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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holiday Tournaments

Let's see.  There's shopping.  At some point, the decorations have to come down and the lights have to be put away. There's college football bowl games on TV. And fans looking for basketball and hockey tournaments will be happy this week with several events dotting the landscape this time of year.

Men's basketball teams in the North Central Conference used to participate in the popular NCC Holiday Tournament held annually in Sioux Falls, S.D. 

The event was a three-day, eight-team post-Christmas affair that drew good crowds at the Civic Center. The tournament enjoyed a successful 24-year run from 1965-89 before eventually coming to a halt after the NCC created a postseason tournament.

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference began its iteration of the Holiday Tournament in Sioux Falls in 2008, which ran around Thanksgiving for a couple of years, and not unlike the NCC vehicle, was discontinued due to league teams also faced with scheduling complications due to league postseason competition.

Since joining the NCAA Division I men's hockey ranks, the Minnesota State men's hockey program has played in Holiday tournaments hosted by Vermont (2000-01 and 2003-04), Ohio State (2004-05), Notre Dame (2010-11) and the University of Connecticut (2012-13).

Years before, as a member of Division II, the Mavericks hosted a holiday event of their own during the 1982-83 season when then-head coach Don Brose convinced teams from St. Olaf, Hamline and Alaska-Anchorage to venture to All Seasons Arena for the Mankato Schriners Christmas Tournament. Not unlike other college Holiday tournaments, this was a post-Christmas affair played on a Wednesday (Dec. 29) and Thursday (Dec. 30).

Alaska Anchorage, which joined the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 1993-94, downed St. Olaf by a 6-0 margin to open the tournament and the host Mavericks followed by galloping to a 9-4 triumph over Hamline.  St. Olaf bounced back in the third-place game by beating Hamline 11-7 and the Seawolves emerged with the first-place hardware in claiming a 5-4 victory over MSU in the championship finale.

"It's one of those things where we were still trying to generate some notoriety for  the program here in Southern Minnesota back in the early 1980s," said Brose. who served as MSU's bench boss from 1969-2000. "Unfortunately it was only a one year deal when we tried it. But I thought it was a good idea at the time as people are always looking for things to do during the holidays."

It's great to be a Maverick!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Once their collegiate careers were complete, many former Minnesota State student-athletes have had the opportunity to play professionally in Europe and other countries outside of the United States.

Lisa Walters, the Maverick All-America center from nearby Henderson, Minn., played women's basketball in Sweden following the conclusion of her four seasons (1984-88) in Mankato. 

Quarterback Jamie Pass and defensive lineman Steve Connelly also both played football in Sweden in the early 1990's. Outside hitter Tiffany Graham (2002-06) played professional volleyball in Spain. Women's basketball forwards Ali Wilkinson (2009-14) and Jamie Bresnahan (2011-15) are playing in Portugal and Spain, respectively.  

We've written about the litany of men's basketball players who have continued to play across the globe: Tony Thomasson (2003-07, Germany), Paris Kyles (2005-07, Poland), Jamel Staten (2003-05, China and Bahrain), Corey Easley (2005-06, Australia), Atila Santos (2006-08, Brazil), Harry Boyce (2008-09, Dominican Republic), Travis Nelson (2008-10, Slovenia, Czech Republic), Cameron Hodges (2009-11, Luxembourg, Slovenia), Jefferson Mason (2009-11, Luxembourg) and Jarvis Williams (2012-13, Luxembourg).  Currently, Connor Miller is toiling in Sweden and Egytian-national Assem Marei is in Lithuania. Travis Nelson and Zach Monaghan have played against each other this year when their teams clashed in league action in Spain.

Several former Maverick men's hockey players have extended their careers by playing with teams in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and England. (A list of current former Mavericks playing pro hockey is available HERE). After retiring from a lengthy playing career across the Atlantic, former Minnesota State forward Aaron Fox (1996-2000) serves as the general manager of Medvescak Zagreb, an organization that competes in the Kontinental Hockey League, which boasts 28 teams stretching across Belarus, Croatia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Lativa, Russia and Slovakia. 

Former Minnesota State women's hockey forward Nina Tikkinen (2007-11) is playing in Finland for Kärpät and defenseman Emilia Andersson (2008-13) vies for Linköpings HC in Sweden.  Defenseman Lauren Barnes (2011-14) played a year in Germany with Ingolstadt where Tracy McCann (2010-14) now competes.

It's at this time of year that the hockey folks turn their attention to the World Junior Championship.  This year's tournament, featuring the top U20 men's players from around the globe, is taking place in Finland from Dec. 26-Jan. 6.

