2014 Training Camp Tour - Bethel

Last summer, I set out to visit as many MIAC football preseason camps as I could in two days. It was certainly a success, as I visited five teams - Augsburg, Bethel, Hamline, Saint John's and St. Thomas - in less than 48 hours, and the result was some great video footage and some serious insights into the preparation our teams were putting in as they prepared for the upcoming season.

In fact, it was so valuable, this year I decided to try and up the ante and visit all nine MIAC football teams between their first practice and their first game, with a blog and a video from each of the nine visits. The videos will include some interviews and highlights, and the blog will include "9-for-9" ... nine observations from each of the nine training camps.

The 2014 MIAC Football Fall Camp Tour started Friday, and I started in style with a visit to the defending champs, Bethel University. I'm still ironing out the rest of the schedule, but tomorrow (Tuesday, Aug. 26) I'll be heading to Saint John's and Concordia, I'll be at St. Thomas Wednesday (Aug. 27) and will be out on the road as well on Friday and Saturday.

Since the Royals are the only MIAC team with a Week 1 bye (they don't play until Sept. 13 against Wartburg), they were in their first full day of practice when I stopped by their morning session and talked to Head Coach Steve Johnson and Senior QB Erik Peterson. Without further adieu, here's my "9-for-9" with the defending champs and a video.

2014 MIAC TRAINING CAMP TOUR - BETHEL UNIVERSITY

No. 1 - New territory for defending champs
Bethel has clearly been one of the MIAC's best teams since I arrived here in 2010, with numerous second-place finishes and some NCAA Playoff success. However, they had finished second behind St. Thomas each of previous three seasons before breaking through with a MIAC title in 2013. Both Peterson and Johnson told me it was a little different to be the defending champion rather than the challenger, but it seems they're adjusting well to the new role. It always helps to have the MIAC MVP back under center and several other key pieces in place to keep the team grounded and looking ahead, when the temptation to look back at an amazing 2013 season certainly has to be there.

No. 2 - M-V-P, M-V-P
As Coach Johnson said to me (and it's in the video), it's always good to have the MVP back, especially when the MVP is under center. Peterson showed his potential as a sophomore starter, then put it all together last year to the tune of 3,034 yards, 24 touchdowns, just seven INTs and a 70.2 completion percentage. However, some of Peterson's favorite targets have moved on, so seeing how the senior and reigning MVP fares in his senior season will be a serious storyline to watch. In fact ...

No. 3 - Altering the offense ... again
Anyone familiar with Bethel football expects great defense and a power running game, not necessarily a 3,000-yard passer. However, the 2013 Royals were blessed with tremendous weapons at receiver, including Mitch Hallstrom, who was invited to Vikings Rookie Camp. This year's receiving corps is talented, but young and unproven. However, Peterson will benefit from All-MIAC RB Brandon Marquardt (1,146 rushing yards, 17 TDs) and his game-breaking speed among a stable of talented running backs. Don't be surprised if - even with the MVP back under center - Bethel shifts its playcalling back towards the run, with the backs also involved in the passing attack. Peterson's passing stats may take a slight hit this season, but the offense may be just as balanced and potent as it was a year ago.

No. 4 - The face of the defense
Bethel's offense isn't the only unit that could evolve. The face of the Bethel defense for the past four years - All-American LB Seth Mathis - has graduated and the focus may shift from the linebacking corps to the defensive backs. The Royals still anticipate having a very stout defense, but it's possible their star power will reside in the secondary. DBs Josh Treimer and Matt Mehlhorn are both solid, and showcase big-play ability, and should help against both the run and the pass. Expect an athletic, exciting secondary driving the defense this season.

No. 5 - Next Mathis up
Seth Mathis graduated, along with his All-American and All-MIAC honors, but there will still be a Mathis patrolling the field for the Royal defense in 2014. Landon Mathis racked up 99 total tackles a year ago, and was 10th in the MIAC with 7.6 tackles per game in 2013. The younger brother also had two sacks, 4.5 TFL, two forced fumbles and two INTs a year ago. He could improve on those numbers - and on his impact - now while filling some of the void left by his brother's graduation.

