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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.