Junior forward Zach Stepan was a member of the U.S. national team that played in the 2014 WJC that took place in Sweden. And Teddy Blueger played for Latvia at three WJCs (2012 and 2013 in Group A and 2014 in Group B).

It's always a big deal when you get to represent your country in international competition (just ask Jim Dilling, who claimed the U.S. high jump championship 2007 and represented the Red, White & Blue at the World Championships Track & Field Championship in Japan) and in addition to Stepan, several other Mavericks have had the opportunity to don their hockey national team colors.  

Including two Olympic Games (Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014), the aforementioned Nina Tikkinen has played for Finland in several international competitions. As has Emilia Andersson for Sweden. David Backes (2003-06) suited up for the U.S. in the last two Olympics and Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Carter (2004-06) was a member of the U.S. national team that played in the 2013 IIHF Men's World Championship tournament in 2013 in Sweden and Finland. Goaltender Shari (Vogt) Dickerman (2000-04) was a member of the U.S. women's national team that played in the 2006 Four Nations Cup in Kitchener, Ont.

It's great to be a Maverick!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Century Club

A.B. Morris
A.B. Morris, who had been a coach back in Kansas before coming to Mankato State Teachers College as a history instructor in 1919, convinced University president Charles H. Cooper that starting varsity sports at the school would be a great way to drive enrollment of male students.

Estblished 1868 with 27 students, Mankato Normal School's original mission was to train and educate teachers for rural schools in southern Minnesota. During this early period, MNS provided educational certificates and a majority of students were women. In 1920-21 there was only one male student enrolled in the college.

It was under this premise in 1921 that C.P. Blakeslee was hired and so began the men's basketball program at MSTC. And with it, the embryonic stages of varsity athletics at Minnesota State.

It should be noted that Morris, who served many roles during his nearly four decades at the school, helped Blakeslee coach several teams while being promoted to Director of Personnel and then assuming Registrar's responsibilities. He became the Dean of Instruction in 1947 and served as the school's athletics faculty representative from 1952-56 and was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 1964. Morris Hall, which houses Minnesota State's College of Business and other departments, bears his name.

Blakeslee went on to enjoy a 44-year career in which he coached men's basketball, men's golf, men's gymnastics, baseball, men's track and field, men's cross country and served as the director of athletics. The football stadium bears his name and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.

A lot has happened since Morris had his conversations with President Cooper and Blakeslee was hired in the early part of the last century.

The football, basketball, golf and baseball teams were all mothballed for a period of time during World War II, but brought back following the end of the conflict. Iconic Rummy Macias, who was hired as the school's first wrestling coach when the program began in 1950, led his grapplers to a trio of national championships in his 38-year career. Later on, men's swimming and tennis programs started and by the time Blakeslee retired following the 1964-65 school year, the MSTC athletics department was ten teams deep. 

As the school's enrollment increased post-war, the University began to outgrow its location in lower Mankato. Including a football stadium, swimming pool and an indoor track, construction began on a new location for the school atop the river valley bluff in the late 1950's.

In 1965-66 the first women's programs came online with women's gymnastics, women's swimming and women's track and field forming. Mary Willerscheidt was the school's first women's basketball coach when that program was launched in 1966-67 and women's volleyball started under the guidance of women's athletic director Georgene Brock in 1967-68.  A 16th program was added in 1969-70 when men's hockey was granted varsity status.  The department continued to expand with women's programs commencing with the addition of women's golf, women's tennis and women's gymnastics (1970-71), women's cross country (1972-73) and softball (1975-76). Later, women's soccer (1995-96) and women's hockey (1998-99) programs were created.

Change has been constant over the course of the last 95 years.

From Mankato Normal School, to Mankato State Teachers College, Mankato State College, Mankato State University and, in 1998, Minnesota State University, Mankato.  The Peds, the Purples, the Indians and, beginning in 1977, the Mavericks.

In addition, to location, facilities, name of the school, team names, the school's national and conference affiliations have not gone unaffected.

In 1923 MSTC teams were members of the Little 10, a league which also included Winona, St. Cloud, Bemidji and five junior colleges. In 1932 the Minnesota Northern Teachers College Conference was formed and this lasted until the mid-1950's when MSTC joined Winona, St. Cloud, Bemidji and Moorhead to form the Minnesota State College Conference. Michigan Tech was added to the mix in 1957 as the Northern State Conference came together. Thus begat the Northern Intercollegiate Conference in the 1960's. Mankato State left for the North Central Conference following the 1968-69 season, but was readmitted into the NIC for three more years before rejoining the NCC in 1981-82. Following the demise of the NCC as North Dakota, North Dakota State and Northern Colorado departed for NCAA Division I, MSU became a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference beginning in 2008-09. The school's men's and women's hockey teams are members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

In 1952 MSTC held membership in the NAIA and was an associate member in the NCAA. It wasn't until the 1960's that the programs began competing solely in NCAA team championship events on a national level. Presently, with the exception of men's and women's hockey, which compete as members of NCAA Division I, Minnesota State's teams are affiliated with NCAA Division II.