No. 6 - Replacements on the line
Another area affected by graduation was the Royals' always-stout offensive line. A pair of All-MIAC First Team linemen - Jeff Schmidt and Bubba Friedlund - have both graduated. Senior Joshua Perkins - a Second Team pick a year ago - will anchor a unit that will have to replace a few key spots. How the new pieces fit in and get up to speed will be a big factor in whether or not Bethel averages 40 points per game again in 2014.

No. 7 - Putting the puzzle together
Coach Johnson told me after practice Friday that Bethel has some exciting new pieces in place, but part of the challenge of fall camp is figuring out how the talent fits in, and how the new players pick up the scheme and maximize their abilities. With all the graduations - especially at WR a year ago - there will be opportunities for new faces to make plays in 2014, so it will be interesting to see how the newcomers mesh with Peterson and Marquardt and the other returning stars. If Peterson completes 70 percent of his passes again, chances are a few new Royals will have burst onto the scene.

No. 8 - Big game ability
Bethel won the MIAC title a year ago thanks to a knack for prevailing in close games. The Royals staved off upset-minded Augsburg, 31-28, and stopped St. Thomas short of the goal line on the final play of the game to score a 28-21 win over the Tommies. Bethel also beat Wartburg twice - 30-17 in the opener, and 34-27 in the second round of the Playoffs. The Royals open their season against Wartburg on Sept. 13, and face Concordia, St. Thomas and Saint John's during a six-week stretch in the middle of the season. If they're to run the table in the regular season again, they'll likely need to prevail in close games again in 2014.

No. 9 - Lessons in Leadership
I heard Coach Johnson talk about something that I've also heard another Minnesota college football coach - Minnesota's Jerry Kill - talk about throughout fall camp. Both have said that when the players become so experienced and ingrained in what the team is doing that they can start to police themselves, and motivate each other and hold each other accountable, that's when teams can really take off. While Kill has mentioned it in the context of the Gophers starting to do it this year, it's clear Bethel has already had that culture in place. It's a big reason the team reached the heights it did a year ago, and why they feel like 2014 could be just as prosperous. It should be another great season - and possibly even another season filled with big wins and a championship - in Arden Hills in 2014.

D3 Week: Macalester's Anna Munson shares D3 experience

The MIAC is celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week, which runs April 7-13. The MIAC Media Blog is featuring a series of  posts throughout the week from MIAC staff and student-athletes as part of the celebration. Today, we're extremely pleased to welcome Macalester softball student-athlete Anna Munson as a guest blogger. Anna is a junior Psychology major from La Crosse, Wis., and she shares her outstanding perception of what it means to be a Division III student-athlete.

What does it mean to be a Division III student-athlete?

By Anna Munson, Macalester softball student-athlete

In recent weeks, Northwestern’s football team's attempt to unionize and other events have spurred many conversations and debates at Macalester about athletic privilege.  Most of the conversations start from non-athlete students who feel that student-athletes on campus have many perks including being allowed to skip class, have locker rooms, apparel and generally more privileges among staff and facilities.  In the back-and-forth debate between students about the life of an athlete at Macalester, an important question is ignored: "What does it actually mean to be Division III student-athlete?" 

As the phrase “student-athlete” suggests, being an athlete at Macalester and most (if not all) D-III schools means developing as a student first and an athlete second. It means that we take all the same classes with the same expectations and registration times as other students on campus. It means that we worked hard in high school to get into college and continue to work hard to ensure success later in life. We do not receive scholarships, we do not get personal tutors, we do not get assigned different homework or tests, and we certainly do not “get” to skip class because - as any student-athlete knows - missing class is simply more work later on. This is different than Division I and some Division II programs, and is often forgotten in the midst of media and stereotypes of athletes all over the country.

So, why be a D-III student-athlete?  What is it all about? I cannot speak for other students, but being a student-athlete at Macalester means that I get to play my favorite sport while receiving a phenomenal education.  It means that I get to spend a lot of time with people with similar interests just like the musicians, actors, government leaders, researchers, dancers, environmentalists, etc. do.  The best part? One community does not define me because I also get to be a researcher and organization leader on campus. I also get to plan school events and have internships around the Twin Cities. I get to be "Anna" first, and "Anna the softball player" second.

