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Monday, April 8, 2019

To the Max

Given the fact that his grandfather served as head coach of the football team there and that his father is in one of the high school’s athletic Hall of Fame there, it must seem inevitable that Max Coatta would end up in Mankato playing college hockey for the Minnesota State Mavericks. Right? 

“When I was younger the goal was just to play college hockey,” said Coatta. “I was always a fan of the WCHA growing up and as things went along, once I started hearing from Minnesota State, with the coaching staff, where the program appeared to be headed with the possibility of being on a team that could compete for championships every year, the school itself, it all was pretty attractive and some something that I wanted to be a part of.” 

So far, so good.  

Following a standout high school career at Minnetonka (Minn.) where he had 89 goals and 190 points in four seasons with the Skippers and junior hockey stops with Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League and Waterloo of the United States Hockey League, 

Coatta has made his mark in his four seasons at Minnesota State.With a penchant for durability, special teams play and a knack for scoring goals in bunches (he has a pair of hat tricks during the course of his college career), Coatta is a two-time WCHA All-Academic selection and a two-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete.He was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team in 2015-16and has twice been named Minnesota State’s Hardest Worker. 

The reliable two-way forward is in his second season as a team captain, but in reality has been working as a team leader from the get-go. 

“I try to bring positive energy with every shift,” said Coatta. “I think skating is one of my stronger points and I think I have a good shot, I can play a role on the penalty kill and chip in offensively, as well, and it’s important to set the table, actions-wise, for the younger guys on the team.” 

 With a pair of MacNaughton Cups under his belt in his first three years with the program, Coatta is looking for a third this year and head coach Mike Hastings feels that the contributions being made by his veteran front-line player over the course of his career should not be overlooked or undervalued. 

“He’s been an example for others from the time he joined our program as a freshman,” said Hastings, who is in his seventh year in charge of the Mavericks. “As Max has continued to mature as a player and as a person, he’s continued to exude leadership skills in all areas. He is mentored classmates and teammates and he’s one of those guys that takes care of the group...everybody. I respect him as a player, as a leader and as a young man.There is no doubt the he’s helped us get to where we are as a program.” 

Coatta’s older brother, Sam, won a NCAA Division I men’s hockey national championship as a member of the Union Dutchmen in 2014 and maybe this is the year that the younger brother will have an opportunity to emulate that feat. 

“There’s going to be ups and downs every year,” said Coatta.“We came out of the gates pretty fastthis year, but as a team we’ve been confident, knowing that we can compete for a championship.I think we’re especially close this year as a group and we have good depth with a lot of game changers. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot as we get near the end of the regular season.Obviously we’re hoping to finish on top of the conference standingsand then it’s moving on to the league playoffs. We’ve had some good teams during my time here, but haven’t been able to win one of a WCHA playoff title during my time here, so that would be a big stepping stone for us. And then after that we’ll see how things go.” 

Contributed by Paul Allan, Minnesota State Assoc. Director of Athletics

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bandwidth | Q & A With Michael Thursby, Minnesota State's Director of Athletic Bands & Percussion

Spectators at Minnesota State athletics home events the last five years have enjoyed and appreciated the energy and atmosphere enhanced by the performances of the Maverick Machine, the school's marching and pep band.

These ensembles fall under the direction of Michael Thursby, MSU's Director of Athletic Bands & Percussion.  

MavBlog took a few moments to do a Q & A with the guy who is in charge of one of the most integral pieces to the Maverick game-day experience.

Tell us about where you're from and where you went to school
I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, got my undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and have a master's from Northern Iowa.

What were you up to prior to coming to Minnesota State to get our band program up and running?
I taught high school band in Grand Rapids, Minn., for three years.  My wife (Sarah) is from the Twin Cities and went to UMD.  That's kind of how we ended up up north. We liked the northern Minnesota feel and this was my first introduction to hockey. And as far as my interest in coming to Minnesota State, I like sports and I like band.  This is what drew me to this position.  

I was a drummer growing up, but thought I could be an athlete.  I played high school basketball, but it was during that time that my attention shifted to music. I've always had a passion for sports, something that was always there.  I was in the drum and bugle corps and that was my outlet.  Growing up, I was always a big Hawkeye fan and loved going to those events. I was in the band at Iowa and had a great experience and I knew at that point that this could be a career path. 

