as head softball and golf coach and assistant football coach.
He coached softball for nine years, and in 1998 the Pioneers went 25-13 while winning the first state title in the history of Northland womenís athletics.