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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hallowe'en 1991 and the Mavericks

Following a late October storm that buried Mankato
with 20 inches of snow, the Maverick football team
worked to clear Blakeslee Stadium for a game vs. Augustana
This Halloween will mark the 25th anniversary of the worst snow storm to hit the Midwest since November of 1940. 

Overnight on Thursday, October 31, 1991 Mankato was hit by a snowstorm that left almost two feet of snow across Minnesota. The storm kicked off an unusual set of events, including some which wreaked havoc with the Minnesota State football team, which was steaming toward a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Mavericks entered the Oct. 31st weekend standing 3-3 in North Central Conference games and was looking for a home win against a University South Dakota side that was 1-6 on the season. That was before the storm hit, making roads impassable as virtually everything in southern Minnesota, along with most everywhere else in the upper midwest, ground to a halt for several days.

And for the first time in the history of the storied NCC, which dated back to the 1921 season, all football games across the conference that weekend were cancelled.

“Trick or’ treaters were done early that night and the snow started falling," said Don Amiot, the Athletic Director for Minnesota State at the time, recalling the onset of the storm. "In the morning we couldn’t get anywhere, everything was shut down.”

A sophomore quaterback named Jamie Pass, a Chicago native who had just transferred from Western Michigan, was new to the area and was about to find out what Minnesota winters were about.  "The highways were closed down because of the storm and no one could move. Canceling football games? I’ve never seen that before,” said Pass.

Unfortunately, Saturday's game vs. the Coyotes would not be rescheduled. The Mavericks had two remaining home games, and although the snow had stopped falling, it was still causing problems. With venerable Blakeslee Stadium still submerged in snow and ice in the following days, almost incredibly it appeared that another crucial home date was in jeopardy. After searching for a Plan B, the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D., emerged as a potential site for the Mavericks to "host" it's next opponent, South Dakota State.

The DakotaDome, which ironically is the home field for the University of South Dakota, was busy due to to the fact that is was indoors. But if teams could get there, it was one of the lone facilities in the area that had a playable field.  The Dome was set to host three other football games that afternoon, so the Mavericks and the Jackrabbits would not kick off until after 9:30 p.m.  Serving as the home team and with the department working as it normally did when it ran a home game (the public address announcer, scoreboard and score clock operators, chain gang, press box staff, etc., all travelled from Mankato to Vermillion to work the game), the Mavericks prevailed in the unusual contest, winning 23-0.

The last hurdle to jump in order for the Mavericks to make the NCAA postseason was to find a way to win a final home game against Augustana. This game had originally been scheduled for the UNIDome at the University of Northern Iowa. But, with the entire Maverick football team pressed into snow removal service, work began on clearing Blakeslee Stadium with snow blowers and shovels. Amiot understood that if the University was to use heavy equipment to clear the fields that it could have resulted in damage to the turf. So the job was left to Runkle and the football team and the mission was accomplished.

And although most of the snow from the storm had been cleared from the field, the snow banks created by shoveling led to some interesting plays.

“The sidelines were a mess, the field was soft and you couldn’t play a real football game," said Dan Runkle, who coached the Mavericks from 1981-2001.

The sidelines were packed with snow and big plays were the difference as the Mavericks dispatched the Vikings by a 28-14 margin. The all-important win gave the Mavericks a 7-3 regular season mark and a spot in the postseason, their second such foray into the NCAA tournament under Runkle.

“It was a fun, strange year. To have a game cancelled, another played over two days (the game vs. SDSU in Vermillion didn't end until early in the morning) and make the playoffs.” said Runkle.

Undoubtedly the 1991 season will be remembered as one in which the Mavericks made the NCAA playoffs - one of sixteen teams playing football in the DII postseason. MSU defeated North Dakota State 27-7 in Fargo before falling to Portland State in the quarterfinals in finishing with an 8-4 final record. 

For those that experienced it though, the infamous "Hallowe'een Blizzard of '91", will be hard to forget.

                                                  contributed by Chris Langlois, Athletic Communications intern

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back to the Future

Tim Jackman played for Minnesota State from 2000-02
before embarking on a pro career that saw him play for
six NHL teams in 12 seasons. He's now a student-assistant
coach for the Mavericks
Most kids who grow up playing the game of hockey in Minnesota dream of one day making it to the National Hockey League.  

Born in Minot, N.D., Tim Jackman’s father worked for the railroad and was often transferred all over the nation for work.  Following a few years in Brooklyn Park, Minn., and a year in Texas while Tim was in seventh grade, the family moved back to Minneapolis, where his hockey career began to flourish. And following two years of varsity hockey at Park Center High School and a short stint with the Twin Cities Vulcans of the United States Hockey League, where he had 11 goals and 19 assists in 25 games following his senior year of high school, he headed to Mankato for his freshman year of college hockey with the Mavericks.