Besides Blakeslee (and Morris), Macias, Willerscheidt and Brock, the names of Jim Witham, Bob Otto, Bud Myers, Chuck Peterson, Paul Waldorf, Don Robinson, Don Brose, Jack Amann, Jean McCarthy, Mark Schuck, Dean Bowyer, Gordy Graham, Butch Raymond, Dan McCarrell, Dan Runkle, Marge Burkett, Donna Tiegs Ricks, Bob Westphal, Gary Rushing, Don Amiot, Chris Miskec, Jim Schaffer and Phil Rhoade and others elicit strong memories.

The student-athletes, too many to mention by name, have helped build the school's reputation and rise to regional and national prominence with 52 national individual titles and the aforementioned wrestling team championships in 1957-58 (NAIA), 1958-59 (NAIA) 1964-65 (NCAA) joined by national titles from men's hockey in 1980, men's cross country in 1988 and a women's basketball championship in 2009.  Academic All-Americans and conference championships in every sport. We could go on.

The 2020-21 school year will mark the 100th year of athletics at Minnesota State.  It would be interesting if A.B. Morris was around to have a looksee at what his idea put forth nearly a century ago had wrought.  It's likely he would not only be surprised, but also pretty proud.

It's great to be a Maverick.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Burnsie, Millard & Red

Jerry Burns on the Blakeslee Stadium practice fields
Syndicated writer Dave Barry penned a column entitled "16 Things It Took Me Over 50 Years to Learn." It's a funny read with some level of truthiness.

Obviously, a lot can happen in 50 years.

And not to sound like Billy Joel singing "We Didn't Start the Fire," much has taken place in the last five decades.  Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. There was Woodstock and the tragic shootings at Kent State. There was Vietnam and the Berlin Wall. Star Wars premiered and the Watergate break-in occurred. Sid Vicious ring a bell? A bunch of college guys beat the vaunted Soviets in Lake Placid. The Hubble Telescope went into orbit. Princess Di passed away in a car crash. Johnny Carson retired. Twins won the World Series. 9/11. Saddam. bin Laden. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama.

On a local level, the Minnesota Vikings first came to Mankato for their summer training camp in 1966, making this year the 50th consecutive season the Purple & Gold have made the Key City their preseason preparation destination.

While it's tough to boil things down to a few thoughts about the Vikings during this period in our little berg, let's take a look at the last 30 seasons.

1986 marked Jerry Burns’ first year. Les Steckel was named head coach in 1984 and the former Marine led the Vikings through one disastrous season in which his squad posted a 3-13 mark. Iconic Bud Grant returned in 1985, leading up to Burnsie being named head coach the following year.

Coach Burns, who guided the team for six years, could come off as curmudgeonly, but had a great sense of humor. There's a story about one camp where the weather was hot and muggy (like most years) and the players and coaches were struggling. To change things up, Burns, along with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, defensive lineman Keith Millard and equipment manager Dennis Ryan conspired to prank the team. Following a staged argument between Millard and Kiffin, Ryan later threw a dummy dressed like Kiffin off the roof of Gage Hall, giving the players on the practice field a scare.

The summer of 1991 was an interesting one. Especially the night Millard, after leaving the Albatross in a hurried attempt to get back to Gage prior to curfew, crashed his corvette into a planter at Hardee’s.

In 1998, bombastic Red McCombs bought the team and came to town bellowing “Purple Pride.”  This was also the year Randy Moss was drafted and made his inaugural training camp appearance.  The crowds got bigger as in addition to Moss, Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, John Randle and Robert Smith were also on the roster.  Loaded with that talent, the Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season and advanced to the NFC championship game before losing to Atlanta in overtime.

In 1999, first round draft pick Dimitrius Underwood came to camp wearing camo. He left camp after one day and  never played for the Vikings. Later diagnosed as bipolar, eventually he played a bit in the league with Dallas and Miami.

In 2001 Korey Stringer passed away. I wrote about it HERE.

Leading up to the summer of 2004, there was talk that the team was strongly considering having training camp at a different location. A re-commitment from the town and University, in which promotions and marketing of the team's stay in town would be ramped up, ensured the continued trip down 169. Vikings Village became a reality as camp operations became a joint effort in an attempt to become more organized and to heighten the fan experience.

In the spring of 2013, campus landmark Gage Towers, the venerable dormitory complex which housed the Vikings during their stay, was imploded (the Vikings are now housed in Julia Sears Residence Community on the west side of campus).

