As a native of West Fargo, N.D., I grew up a fan of North Dakota State University, who along with MSU was a long-time member of the North Central Conference.
Although my parents are alumni of the University of North Dakota and still bleed green and white to this day, my contradicting allegiance to the Bison began when I was only a toddler. My aunt ran sprints as a member of the NDSU track team and also served as my babysitter during her four years as a student-athlete in Fargo. Her and her friends took me to countless Bison athletic events over the years and had me hooked, but it wasn't until I grew older that I began to truly appreciate the success NDSU athletics has had and continues to experience.
As my fifth year as a student at Minnesota State draws to an end, I am finding more and more similarities between the former NCAA Division II powerhouse I grew up cheering for and the emerging NCAA Division II powerhouse I call my alma mater. In my opinion, to be considered a powerhouse an institution must have a majority of its programs finish consistently at or near the top of its respective conference standings in addition to achieving some degree of success at the regional and national level.
North Dakota State's football, volleyball, basketball (M&W), wrestling, softball and track and field programs (M&W) were often considered the class of the North Central Conference and have the conference and national championship banners to prove it. When I look at Minnesota State, I believe MSU has quickly established itself as the class of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and is on the brink of being recognized nationally as an NCAA Division II powerhouse as the championship banners begin to pile up in Taylor Center and Myers Field House.
MSU's Division II team sports have collected four NSIC regular-season titles (soccer, football, men's basketball, men's indoor track and field) and two second-place finishes (wrestling and women's basketball) plus an NSIC tournament championship (men's basketball) in the 11 conference sports that have been decided thus far and have a combined 109-25-5 record (.802) in 2012-13. The Maverick baseball and softball teams were both selected No. 1 in their NSIC preseason coaches polls and the men's outdoor track and field squad is also the pre-season conference favorite. Individually, 17 different Maverick student-athletes have garnered a total of 21 All-American awards this year for both academic and athletic success.
Did I forget to mention that the DI men's hockey team is No. 10 in the country and after securing home ice for the WCHA playoffs is well on its way to a berth in the WCHA Final Five and NCAA national tournament?
While Minnesota State is three years removed from its last national championship (women's basketball 2008-09), five programs have finished in the top eight nationally the past three seasons with the Maverick baseball team earning two of them (7th in 2010, 3rd in 2012).
Although some people around Mankato and the Upper Midwest may believe MSU is far from a national powerhouse given its history in the NCC, its performance at the national level is beginning to show otherwise. Of the all the sports at MSU that are ranked at the national level, only the women's swimming and diving and women's tennis teams have yet to crack the top-25 this year.
Since the collapse of the NCC, the Bison have won back-to-back NCAA Division I FCS national championships and along with former NCC-member and bitter rival South Dakota State, have combined for three appearances in the NCAA Division I "Big Dance" in just five seasons.
Minnesota State has filled the void left by schools like NDSU, SDSU and UND and if it can continue the athletic excellence it has achieved the past five years into the next five years... who wouldn't call it a powerhouse?
by Lucas Steckler, Minnesota State Athletic Communications graduate assistant