“I loved the opportunity they were willing to give me by taking a chance to let me play right after my high school season so I thought that it would be a great step in my development as a player,” said Jackman on his decision to play college hockey for Minnesota State.

Jackman played two seasons for the Mavericks where he had 25 goals and 28 helpers in 73 games and it was his after his freshman season in 2001 when he was selected in the second round, 38th overall, by Columbus in the 2001 National Hockey League Draft.

He said he had known Columbus was interested after having a few meetings with them before he was drafted.  “Growing up I wasn’t much of an NHL fan, I watched the North Stars a little, and was a big Wayne Gretzky fan. But I really watched a lot of college hockey though, so I never envisioned myself being drafted or playing in the NHL, I just couldn’t see it.  It all just happened pretty fast.”   

He signed with the Blue Jackets following his sophomore year with Minnesota State, but looks back fondly of his time as a student-athlete in the Key City. “The community and the fans were great,” said Jackman.  “The buildup of the weekdays going into the weekend and with the opportunity play college hockey on Friday and Saturday nights with a great group of guys was special.”  He also noted that the college hockey model was an important ingredient in his development as a player with the practice to games ratio, along with strength and conditioning during the year serving in his growth as an athlete.

Jackman began his pro career with Syracuse, the American Hockey League affiliate for Columbus.  He played there for a year and a half before making his NHL debut on December 20, 2003 in a game against the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul. By doing so, he became the first former Maverick to play a game in the NHL.  

Last year, at the age of 33 and going into his 12th pro season, Jackman went to camp with Anaheim, but was experiencing back problems. Following two games with the Ducks he was sent to San Diego of the AHL where he played another 22 games before surgery ended his year. Having forged a professional career and playing a physical game that saw him tally 32 goals and 43 assists for 75 points in 483 games over a span of 12 seasons with six different NHL teams, it was at this point where the big forward decided he needed to start turning his attention to things outside of his hockey career.

Now at the age of thirty four he decided to return Mankato, starting a new chapter for his family, which includes his wife, Chelsey, an 18-month old son and another child on the way.

With a desire to finish his degree, but wanting to continue on with the game, he received the perfect opportunity from Mike Hastings and his staff, joining Minnesota State as a student assistant coach.

“This is something that I have really gotten excited about,” says Jackman, who assists with practice, reviewing game tape and strategy.  “I just want to be someone that can help pass the message to the players, and sometimes just encourage the players when I see something by trying to explain it and help them out by relating it to what the coaches want.  I just want to be a positive influence to the program as a whole.”  By working with Hastings and the rest of the coaching staff, Jackman characterizes his work as "great opportunity to learn some new things. I truly admire the way Coach Mike Hastings carries himself and treats his players. He is very honest with his players, he really cares.  It’s great for the players to know it’s a safe place to make a mistake because as long as you’re playing hard and learn from it, and you’re having fun with it that’s all that matters.”

So in a back-to-the-future kind of way, it’s hitting the books for Jackman. And while he’s working toward the next phase of his professional career, one in which he will likely teach and coach, he’s also assisting young student-athletes prepare for the next aspect of their careers.  For Tim Jackman, it’s come full cycle.
                                    contributed by Connor Wachtel, Athletic Communications intern

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Home is Where the Heart is

Freshman quarterback Ryan Schlichte is one of several
Mankato natives currently playing for Minnesota State sports
For most college students, going away to school is the start of a new challenge and begins to define who they will be as adults.

The unique challenges of discovering a new town, new social groups, and new routines is a normal part of the college experience.  There are however exceptions to the standard college experience of going away.  What about the students who choose to stay in their hometown for college, who continue to play sports for the school that has been a part of their very background since they were children?  What would compel them to stay in Mankato, perform in Maverick athletics, and reach out to the next generation of local athletes?  Fortunately, there are many answers to these questions and they all start with home, Mankato Minnesota.

Growing up in Mankato is a pretty similar experience, regardless of which of the rival high schools people attend.  Ryan Schlichte, a redshirt freshman quarterback for the football team who attended Mankato West High School, said of Mankato, “It is a big city that feels small because of the genuine family connections.”  

The fact that the city is so tied into Minnesota State University makes it feel like the entire city is always rallying behind you as an athlete, according to Nicole “Coley” Reis, a senior softball pitcher who owns the school single-season strikeout record and attended Mankato East High School prior to joining the Mavericks.  Many of the first experiences with sports for these athletes came from attending Minnesota State Maverick events or youth camps.  Logan Bristol, a sophomore track and field athlete who grew up a short walk away from the Maverick campus, has fond memories of going to his first Maverick hockey game as a child and knew from that moment that he, “…always wanted to be a Maverick.” 