For me, being a D-III student-athlete means I’m given the opportunity to make life-long friends, stay in shape, be a part of a community and have fun playing competitive softball. It means that my teammates and I play softball because it is something we want to do, and love to do, not because we have to do it.  It means that I am willing to stay up a little later to finish homework, willing to be sore 50 percent of the time and willing to dedicate myself to a team.  Satisfaction comes from team solidarity (three claps, ladies?!) and accomplishing things as a player and a team that we have worked so hard for. It comes from making great friends and having a support system as I prepare for life after college.  These are the ultimate rewards, and the privileges that I have and value as a D-III student-athlete. We pay for our apparel, pay for our education and coordinate the locker rooms, gym space and weight room with the campus. These are not our privileges like in D-I and, even if they were, they are not the ones I would appreciate the most.

So to all D-III athletes out there: celebrate this week! It is your week to celebrate your team, your hard work and especially your successes outside of athletics. We only get to be college athletes once! Make the most of every moment.

MIAC Celebrates Division III Week
In addition to the MIAC blog series throughout the week, the conference and its members will celebrate 2014 NCAA Division III Week in a number of ways. To track all the action throughout the week, visit the MIAC's Division III Week Home Page.

The MIAC Media Podcast joined in the D-III Week celebration, as host Mike Gallagher delivered a very special episode on Tuesday. MIAC Assistant Director Megan Gaard joined the show to talk D-III Week in the MIAC, and Carleton Assistant Men's Basketball Coach Ryan Kershaw was also interviewed. Please give it a listen on the Podcast page or on iTunes! The podcast joins the MIAC Media blog series and videos on the MIAC YouTube channel, which are all linked or embedded on the MIAC's Division III Week home page!

Happy Division III Week, MIAC friends, and thanks to Anna for sharing her first-hand experience on what it means to be a Division III student-athlete. Her well-composed words are a perfect example of why Division III student-athletes deserve a week to be celebrated!

D3 Week: Matt's D3 Experience

The MIAC is celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week, which runs April 7-13. The MIAC Media Blog is featuring a series of  posts throughout the week from MIAC staff and student-athletes as part of the celebration. Today, MIAC Assistant Executive Director Matt Higgins shares his path to finding a home in Division III.

Finding a home in Division III

By Matt Higgins

Unlike the other two members of the MIAC staff, I'm not a former Division III student-athlete. I took a different path to get to my current position as the MIAC's Assistant Executive Director. I've wound my way through a Division I school, working in the media and a sports information stop in the NAIA. However, I really feel like I've found at home in the MIAC, and have come to cherish Division III and its values more than I could have ever imagined.

After playing three - and sometimes four - sports from childhood through my senior year of high school, I decided I didn't want to pursue athletics in college and passed on a few Division III football opportunities. However, I still wanted to be connected to sports so I attended the University of Minnesota and completed a degree in Journalism. From there, I spent two years as the sports writer and sports editor at the Stillwater (Minn.) Courier and Lake Elmo Leader weekly newspapers before moving on to a sports editor role at a bigger daily paper in Mitchell, S.D. (Yes, the home of the World's Only Corn Palace.)

During my stint at the Mitchell Daily Republic, my main beat was covering Dakota Wesleyan University (NAIA), which gave me my first real glimpse into small-college athletics, and I was hooked. A year later, I took my career path and joined the Dakota Wesleyan athletic department as the sports information director. Fortunately, that new direction led me to my current position. Now in my fourth year with the MIAC, I'm finally at the stage of my career where I'm not thinking, "What's next?" and am only focused on providing a great experience for the MIAC's student-athletes.

When I made the move into sports information, I always envisioned my "dream job" to be back at my Division I alma mater, or with the Minnesota Twins. However, I've really grown to love what the MIAC and Division III stand for. Though I'm not a former Division III student-athlete, the values and the mission have been a perfect fit for me, both personally and professionally.