So, you throw in my background with my passion and I thought this would something I could do, But there's not a lot of college band jobs across the country and honestly, I got lucky (in landing the Minnesota State job) and like a lot of things in life, this opportunity opened at the right time for us.

The band program at Minnesota State had been dormant for several years. How hard was it getting the Maverick Machine up and running?
We had a small budget to start with, so we bought some used stuff.  In think we bought some used tubas from Waseca High School and found some used uniforms to get everything started.  And we started recruiting. Between 2013 and 2015 I would say I was in 50+ schools letting kids know we had a program.  

Now we take the band places. Last year there was the Super Bowl Live event (we were the only college band there). There's a big high school marching band event in October at US Bank and we've been up there a couple of times when we don't have a home football game.

My goal is to make the program open to anyone who wants to participate.  We have 130 kids right now and our goal is to get to 200.  I'm by myself here, so it's a big task. Right now, I don't know if we can go any bigger than that.   

What kind of goals do you have for the band moving forward?
I think when I first came, I had a different vision then were we are now. I'm happy where we are now.  Our goal is entertain and pump people up. I think originally I was focused more on the band and less on athletics and we've flipped that. It's gotta be fun.  For everyone, the student-athletes, the fans, and for us.

I'd like to increase our numbers.  That's the biggest one - increasing numbers.  The travel experience has been amazing and the connections that the students have as result of what we've created. They're developing life long relationships and that's pretty cool. At the end of the day, there's wins and losses, good performances and bad performances, but we'll always have these relationships.

Personally, what lies ahead?
Well, our family's busy.  Sarah is an english teacher and runs the theatre program at New Ulm High School. We have a couple of energetic sons (Carter (4) and Dillon (2)) and we absolutely love being here. We're looking forward to playing a part in the success of Maverick Athletics and continuing to grow our band program.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mission Cap

Anna Keys, Jared Spooner, Nick Bryant, Emily Antony,
Taylor Gulenchen, Josh French and Aaron Nelson spent
a week in Trinidad on a Varsity Catholic mission trip
What do you do when school's over for the semester?

For a few members of the Minnesota State men's and women's hockey programs, you take the opportunity to spend a week in Trinidad, bringing the game of hockey to youth and sharing with them the passion for the sport. 
Along with former Maverick women's hockey equipment manager Nick Bryant, three men's hockey players (Jared Spooner, Josh French and Aaron Nelson) and three women's hockey (Anna Keys, Emily Antony and Taylor Gulenchyn) players went to schools and taught children how to play street hockey, as well as a school for disabled youth and where they played an adaptive form of street hockey. 

The trip was made in conjunction with Varsity Catholic, an organization that sponsors numerous mission trips over college breaks and especially during the summer months for student-athletes in particular. 

The purpose of the trip was to give back to those less fortunate and in addition to sharing hockey, the group also went on multiple home visits, went to visit an elderly home, and spoke to a group of high school boys about sports and faith. 

The trip came about with these individuals in particular as they are in the same bible study group at Minnesota State. They wanted to do something productive with their shared interests and thought this would be a great way to do just that.They fundraised the entire cost associated with the trip and the was the first time doing something like this for all of them.

"Going on the trip was an opportunity of a lifetime," said Bryant. "And being able to share the sport we love with those kids was unforgettable."

Monday, March 26, 2018

10 Questions With Lori Meyer

I sat down with Lori Meyer, head softball coach for the past 33 years at Minnesota State. Under her leadership Minnesota State University has won three North Central Conference titles, five Northern Sun Intercollegiate titles, made 14 trips to the NCAA Division II National Tournament, three trips to the NCAA Championships, and won the NCAA Division II National Championship title in 2017. We talked about the 2017 championship season and what we can look forward to on the diamond this spring.  

Q: Coming off a national championship, how satisfying and rewarding was it to reach the pinnacle of your career? 

A: Its an unbelievable experience. The win puts in perspective that in softball there have been 36 national championships since softball has been around in the NCAA. [That shows] the magnitude of how great of an opportunity, what a surreal experience it was to wait 33 years to receive an NCAA Division II National Championship. Every year you set out, as a coach, a goal to get one in your career. Third place in 1987, fifth place in 2011, and then last year, to go back and win it. I just felt fortunate to say I was able to be at the national tournament twice in my career and get those top five finishes. Now to say I won the national championship here at this university, and the trophy sits in my office. It still continues to be hard to be put into words. It is very rewarding and gratifying. I just wish everyone could have that experience—the student athletes and all my fellow coaches here at MNSU. It really is the pinnacle you chase throughout your career and to be able to say, I’ve got one, is really something special.  
Q: What was running through your mind when you won the National Championship? 

