Photo by Hillary Ehlen
Finding the Right Fit
Wherever Mary (Perrizo) Klabo played basketball, success followed. The Mandan, North Dakota, native played in four Class-A state championship games in high school. Klabo was a star for the Braves and won a state title, including a second-place finish her senior season when she won the North Dakota State High School Gatorade Player of the Year and Miss Basketball.
Klabo’s success led her to become a highly touted recruit in the state of North Dakota. Her college decision was a toss-up between in-state rivals — NDSU or UND.
Ultimately, the best high school player in North Dakota picked Fargo.
After nearly starting her college career with another championship in 2000, Klabo started to feel like NDSU wasn’t the right fit for her. She had played in all but one game her freshman season and averaged more than 10 minutes per game.
The 2000 national championship overtime loss to Northern Kentucky would be the last game Klabo played in a Bison jersey.
Klabo told GBall Online Magazine in 2001 that she didn’t make her decision to leave until July, after her freshman season. In fact, she contemplated if she really wanted to play hoops anymore. But like any competitor who plays for championships year after year, her hunger for basketball returned.
The University of North Dakota and head basketball coach Gene Roebuck stepped in with open arms and welcomed Klabo to the program.
“It wasn’t bad blood or anything that specifically happened I would say. It just wasn’t the right fit,” Klabo said in 2017. “So I moved on, tried something else and it became a better fit for me. It all worked out in the end.”
Since Klabo was transferring to a school inside the North Central Conference, she had to sit out the 2000-01 season. UND went to the national championship that season in Rochester, Minnesota, before losing to Cal Poly in overtime.
The following season, Klabo was moved to point guard and became one of the best facilitators in the NCC.
“It felt like family the second you walked in there,” Klabo said. “Great community support and a successful program with huge tradition and success, too. It was a great fit for myself.”
Klabo was a part of four NCC tournament championship teams while at UND. But she’s most famous for one shot that she drilled against her former school on January 18, 2003, in the Ralph Engelstad Arena as time expired.
“Lucky shot,” Klabo told Fargo Forum reporter Mike McFeely after the game. “I didn’t have time to think about it and that’s probably a good thing.”
Klabo was a junior and winless in the regular season against her former NDSU teammates. UND’s starting point guard was having an off night with just two assists and 0-for-4 from three-point land. Redemption was on its way.
With the game tied and seconds remaining, one of UND’s stars, Becky Moen, missed a tough shot. Cara Demaine corralled the offensive board and kicked it to the closest open teammate. That teammate was Klabo, who pulled the trigger just as the final horn went off. Ball game, UND.
From there, a new nickname was spawned — the Bison Slayer.
“It’s very ironic, I know,” laughs Klabo more than 15 years later. “I probably shot it with two hands, too, I don’t even know. It came out of nowhere. It was meant to be, right?”
The Klabo Connection
Destiny may have played a role in Klabo meeting her husband Darren more than seven years ago. Darren, who played basketball at UND before finishing his career at Mayville State, had two children from a previous marriage — a younger son, Jaden, and a 12-year-old daughter named Lexi — before meeting Klabo.
Klabo and Lexi connected right away. Lexi was already playing basketball under her father’s guidance since she was old enough to dribble a ball. She also grew up with college basketball at the forefront. Lexi’s aunt, Leah Klabo, played for NDSU from 2000-05.
“We always had that bond of basketball and sports, in general,” Klabo said. “I love sports, she loves sports, so we always have that common bond from the get-go.”
When it came to Lexi making a decision on where to play basketball in college, Klabo said she was very hands off but was happy she ultimately decided to stay in-state and attend UND.
“She’s a smart girl and knows what she wants,” Klabo said. “We just sat back and were there for her, and let her decide on her own. But I think it was pretty apparent from the get-go where she wanted to go. With the success of the program and where they were at and where she could see herself playing right away.”
Head basketball coach Travis Brewster was an assistant on Gene Roebuck’s staff while Klabo was in Grand Forks. Klabo said it was exciting to have her old coach over for dinner. She admits she’s not much of a cook but whipped up lasagna for Brewster, who was as professional as possible throughout the recruiting process, according to Klabo.
The former UND point guard is ready to see Lexi come into her own this season, explaining how the family has recognized her hard work.
“She’s very quiet and a reserved girl but she seems to be blossoming,” Klabo said. “She’s just so mature, and we’ve never had to worry about her. When she puts her mind to something, she’s going to go get it.”
The sport has brought the two closer together, said Klabo. She experienced a rollercoaster ride during her college days that is highlighted by transferring to UND. But she’s using that time in her life as a positive and to encourage Lexi.
“College basketball and being an athlete is such a rollercoaster ride because you have your good days, and it will be super fun and exciting, then you’ll have your bad days and it will be so bad you’ll want to quit,” Klabo said. “I just try to tell her to stay on the ride, we’ll be there for you and enjoy it because it goes by super fast, and you’ll forget about the bad things and remember the good times you had.”
Lexi’s presence on the basketball court has also drawn Klabo back, closer to her college roots. She never misses a home game and travels to see Lexi when UND plays in a neighboring state. Klabo has also heard from former teammates who have lost connection with the UND program but have regained interest with Lexi’s ties to their former teammate.
Klabo and Darren recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary in November. The two enjoy watching Jaden, a junior at Fargo Davies, blossom into his own on the football field and basketball court. Mason is 11 and in fifth grade, and the youngest, Sammy, who is 5, can’t get enough of basketball.
Klabo became a full-time marketing manager for RDO this June in the truck center division. She has a busy winter ahead with Lexi and Jaden mastering their basketball craft and Mason and Sammy learning the fundamentals.
The former point guard said she was always surrounded by talent on the court at UND. But there’s always a rock behind the stars, making sure all the moving parts are working together for one common goal. Today, she’s in a similar role as a Klabo, and she couldn’t be happier with her family of hoopers.