In the wake of the recently completed Division I Men's Basketball Final Four, there have been many who openly scoff at the NCAA's notion of the "student-athlete." But those criticisms only focus on Division I, where schools are perceived to use high-profile athletes to make money, and the athletes are perceived to use the schools only as a launch pad toward a professional career.  For those of us who are ingrained in Division III, those generalizations only apply to a fraction of a percent of the NCAA's governance, and aren't fair to the true student-athletes we support and represent.

All the commercials and public service announcements produced by the NCAA in recent years may seem like a punch line when related to the few high-profile, revenue-generating sports like Division I football and men's basketball, but they perfectly apply to Division III. Almost all of our student-athletes do, "go pro in something other than sports," and attribute any success they encounter to their combined college academic and athletic experience. The skills they learn through college athletic participation- teamwork, dedication, time management, motivation, discipline, leadership - end up being far more valuable than any victories, or even championships.

Thanks to my position in the MIAC, I am able to play a role in the college athletic experience for the student-athletes at our 13 institutions. I get to promote their accomplishments, highlight their achievements, and work to ensure their competitions are fair and safe. All the while, I know their experience of playing sports in the MIAC is enhancing their preparation to be great people and professionals later in life. That's incredibly gratifying.

Though I wasn't born and bred in Division III, I've found a home, and there's no place I'd rather be.

MIAC Celebrates Division III Week
In addition to the MIAC blog series throughout the week, the conference and its members will celebrate 2014 NCAA Division III Week in a number of ways. To track all the action throughout the week, visit the MIAC's Division III Week Home Page.

We posted another new video to our YouTube channel today as part of our Division III Week celebration. This one (embedded below) salutes our 2013-14 fall and winter championship teams. There are more blogs, videos and stories to come, so stay tuned to the blog and the Division III Week home page!

If you are a MIAC student-athlete and would like to contribute a guest blog, or you'd like to let us know about a Division III Week celebration or event on your campus, email MIAC Assistant Director Megan Gaard at: mgaard@miacathletics.com.

Happy Division III Week, MIAC friends! 

D3 Week: Dan's D3 Experience

The MIAC is celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week, which runs April 7-13. The MIAC Media Blog will feature a series of blog posts throughout the week from MIAC staff and student-athletes as part of the celebration. Today, MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane shares his various Division III experiences.

Former Division III student-athlete and coach, current administrator and biggest fan

By Dan McKane

During the 2014 Division III Week celebration, I pause to reflect on what Division III participation means to me.  I am not only a former Division III student-athlete and coach, and a current administrator, but I am also a huge fan of everything that Division III stands for.  I have a passion for the opportunities that Division III allows for student-athletes when it comes to academic focus, balance of life and involvement throughout the entire campus, in addition to the opportunity to play competitively in college.

I competed on the men's soccer team at Gustavus Adolphus College in the early 1990s. My involvement in collegiate athletics left such a huge impression on my life. I still remember every pre-season training camp, individuals coming together as a team with excitement, commitment, hard work, and perseverance. I loved the challenges that soccer provided me, but I also had to work hard to be successful in the classroom. My coach, Larry Zelenz, stressed excellence not only on the soccer field, but also in the classroom.

As I look back, I remember the successes and my teammates. The guys worked hard towards common goals that we established. We had fun, but always strived to be the best in each practice and contest. The hard work paid off, most notably winning a MIAC Championship.

I transitioned into coaching upon graduation to remain close to the sport I loved. It offered me an opportunity to study the game from a coaching and business perspective. I served as the men's assistant coach for three years at Gustavus. My favorite part of coaching was getting to know my student-athletes. These guys left a lasting impression on me. They bought into the system, worked tirelessly to achieve our goals, and also were committed to their academics and graduating in four years.  I still remain in touch with several of the student-athletes. They now have great careers and families, and we will always have our fond memories of Division III participation.

On my wall in my office is a fantastic reminder of the value of participating in Division III athletics. As we celebrate Division III Week, I feel it is important to reflect on this poem titled, "Why We Compete in Division III Athletics."