A: How we approached it out there, at the national tournament, was how we approached games all season. It’s just another game. One game at a time, one pitch at a time. I know it sounds cliché, but we really did go through our season like that—through the conference season, through the conference tournament, regionals, and super regionals. To me super regionals was maybe the most intense three-game series I’ve ever been through. That super regional against Harding was so intense. We had weather issues. We had won the first game in the tenth inning on a home run. We beat ourselves in game two, and then to come back in game three. We had such a tight zone and the score was 3-4. We were behind, and the weather moved in. There were just so many uncontrollable situations. Senior leadership kept the team grounded and played like it was just another game. We never said it was a last game, or a last practice. We knew what the atmosphere would be in Virginia. We would say, “Why not us?” 

Q: What challenges did you face in 2017? 

A: We only had 15 players on the roster and three of them were pitchers so having a small roster was one of the challenges. Another challenge was the lack of depth in a catching position. Two kids walked away in August right before school started and would have provided some depth if Cori Kennedy, our only catcher with experience, went down. We had to figure out how to keep Kennedy healthy so her legs and body could last. The schedule, too, was a challenge. We ended up playing 71 games, which is a lot of games. I go back to our seniors who provided tremendous leadership. They did a good job helping the two freshmen in the lineup, Amber Kral and Carly Esselman, adapt to the riggers of Division II softball and that transition from high school to college ball. 

Q: Have you had time to reflect on what you and your team accomplished? 

A. Yeah, I think we really have. The ring ceremony tied in with homecoming.  The university did a tremendous job to make Team 33 feel special when they got their rings. A city bus, wrapped with a picture of the seniors holding up the trophy, picked them up and took them around campus. The bus took them down where football alumni and people were tailgating. The kids walked off the bus and held the trophy up. We were honored at halftime during the football game and at men’s hockey. I think that when you really look back at that day, I also think prior to that when we had the celebration Tuesday down at the Civic Center Plaza, none of us knew what to expect. No one knew if there would be 50 people or 100 hundred people, but when we pulled around that corner, the kids could see that a large crowd had gathered. Everything had been organized for them. I think that’s when it sunk in to our kids. When you win it out there, you win it, but youre in the moment. The minute we won it we had a good chunk of time on the field for photos, then we all ate together. It was Memorial Day and the parents had to get on the road and back to work. We had to fly back. When we got back here, and for that celebration down at the Civic Center Plaza, that is when it sunk in to our kids what we had accomplished. I think for the first 24-48 hours, you can’t comprehend what you’ve done because you’re on such a high, its just like “oh my god, its unbelievable. Once we got back, we had time to look back and realize those things—the kids can look at their championship rings and look at their trophies. Again the win is referenced everywhere. I think [then] you have time to step back and realize really how special and phenomenal it is.  

Q: How important were your assistant coaches in last year’s success? 

A. Everybody’s important. You know it doesn’t matter what role you have on this team, whether you’re the associate head coach, the graduate assistant, the bull pen catcher, the third or fourth string pitcher, everyone’s role is important. Last year it took the 15 players, the three coaches, our trainers, the strength and conditioning people, and sports information to accomplish what we accomplished. We are all a team together. We need the support of staff to help get us where were at, and need Coach Wolcott calling the games. I think she’s one of the best at calling the games, working with our pitchers and catchers, and what she does with the defense and hitting. It was our first year with Sammie Hildreth, a graduate assistant, who brought to the table, her personality—she’s a good blend between me and Wolcott—and [her experience] with hitting and catching. Our staff works well together. We can all check our egos at the door. We can be open, and we can agree to disagree, but again, we always have at heart what is the best for the team. We have to all work together, and I think we do a really good job of that. We also do a really good job at teaching life lessons. We do character development and community engagement. I think it’s a great philosophy for student athletes in Division II. It’s not just about the wins and losses. Its about them getting their degree, it’s about leaving here as independent young women. In the scheme of life, softball is just a game. No matter if you went 0-3 that day, at the end of the day, step back. Do you have your health? Do you have both your parents? Do you have a bed to go home and sleep in? Do you still have an opportunity to have three meals on the table? Life’s pretty good isn’t it? That’s what I think. We do a really good job in teaching core values of family, success, integrity, passion, and respect. We embrace those core values, and we do a really good job of working with one another. We work smart, work efficiently, and bring new ideas to the table.  