Family history also plays a vital part of the decision making process for these student athletes.  For Erica Ellstrom, a sophomore middle distance freestyle swimmer who attended Mankato East High School, having an opportunity to swim with her older sister was a major factor in her choice to go to Minnesota State University.  Schlichte's father, Dave, is a former Maverick football stand-out who went on to serve as an offensive coordinator for the team.  As a result, Ryan was a part of the program from an early age and said the he felt he had “…been a Maverick my whole life.”  

Coley remembered the visits to campus for events and how she viewed the college athletes as role models as she looked up to them growing up.  Now the experience has flipped and she is in that role, as a senior who has made a very positive impact on the program, she realizes how much those high school and middle school kids are looking up to her as a role model.  She always wanted to give back in her college experience, to her parents (her mother is a former Maverick women's tennis player) who travelled hours so she could participate in summer leagues, and to her friends and family who now get to watch her pitch for her hometown university.  For Erica, a program like Swim with the Mavericks is one of the ways she can give back to her home town.  The team gets the opportunity to teach children from age 2-12 and are always happy to see how excited the children are.  Seeing the kids outside of the events around town really shows how the experience at Minnesota State is impacting more local children.

The campus life is still an amazing experience for these local athletes.  Getting to be the local tour guide to all the Mankato hot spots and best restaurants helps the out-of-town students feel connected to the town.  The campus itself still feels isolated enough that the student athletes have the ability to still have a traditional feeling college experience and the new social groups created within the Maverick athletic family are lifelong, as Logan stated, “MavFam is not just a hashtag, it’s are real thing and there is a mutual respect among all the sports.”

That is the true lasting connection among all of the local student athletes at Minnesota State University, the feeling of family; with one another, with Mankato, and with the entire Maverick student body.  There are other current Mavericks hailing from the Key City including Alex Goettl (football), Claire Ziegler (women's basketball), Savannah Quandt (women's hockey) and Sydney Writz (women's swimming). Being a student athlete in their hometown lets them give back to their families and the community that made them the people they are today and sets an example to future generations of Mankato children.

- contributed by Benjamin Camp, Athletic Communication intern

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Keiser Keeps Running On

Former Minnesota State All-American
Kurt Keiser competes in ultra marathons -
races of 100 or miles.
Some can’t imagine running a full marathon, a total of 26.219 miles, let alone anything further than that. But not for Kurt Keiser, a two-time men’s cross country All-American for the Mavericks during his four-year career from 1992-1996.  He finished 30th at the NCAA Division II meet in 1994 and was 26th as a senior in 1996, before going on to qualify for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. Keiser continues to fulfill his passion of running by competing in ultra marathons—races of 100 plus miles of running.

The Coon Rapids, Minn., native is a pretty busy guy, running his two run/walk specialty shoe stores (River Valley Running) in Mankato and Shakopee, competing in ultra marathons, and raising a family of five. In his free time, he enjoys training for ultra marathons, and he insists that training for an ultra marathon isn’t that much different than training for a marathon. Although he doesn’t have much discretionary time, he completes several hard running workouts during the week with a long run during the weekend. “I try to have one run last between 20-35 miles, and put in quality work and average running 50-80 miles a week,” says Keiser.

“I first became interested in ultra marathons when I was in my mid-30’s, which is considered no man’s land in competitive racing because you are not old enough to be considered a master runner,” said Keiser. “I was in a rut and I was willing to try something new.” Because he finally reached the age bracket, Keiser is now considered a master runner and he enjoys trying to beat as many young people as he can.

Keiser still enjoys competing both on and off the running trail. He was fortunate enough to be in the specialty running and walking shoe industry for over 15 years. He was an employee for New Balance for ten years and worked full time after graduating college while remaining to compete full time in marathons. His experience within the industry inspired him to open up his own store after being able to see the business firsthand.

The experience and knowledge he gained during his time in the industry was crucial. “The experience was the most important thing,” said Keiser. “I was able to talk to the right people and learned which framework of knowledge was necessary to be successful.” But it ultimately came down to timing and location to open his first store in Mankato.

Opening a store in Mankato has a special place in Keiser’s heart. His relations to the city of Mankato inspired him to open his specialty walking and running shoe store there. Once he saw the success of the store in Mankato he was inspired to open a second store in Shakopee.

The aspect of the running industry that interests Keiser the most is the opportunity to compete, both as a runner and business owner. He has the competitive drive to put his body to the test, yet it is not all about winning. “The ultra marathon community is a close knit group and I enjoy being a part of it,” says Keiser. “You need to have a passion for running, and you have to find your reason in order to continue to compete.”
                           - contributed by Minnesota State Athletic Communications intern Kaitlyn Kanne