Why we compete in Division III Athletics
By Sean Sornsin, former Cornell College (Iowa) baseball student-athlete
First appeared in The Cornellian on December 3, 1999.

"It's not about getting a scholarship, getting drafted, or making SportsCenter. It's a deep need in us that comes from the heart. We need to practice, to play, to lift, to hustle, to sweat. We do it all for our teammates and for the student in our calculus class that we don't even know.

We don't practice with a future major league first baseman; we practice with a future sports agent. We don't lift weights with a future Olympic wrestler; we lift with a future doctor. We don't run with a future Wimbledon champion; we run with a future CEO.

It's a bigger part of us than our friends and family can understand. Sometimes we play for 2,000 fans; sometimes 25. But we still play hard. You cheer for us because you know us. You know more than just our names. Like all of you, we are students first. We don't sign autographs. But we do sign graduate school applications, MCAT exams, and student body petitions.

When we miss a kick or strike out, we don't let down an entire state. We only let down our teammates, coaches, and fans. But the hurt is still the same. We train hard, lift, throw, run, kick, tackle, shoot, dribble, and lift some more, and in the morning we go to class. And in that class we are nothing more than students.

It's about pride--in ourselves, in our school. It's about our love and passion for the game. And when it's over, when we walk off that court or field for the last time, our hearts crumble. Those tears are real. But deep down inside, we are very proud of ourselves. We will forever be what few can claim... college athletes."

MIAC Celebrates Division III Week
In addition to the MIAC blog series throughout the week, the conference and its members are celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week in a number of ways. To track all the action throughout the week, visit the MIAC's Division III Week Home Page.

If you are a MIAC student-athlete and would like to contribute a guest blog, or you'd like to let us know about a Division III Week celebration or event on your campus, email MIAC Assistant Director Megan Gaard at: mgaard@miacathletics.com.

Happy Division III Week, MIAC friends! Check the blog and the page throughout the week as we continue to celebrate our membership in Division III!

D3 Week: Megan's D3 Experience

The MIAC is celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week, which runs April 7-13. The MIAC Media Blog will feature a series of blog posts throughout the week from MIAC staff and student-athletes as part of the celebration. MIAC Assistant Director Megan Gaard kicks it off by sharing her Division III experience.

By Megan Gaard

Being a well-rounded person is something I strive to achieve on a daily basis. I think that is why I had such a positive experience as a Division III student-athlete at Gustavus. I was fully able to capture the essence of Division III by competing at a high level in athletics, participating in a variety of clubs on campus, creating meaningful relationships with my peers and professors and receiving a highly accredited bachelor's degree. The MIAC has found the perfect balance between quality academics and high-achieving athletics that prepares student-athletes for success in college and far beyond.

Because my experience as a Division III student-athlete had such a positive impact on my life, it makes perfect sense to me why I chose a career in Division III athletics within the MIAC. Working in the conference office, I am fortunate to play a small role in the MIAC student-athlete experience and that is invaluable to me. As a proud alum of the conference, I now have the unique opportunity to serve its membership in an administrative role. 

In this position, I have come to find the MIAC is made up of quality people that value the Division III philosophy. Although the MIAC contains 13 different institutions, the student-athlete experience remains at the core of all their values. I am fortunate to work with student-athletes, fans, coaches and administrators that make the MIAC one of the best Division III conferences in the nation.

Although Gustavus is my alma mater, I now root for all MIAC student-athletes in hopes that their collegiate experiences are as positive and well-rounded as mine.

MIAC Celebrates Division III Week
In addition to the MIAC blog series throughout the week, the conference and its members will celebrate 2014 NCAA Division III Week in a number of ways. To track all the action throughout the week, visit the MIAC's Division III Week Home Page.

The MIAC also put up a new video on YouTube today to kick off Division III Week (embedded below). Check the blog and home page throughout the week for additional content to celebrate a great week throughout the Division. If you are a MIAC student-athlete and would like to contribute a guest blog, or you'd like to let us know about a Division III Week celebration or event on your campus, email me at: mgaard@miacathletics.com.

Happy Division III Week, MIAC friends!