Q: Outside of winning, what enjoyment do you get out of coaching softball? 
A: Watching student athletes develop from day one when you start recruiting them. They might be eighth graders, ninth graders, tenth graders, eleventh graders, seniors. Getting them here and watching them grow as people is so enjoyable. Our goal is to have them leave here with degree in hand, and leave as strong, independent young women. So, really it’s watching a kid grow as a person, and it’s also watching her grow as a ballplayer. We do a good job here to get the kids out their comfort zone. We can coach them as the potential we see they can do. They come in and their ceiling limit is “here”…I know you can play up to “here.” It’s enjoyable to watch them grow as people and students. Most kids come in as marginal students. They graduated, they came in as a Maverick achievement award winner and achieved the Dean’s List. And, that’s very fulfilling. It’s about the relationships you build.  

Q: What was your off-season like? 
A: It was crazy busy. When we got back the first week of June, we felt like we were behind in recruiting.  We were finishing up paperwork, recruiting and getting ready for the next year. We blinked and it felt like August was here. It was time to go again. We had to wrap up the season, end the fiscal year, work on budgets, and had administrative meetings. We were asked to speak at the Hitting Summit. So, we did that. It was whirlwind of a summer. It wasn’t a typical summer to have time for Lori Meyer. But, that’s okay. I’d do it again.  

Q: What is the expectation for this upcoming season? 
A: Our expectations haven’t really changed from season to season. Team 33 graduated so there will never be another team like Team 33, and the reason I say that is Team 33 was made up of those personalities. Team 34 has to have its own personality; its own identity. Just like the 2011 team that played for the Championship. Our goals and expectations stay pretty consistent. We expect to be a top team in the NSIC, a top team in the region, and we expect to do well in the season, in the conference tournament, and to make post season. We haven’t changed those expectations. Those are the expectations in this program each year. What do we have to do with such a young team? We have got to get those kids to believe that. They have to have confidence and trust the process, and to realize they can play and achieve those things.  

Q: What do you feel you have left to accomplish after winning a National Championship?   
A: I don’t think winning a National Championship defines you. I think what defines you is consistency in your career. So, I think I have a lot more left. I look at it as a challenge:  How are we going to respond because we have such a young team after coming back and winning? Are we going to be the first team to win a national championship and then go to the bottom of the cellar? That to me is not acceptable.  

What I tell my players is that it doesn’t mean anything to me if you hit 300-400 one year. Do it consistently. We are not going to sell this program short and say we have 12 new kids, or now we have a lot of new kids and can’t do what we did before. We are not going to give an excuse. We will consistently continue to be a top program. It’s also my job to continue to mentor other young coaches in Division II softball and women’s athletics. I also will continue to develop the young student athletes I have in my program and in this MSU athletic program that I have the opportunity to be involved in. To watch them develop and grow as people is rewarding. I still think I have a lot left to offer and a lot left to accomplish. I’m not ready to say “I won the trophy. I’m done. Let’s retire.” “Why wouldn’t you retire after 33 years of winning it all in such a magical season you had?” I’ve been asked that a lot, and I think there’s more yet to do. I don’t think one trophy defines it. I think there’s more that I can continue to offer.  

Q: What do you do outside of coaching to decompress? 
A: I like to work out, and I’m an outdoors person. I have a horse, a Missouri Fox Trotter, and I love to go horseback riding and camping. I enjoy trail riding, and I have a great group of friends to go with. I missed all of that last summer. That’s okay. I also like to spend time with my two great nephews who come down from Maple Grove. Spending time with them goes back to my childhood when I would spend time with my cousins in Des Moines. My mom lives with me and that’s their great grandmother. They are 5 and almost 3—fun ages—and I enjoy teaching them how to ride. I’m not a complicated person. I enjoy the simple life. 
                                                 Contributed by Sloane Bergert, Athletic Communications Intern