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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

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