Along the way, a few Minnesota State players received invitations to try-out with the local NFL squad, and in 2013 wide receiver Adam Thielen broke camp as a practice squad player. In 2014, the Detroit Lakes, Minn., native made team's 53-man roster and appeared in all 16 regular-season games.

Here's to another 50 years!!!!  Skol Vikings.

It's great to be a Maverick.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Leadership and Courage

MSC's Henry Hill (left) was named Most Outstanding Athlete
at the 1966 Northern Intercollegiate Conference Outdoor
Track & Field Championship

It’s been nearly five decades since he laid foot in Mankato, but Henry Hill, Jr. is still remembered not only for his athletic prowess, but also for his ability to lead his teammates and peers alike.   

Born in Anoka, Minn., on July 23rd, 1944, to Henry Sr. and Albertha Hill, Henry attended Anoka High School where he served as the school’s first black President of the Senior Class.  Following graduation in 1962, he headed south of the Twin Cities where he joined his fellow student-athletes at Mankato State. 

Participating in multiple events, the three-time letter winner with the school's track teams, Hill led MSC (the school was known as Mankato State College when he attended) in individual points scored over the three seasons of his career from 1964-66.   He helped the Purple and Gold to an 8-1 dual record and a North Central Conference indoor team title in 1964, winning the league 60-yard high hurdles championship and finishing second in the 60-yard low hurdles in the process.  In establishing a meet record, he won the outdoor conference triple jump crown that year, as well.  As team captain as a senior, he led the Mavericks to another team title the following year by scoring an astounding 204 points all by himself in being named the NIC’s Most Outstanding Outdoor Track & Field Athlete. He was also named Mankato State’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 1966.  

Undoubtedly a tremendous athlete, it was Hill’s leadership, demeanor and his presence that made an impression on people.

Legendary Bud Myers, Hill’s track and field coach, was a man not usually prone to hyperbole, but in describing how he felt that his student-athlete said “Henry Hill was a credit to the human race. Not only his race, but the human race.

Former Minnesota State track and field athlete and men's cross country/track & field coach Mark Schuck said that Hill was the most outstanding athlete MSC had during that time.  “He was the captain on the team my freshman and sophomore years. I can’t say enough about his athletic ability."  Schuck, who was inducted into the Minnesota State Hall of Fame in 2014 following his retirement, felt Hill’s role with the team was one of the keys to its success. “Henry got along with everybody and he was just a great gentleman and loved competition. And he was a guy that commanded respect. We didn’t have the decathlon at the time, but there is no doubt that if we had, he would have been one of the all-time best in that event.”   

In a time where America’s culture and society were in a transitional state, Hill also made an impression on the people of Mankato.  “Like most of America in the 1960’s, Mankato was in a transition period and wasn’t really receptive to the transition it was going through with African-Americans during that time,” said Obie Kipper, another Minnesota State Hall of Fame inductee (1990) from the school’s track and field program. “Henry was a man of integrity who stood up for what he believed in.” 

Kipper, a 1970 MSC graduate, described Hill as “the perfect gentleman” and “a man who any parent could be proud of.”  Kipper was being recruited to Mankato State for track and field as a sprinter as a high school senior when Hill was a senior for the Indians.  “Henry was a stupendous athlete, as well as a student.  He understood what it meant to be a student-athlete.  He set examples for those who knew him and was a very personal guy.”  Hill’s personality and leadership definitely made an impression on Kipper during his recruitment trip as he says that was one of the main reasons why he decided to attend Mankato State College. 

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Hill was drafted into the United States Army.  He enrolled to become a candidate in officer school and was later named a second lieutenant.  Two years after he graduated from Mankato State College, Henry married his wife, Rita, in 1968, six days before starting his United States military tour overseas in Vietnam with the first infantry division.  Henry’s leadership qualities stood out as he was awarded the title of Infantry Unit Commander.  On August 23rd, 1968, almost exactly two months after shipping out for his tour, Henry was killed by a grenade in Quan Ngai, South Vietnam. He was 24 years old. 

Schuck said “Henry Hill will always be remembered as just a good athlete, a good gentleman, with good character and strong convictions. We wanted him as our captain. He was a great leader on the track and off the track”.  

After Hill’s death his body was sent to Franklin, La., to be buried next to his father’s. He is honored on Panel 47W, Row 45 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

      Contributed by Seth C. Allan, Athletic Communications Student Intern 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A World Away

Bankok native Kanyapak Sethasompobe was the 2013-14
NSIC Women's Golfer of the Year
The flight from Bankok to Minneapolis is 8,298 miles.  Drive another another hour and half south from the airport to Mankato and you’re a world away from home.

