Getting on GameDay

Hello MIAC friends. It's been an extremely busy fall, and unfortunately that means fewer MIAC Media Blog posts than I'd like. Hopefully you've all been tuning into the outstanding MIAC Weekly Podcast with Mike Gallagher in the meantime to get your MIAC Media fix and checking out all the content on our web site.

The blog returns today with a feature I've been sitting on for awhile. The 2013 MIAC football season - which is still going thanks to Bethel's postseason victories - was both successful and extremely fun. It's been well-documented that our teams went 16-2 against nonconference competition (18-2 if you add in Bethel's Playoff wins) this season. We had four teams ranked in the Top 25 for much of the year, and at one point had five teams all ranked in the top 30. In a conference known for its outstanding football, the 2013 may have been one of the best.

However, one of the biggest highlights of the season occurred not on the field - but on national TV. ESPN College GameDay - the network's big Saturday pregame show with a cult-like following - paid a visit just outside MIAC country with a trip to Fargo, N.D. When that was announced, Concordia Sports Information Director Jim Cella started brainstorming how he could possibly get the Cobbers - and their big rivalry game with St. Olaf which was on that Saturday's schedule - featured on a show that rarely - if ever - takes a break from its NCAA FBS coverage to mention Division III.

Cella worked some magic via social media, connecting with the show's host, Chris Fowler, and when Saturday arrived, there was "The Troll" trophy that is awarded to the Concordia-St. Olaf winner on the set, as well as a small replica of the Cobber mascot. Lee Corso - famous for his predictions on the show - even picked the Cobbers to win, which they did later that afternoon.

That level of exposure is almost never achieved by schools or conferences our size, so it was fascinating to see it all unfold on Twitter and then on my TV on Saturday morning. Following it all, I caught up with Cella to find out all the details of how he pulled off such a Cobber coup. It's a fascinating tale of perseverance and the always-growing power of social media. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how "The Troll" and "Kernel Cobb" ended up on ESPN's flagship show.

MIAC MEDIA: Take me through the initial idea and the communications. When did you get the idea to reach out to GameDay, and did you expect them to respond?

Jim Cella
CELLA: "I just wanted to get something in the Fargo Forum that week [about the Concordia-St. Olaf game], because I knew it would be all about NDSU. We're playing St. Olaf for our conference opener, so I just wanted to get something in the paper. Eric [Peterson, Forum sports reporter] had talked about doing a feature on one of the players. I knew it would get buried, so I talked to him about The Troll. I had the background from the alumni, the guy who actually purchased it. I asked him, 'What about this? It's kinda off the wall and has never been done before.' He thought it was pretty cool, and then I could tell it was something I could run with. That's when it started to gain speed.

I knew people at the TV station up here had been in contact with the producers at GameDay. I asked if I could get the producer's email address. We're always on the ESPN list of mascots. I pitched the idea to their producer that WDAY had been in contact with. I pitched the mascot thing and The Troll trophy. She emailed me back, which I was even surprised to get. She said they'd talk it over with the production staff. That was Monday. I hadn't heard something Tuesday, so I deduced to throw it out at [Chris] Fowler and I Tweeted out the picture of The Troll. I didn't expect to hear anything but then 15 minutes later he Tweeted back at me and said, 'What the hell is that?' I first thought, 'Who is playing a joke on me? Chris Fowler doesn't Tweet me back.' So then I wrote him back and he said if we could verify it, they'd put it on the show.  

The Troll on national TV.
I wrote the producer back, and told them Fowler as interested. She said they'd talk about it in a production meeting and get back to me. I hadn't heard back from them on Thursday so I decided to go back at Fowler with one last attempt. I tweeted out my Hail Mary pass to try and get The Troll on GameDay. I told him it's been verified and that was the day it was in the Forum. Front page. Huge story. I sent him the link to the story. I hashtagged it '#bestdougflutiepass.' I wanted to put in the football connection, and that's when he Tweeted me, 'Yep, bring it to Fargo.'

When he tweeted me back on Tuesday, it blew up around here. The media picked it up and ran with it. I had Bison fans tweeting me telling me not to bring it and [GameDay] was their spotlight.

Fowler direct messaged me and said he'd talk it over with the producer and I should direct message him back. So I wrote him Friday and got nothing back. So then I took a picture of a bunch of Cobber gear, and I Tweeted at him: 'Cobber swag for you and your crew if you get The Troll on GameDay.' He direct messaged me back and said, 'How early can you be there?' I ended up going at about 5:30 a.m."

MIAC MEDIA: What was it like when Chris Fowler started to respond, and the media started to take notice?

CELLA: "It was all the TV. Up here all the TV and their sports anchors are all on Twitter and they use it, which is great for me. They got a hold of it. One of the biggest ones, we have a radio show host Mike McFeely. He's got a huge fan following so he picked it up and asked Bison fans what they thought of the troll getting on Gameday? He was trying to stir things up and he got people going. He wrote to me then, and I wrote him back and he put that on his blog. Eric Peterson has a blog too and it was on there. They do a thing on the web site for things that don't appear in the paper. Any time there was any response or communication, [Peterson] would put it there on the site. On campus I was getting calls and people were wondering if we'd really get on GameDay. That was great, but it spiraled into this huge thing and I was trying to get my normal work done. It was all anyone wanted to talk about. It was great and it was a lot of fun.