A member of the Minnesota State women’s golf team, junior Kanyapak Sethasompobe, who hails from the most populous city in Thailand, seems to be doing just fine in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, thank you. Given the success she’s had in her first three years in the Key City, the long commute from her hometown has not stopped her from having an extremely successful career with the Mavericks. 

Named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Women’s Golfer of the Year following her sophomore year in 2013-14, Sethasompobe has been one of Minnesota State’s top individuals since making her way to Mankato prior to the start of the 2012-13 campaign.  After averaging 82.3 as a freshman, she lowered that to 78.3 as a sophomore while recording four first-place tournament finishes and earning NSIC Women’s Golfer of the Week honors three times during the course of the season. She’s averaging 79.3 for her junior season.

In terms of international recruiting, every story has its own unique facet.  For Sethasompobe, rather than letting the recruiters come to her, she thought she would take the initiative and send out an email with her profile attached for recruiters to see. 

One of the email recipients was Minnesota State women’s golf coach Nick Campa. “When looking at the information we were seeing, we thought we didn’t have a chance to land her because she was so highly rated,” said Campa, who is in his 25th year leading the Mavericks.  “But the email she sent to us gave us positive thoughts on possibly getting her to come to Minnesota State.” 

While Sethasompobe occasionally traveled to the United States for tournaments before coming to Minnesota State, moving to Mankato was still a tough transition.  “It’s very cold here in Minnesota.  Before I had come to Mankato, I had never seen snow before.”  While the cold weather and becoming more fluent in English were two of the most difficult things to adjust to, Sethasompobe has really enjoyed her time with the Mavericks.  “We have a lot of fun as a team.  My teammates have been so supportive of me and have always been there when I’ve needed help with school or just someone to talk to.”

Campa was convinced Sethasompobe would be able to have an impact right away and has been impressed as his international player has grown as a person.  “She’s meant a lot to the program.  Right off the bat she was one of the top players on the team as a freshman.  She is a great teammate and a great leader. She is one of the girls who you like to point out to kids to show them how to be a great example.” 

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Sethasompobe and Campa have similar goals in mind.  “We’re off to a great start to the spring and hopefully we can keep that momentum going into nationals this year,” Sethasompobe said. 

“These last few tournaments have been great confidence boosters for our team,” said Campa.  “We’re looking to keep our confidence up going into the end of the year and into the postseason.”

The Mavericks have made seven straight NCAA tournament appearances and in addition to hoping to make it eight straight, will be looking to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish at the regional championship.

A communications major, Sethasompobe is hoping to make a possible run at joining the LPGA following her collegiate career.  

    Contributed by Cameron Klade, Minnesota State Athletic Communications intern

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Right Back Where He Started From

Stephon Williams
Hockey culture is interesting, isn’t it.

For example, many of those involved in the game can recall that the sound track of the 1970’s movie Slap Shot included a Maxine Nightingale song entitled “Right Back Where We Started From.”

And for Minnesota State junior goaltender Stephon Williams that song takes on added meaning given the year he’s having.  For not unlike his freshman year in 2012-13, he appears to right back where he started from.

Fresh out of a stellar junior hockey career that saw him help lead Waterloo to an appearance in the United States Hockey League Clark Cup finals, the Fairbanks, Alaska native didn’t skip a beat in earning Western Collegiate Hockey Association Rookie of the Year and All-WCHA First Team honors, while racking up a 21-12-2 record and a .924 save percentage while helping lead Minnesota State to a second-place league finish en route to a NCAA postseason appearance in 2012-13.

Drafted in the fourth round (106th overall) by the New York Islanders in the 2013 National Hockey League Draft, Williams suffered a “bump in the road” season as a sophomore that saw his numbers and confidence dip.

But, now well into  the stretch drive of his junior campaign, he’s back to where he started from with even better numbers than his freshman year.  He’s back over the 20-win mark, his goals against average is well below 2.00 and the save percentage is in the .925 range. Williams attributes several factors as to the reasons why he’s rebounded.

“I think one of the biggest things has been maturation to a certain extent,” said Williams, who ranks amongst the nation’s leaders in wins, goals against average and save percentage. “It’s how you handle success and how you handle failure.  I learned a lot last year on how to take the best out of each situation and to learn.  How to block out things that don’t matter and to keep doing what makes me me.”

He also said that the culture of the program has played an important role. “The biggest thing about our culture is that we control what we control and strive to do that every day.  In practice and in games.  We can control our effort, our attitude and that’s something you have to bring every day.  Not every shift is going to go your way....how you approach things. And it all adds up.” 

Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings echoes his netminder. “Stephon has continued to mature and grow as a young man in situations that call for handling success along with the different things that life can throw at you.  But there’s no doubt that his consistency has been the backbone for where we are as a team right now.”

And where the Mavericks are as a team right now is a place where the program has never been before.  Ranked #1 in the nation four times in a five-week span in January and February, Minnesota State has maintained a position amongst the country’s elite. 

Minnesota State has never been rated #1 before.  The Mavericks won the WCHA postseason tournament last year, something new for the program. And a league regular-season title has now been checked off the check list.  A a couple of other unaccomplished tasks, like advancing past the first round of the NCAA tournament and an appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four, still loom

Williams says it’s taken a concerted team effort in order to get where the program is now, but the expectations are set even higher.

“It’s really been everyone involved. The freshmen come in and have contributed right away. Everyone else is working hard to improve every day and we’ve had certain guys step up every game.  There’s been a positive effect with all of us on the same page to make the team better.  It’s been cool seeing it happen in front of your eyes and we’ve continued to get better on a weekly basis. The season has been an awesome experience, but we still have work to do. It’s been guys pushing each other. Coaches pushing us.  It’s great to be honored with the rankings, but ultimately we have goals and we have keep working hard every day.  We play in a tough conference and we play a tough schedule, but obviously we wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

It's great to be a Maverick.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Sleeping Giant

Now that we're thoroughly past last weekend's festivities in Mankato, we can fully jump in to what's going on with out spring sports.

Sort of.

Almost across the board, our winter sports teams have emulated what our fall teams accomplished.

That is, rank amongst the nation's best. Unequivocally. The Maverick football team and women's soccer team both at one point in the fall were rated number one in the country at the same time. To have two teams rated #1 at the same time is something that had never occurred previously at this fine institution. Then, at one point this winter the Minnesota State men's hockey program and our men's track & field program were rated #1 in the nation at the same time.

Having our football team play in a national championship game was something that had never happened before. So was having a pair of teams rated #1 in the nation happen twice in one season.  As is having four programs during the course of the season rated #1.

We hosted the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships last Thursday and Friday, a pair of Western Collegiate Hockey Association games at Verizon Wireless Center Friday and Saturday and also hosted the NCAA DII Wrestling Super Region 3 Tournament in Taylor Center Saturday and Sunday.  Nearly 15,000 fans visited Mankato for these events over the course of four days and they saw some unbelievable performances in which our student-athletes won conference and regional championships. Hockey fans were treated to a battle between the #2 (Minnesota State) and #3-rated (Michigan Tech) teams in the country.

We're sending three wrestlers to the national championship meet, we're sending seven members of our track & field teams to nationals and four members of the Maverick women's swim team will also compete at the DII national championships. The brackets for the NCAA DII basketball tournaments will be announced Sunday and hopefully, both our men's and women's teams will find out their postseason destinations. 

The Maverick baseball and softball teams are in Florida with their seasons in full swing. Women's tennis and men's and women's golf will follow suit. Along with outdoor track, expectations are that those sports are ready to compete on a national level.

One of the top athletic departments in NCAA Division II (with DI men's and women's hockey) is situated in Mankato, Minnesota. I know it sounds like bragging, but as one of our local writing denizens likes to say "is it not true?"

When I first came to Mankato in 1985, I had a colleague tell me that he thought Mankato State was "a sleeping giant."  That was a while ago, but it appears that the giant is no longer so sleepy.

It's great to be a Maverick!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Davis Uniquely Making a Name for Herself

Minnesota State senior guard
Aubrey Davis (left) spent time in Tanzania
last summer as part of her academic
Suffice it to say Minnesota State women’s basketball guard Aubrey Davis has made quite the impact during her time with the Mavericks, both in the record books and also off the court.

In her first season, Davis quickly made her presence known, as she earned 2011-12 Northern Sun All-Freshman Team honors. Her sophomore year she continued this trend, as she was rewarded with 2012-13 NSIC Second Team honors. As a senior in 2014-15 year, her final year, Davis is showing that veteran leadership through her actions on and off the court.

The Bloomington, Minn., native is leading the Mavericks in points per game (13.7), assists per game (4.6) and steals per game (1.8). Davis is also not only leading the Purple and Gold in three-point field goal percentage, but the NSIC as well, shooting 44% (50-113). To add on to that, Davis currently ranks second in assists per game and sixth in steals per game in the conference.

“Aubrey does so much for our team both in her leadership and in her ability to make plays,” mentions MSU women’s basketball coach Emilee Thiesse. “She has an uncanny ability to set-up her teammates, create offense for herself, control the pace and the flow of the game, and bring a great defensive presence to the court.”

Off the court, Davis is double majoring in exercise science and psychology, to hope one day aspire to become an occupational therapist. This past offseason, Davis took a trip to the third world country of Tanzania to work in some clinics. While she was there, she would help the patrons with their medical needs and in the end it helped her gain real world experience in the field.

She heard about the opportunity through an old teammate of hers here at MSU in Ali Hoefer, who a couple of years ago took a trip to Ghana and gained a similar experience. The program they worked for is called “Work the World”, where it provides internships for a variety of medical fields, such as occupational therapy, dentistry, radiology, etc.

Overall it was a whirlwind experience for Davis, where at one point she had to help deliver a baby. She mentions it was one of the crazier things she had to do in Tanzania and while spending time in East Africa last summer, it has completely changed the soon to be graduate’s perspective on everything. “It really showed that I can’t take anything for granted and it really changed my work ethic in both basketball and in life,” Davis states.

That work ethic over her career is sure paying off in Davis’ final season. Aubrey became the 20th member in Minnesota State women's basketball history to reach the 1,000 point milestone.

Aubrey has also crept her way into the top ten lists of a couple of other categories at Minnesota State, currently ranking fourth in career three-pointers made (177), sixth in career assists (379) and fifth in career free-throws made (317).

A unique package, Davis is the only player in the history of the Minnesota State women's basketball program to have scored at least 1,000 points, dish out at least 375 assists, make at least 175 three-pointers and 300 free throws.

Davis plans on attending graduate school following her four years as a Maverick, at a school to be determined while studying occupational therapy.

In the meantime, she and the rest of her Maverick teammates have some unfinished business and that’s the postseason. MSU is hoping to make it to the NCAA tournament this year, which would mark the third time out of the last four years the team went dancing. So the career numbers for Davis will only keep on increasing as the MSU women’s basketball team is not done yet, with the NSIC tournament near the horizon and a berth to NCAA Division II tournament looming. 
Contributed by Alex Brendel, Athletic Communications graduate assistant

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Just Waiting on a Friend

We recently paused to have a conversation with one of our professors on campus, Dr. Donald Friend.  Dr. Friend, who is a professor and Chair of Minnesota State's Department of Geography, regularly attends Maverick Athletics events and we thought it might be insightful to get his take on a few things.  Here you go.

Dr. Don Friend
Please give us a little background information on yourself. Where are you from? Where'd you go to school?
I was born in San Francisco and lived there until age 11 when my family moved across the bay to Berkeley. I graduated from Berkeley High School and then attended the home town school, Cal, California, the University of California at Berkeley. Go Bears! I was an undergraduate in the student section to witness, live and in person, “The Play!” The Stanfoo (that’s not a typo) band helped us win the game as they charged on the field as the clock expired but before The Play was completed… I watched a trombonist get knocked over and his instrument crushed as the Cal ball carrier blew past and scored!

As a boy I went to San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s games riding the city bus… I watched both Willy Mays and Reggie Jackson hit home runs! My family had season tickets to Cal football to which we always walked from our home one mile from Memorial Stadium. After Berkeley I lived and worked in Alaska for a year, then finished a master’s degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I completed the PhD at Arizona State University. Most summers while in graduate school I worked as an Instructor for the Colorado Outward Bound School, teaching novices rock climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, river rafting, and communication and leadership skills on three-week long excursions in the Rocky Mountains and in Canyonlands. Between the out-of-doors and the classroom, I’ve been teaching since I was 22 years old… I am proud to say that’s 34 years of experience in education. I still take students on a winter field-based course to the Colorado Rockies every February.

2. Can you tell us about your family?
I have been happily married for 20 years to Lisa who manages, and we are co-owners of, Tandem Bagels in downtown Mankato (come on in, we make them from scratch and bake ‘em fresh daily… they are the only genuine boiled bagels in town!). We have three kids. Brittany is a professional staff member at MSU; she is one of the Construction Project Managers in Facilities. Scanlon is a 10th grader at Mankato West HS; he plays soccer and basketball. Our daughter, Reilly, is in 8th grade at Dakota Meadows Middle School, plays soccer and is a member of the Mankato Ballet Company.

3. How'd you get to Minnesota State which has led to your current role as a Professor and Chair of our Department of Geography?
As a young married man who had just finished his doctorate with a daughter about to enter high school I was attracted to universities where I could responsibly and successfully raise a family. MSU and Mankato were the perfect fit! We arrived here in August of 1997 and I have climbed the ranks, from Assistant Professor, to Associate Professor and finally to Professor. In addition to teaching courses and advising students, I was Director of Earth Science Programs at MSU for 17 years and have published a fair bit of research including a recent book entitled, Mountain Geography. In 2005 my departmental colleagues honored me with their trust and elected me Chair… other than brief hiatuses for Sabbatical Leave and serving as Special Assistant to the Provost, I have served as Chair since then.

4. How do you perceive athletics fitting into the "college experience"?
Student-athletes are among the hardest working students on campus. Being a student is a full-time job, and being a competitive athlete is nearly a full-time job and not all are scholarship athletes. They really want to be here, they are very proud to represent our august university and the Great State of Minnesota. I have the highest respect for student-athletes, to succeed they have to manage their time and energy very, very carefully; if they do not, they will likely perform poorly – in both their academics and athletics. I really like the NCAA – DII tagline, “I chose DII.” The lessons our student-athletes learn about the importance of doing their very best, working towards a common goal, leadership, dealing with adversity and having compassion for others not as successful or fortunate, are most powerful and critical to the formation of young people. I hope our coaches use some of their time to stress these personal qualities. It is very nice to win, but to me, winning is only a very nice side-effect of the life lessons athletics provide. I also believe being a student-athlete can be part of the quintessential college experience; it doesn’t get more real at college than working to represent the institution by being a part of it while completing your degree.

5. Do you have a favorite Maverick sports program?
They are all my favorites, but Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Soccer and Football are at the top of the list. We have been basketball season ticket holders since the opening of Taylor Center… all along we’ve had the same seats just a few rows up from the scorer’s table and Maverick bench! I get to every basketball game, most every home Soccer and Football game, and try to attend a few Volleyball, Wrestling, Softball and Baseball games every year. Hockey… I have to confess, growing up in California, I’ve been to a few games when invited by friends and have really tried to get into it but... it just doesn’t do it for me.

6. Can you share a positive experience with a Maverick student-athlete you've had with in your class or as an advisor.
Gosh, I can’t think of a negative experience, they’ve all been positive. However, one student-athlete who was my academic advisee comes to mind. Karly Klein was a four-year varsity swimmer and team captain for two years. She was also an MSU Presidential Scholar and Academic All-American. I met Karly when she was a sophomore and enrolled in my course, GEOG 101 – Introduction to Physical Geography. Afterward she changed her major to Geography. One summer she garnered a National Science Foundation – Research Experience for Undergraduates scholarship… all expenses paid to study at the National Severe Storms Laboratory at the Univ. of Oklahoma where she storm-chased tornados and analyzed and published her own research. She became part of the Friend family… even babysat our kids! She is now the Associate Director of Admissions at the Univ. of Missouri – Kansas City and is married with two kids.

7. In your observation as a person who follows Minnesota State Athletics, how has the program evolved during your career at MSU?
I’ve been here 17 and-a-half years and have observed the building of Taylor Center, the new Meyers Field House, the revamped Otto Arena now Rec Center, and expanded practice fields. These were the first “shot in the arm” or “kick-start” of a years-long very purposeful campaign
to bring increasing resources to Maverick Athletics and to place all of our programs at the nationally competitive level. Well, it’s working! We have nearly 600 student-athletes and only about a quarter are on scholarship. This speaks volumes… these athletes want to be here because we have the finest facilities, the finest coaching staff and athletic administration, and all are a part of a very fine university. Increasingly successful athletics leads to an increasing profile of the institution across the nation which, in turn, leads to increased applicants for admission which allows the University to succeed in many, many ways. Add it all up, and “it’s great to be a Maverick!”

8. Anything else you'd care to add?
My maternal Grandmother, Kathryn Agar, was in the first Olympics and World Championships that included women. On the wall in my home is her team plaque. She competed in track and field running the 440 relay and threw the javelin. She held the world record in the javelin for 13 years until it was broken by Babe Didrikson. She also competed in and won the basketball throw, an event of the day, my niece has her first place medal… they were all silver then, no gold, silver, or bronze. She taught me how to throw and catch a baseball… my Dad always took it easy on me, my Grandmother’s throws hurt! When I am at any women’s sporting event I cannot help but think of my Grandmother and how she would have loved the opportunities available to girls and women today. I also think of her and her teammates and competitors in 1922 and 1924 upon whose shoulders women’s athletics stand today; I know they would all be most gratified and proud of how things have changed now 90 years later. I think they’d be a bit envious too, they would want to compete! Another confession…. Because of this family history, sometimes I get a little choked up when watching women’s, girls and youth sports; it makes me so proud, young people being strong and striving to do their very best. Our Maverick athletes are doing just that, striving. That’s why I can’t get enough of watching them and supporting them, their dreams are only beginning to come true and the lessons they learn as scholar-athletes is laying the foundation to build those lifelong dreams. GO MAVS!

To reiterate Dr. Friend..."it's great to be a Maverick!"