For me, I just wanted to make The Troll a bigger deal. Up until three or four years ago no one really cared about it. It was just a funny little thing we hand out. We got rid of our trophy game with Moorhead State, and I love those rivalry trophy games in college football. so I wanted to pump this up and get it to take off."

MIAC MEDIA: You brought The Troll to the Game Day set and were there for the taping. What was that like?

CELLA: "I went there at 5:30 a.m. I got in touch with the production guys, and they brought the producer out. At that time, there were already fans there camped out. I had to go through these fans, and he takes me into this room. I go into this hallway and we empty into this room and there's Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso and Jesse Palmer. Folwer looks up and goes 'Hey, you're the guy with The Troll!' I take it out, they're all laughing about it. He asked if I minded if he made fun of it.

Even Niblet the Cobber got some GameDay love.
Fowler told me he wasn't going to show it until late, and asked if I was willing to hang out until then. Let me see, go to my regular job, or hang out with you guys? I think I'll stay here. He told me to hang out in this room, there was food, anything you want to drink, and I just got to hang out. So it's literally me and those guys in the room and they were just talking football. That was the best part of the day for me. They were giving each other a hard time and doing impressions. It was hilarious. I was constantly pinching myself. 

Then Fowler comes over to me before he's going to get ready for the show. He says thanks. I brought a whole duffel bag of the Cobber gear and I show them the 'Fear the Ear' stuff and they thought it was a cool slogan. I said, 'You guys take as much as you can.' That's where Niblet was [the small plush version of mascot Kernel Cobb]. I gave them bobbleheads and then fowler found Niblet and he said, 'That's kinda cool.' So I said if he could get that on the show, that'd be awesome. He said he didn't think he could. I gave him a Concordia soccer scarf because I know he's a big soccer fan, and we spent like 10-15 minutes talking about soccer.  

They have a pre-show with Jesse Palmer and Samantha Ponder, and the other guys left. Then later it's just me and Jesse Palmer and Samantha Ponder sitting in the room. The producer comes back, gives me a pass, and now I can go right up on the set and watch the show. I just walked around and there are times I'd be standing right behind the cameras. I'd be 10 feet away while they're talking about football on TV. I was laughing to myself, saying, "This is not happening."

Then, about 10 a.m., I was talking to some NDSU people I knew and I see them bringing The Troll up, and I rushed to get up there and I almost got hit in the head by the big camera that shoots the crowd. I got some pictures of it. I was just shaking my head that it was on TV. Then fowler pulls out the Cobber and asks Corso if he's picking the Cobbers. 'Yeah,' he said, 'I'm picking the Cobbers!'

Then they're taking a break. I give my phone to the makeup lady and ask her to take a picture when I go up there to get The Troll. The producer says they do not take pictures on the set during the show. Fowler sees it and says, 'Jim, come on up, let's take it.' So I go up there and they take the picture for me.

Jim Cella secures a rare on-set photo with Chris Fowler and the gang.
I take The Troll off the set and I gotta get back to campus. We have football and soccer that I have to get back for, and every step through the crowd someone wants to take a picture with The Troll. Then I get to the area where they have local media, and they start interviewing me. I finally got out of there and got to the Cobber game around 11:45."

MIAC MEDIA: What has the reaction been like since The Troll made its national TV appearance? Talk about the feedback you've received.

CELLA: "The football team and everyone around here was just jacked. To see them mentioned on GameDay was just surreal. The other surreal moment for me, it's family weekend and we have a big  tailgate set up. Literally every place I went it was all people were talking about. I was just walking by laughing and thinking, 'If they only knew the whole process.' Just hearing the buzz about it was great. The team and the players, for them to see it all happen, it was great. The alumni and stuff we've gotten out of it has been incredible. [Cobber Head Football Coach] Terry [Horan] said the people who have contacted him about it have been great as well."

MIAC MEDIA: One of the coolest aspects of this, to me, is it really showcases the power of social media. Ten years ago, there would have been so many hoops to jump through and people to communicate with. Today, you can try to correspond directly with someone like Chris Fowler, and as you proved last week, get results. What has this done for your perception of using social media to promote Concordia athletics?

CELLA: "For me, having done it and being the first [Division III] school to do it helps to understand the power. It reconfirms the power to reach such a broad group of people in a way you can't through the normal media. I can get things out there, instantly. I can reach people in a way that a small college normally can't. A small college can get their message out, where we couldn't before.

And now, Fowler's actually following @CobberSID. He only follows like, 150 people, and I'm one of them. Now every time I put something out there, he'll see it. After the game, I Tweeted the final score and I Tweeted it at him. He wrote back that it was great to hear Concordia's keeping The Troll. I had fun with it on the set. Terry and our alums pushed that out to their followers. It's really incredible."

MIAC MEDIA: Any future plans to push the Cobbers into the national spotlight on social media?

Troll talk on ESPN's flagship college football show.
CELLA: "There are always plans. Last year, I got one - one of our guys did a basketball trick shot - but it got out there. I started it on Twitter and social media, too. I understand what I can do with it. I'll keep trying to push the envelope. Now that we've had the one success, hopefully the national people will be more accepting of us. They'll think, 'Hey, aren't you the guys who appeared on GameDay?' I've got my foot in the door. Going forward, it's gotta be something special, but I've got my foot in the door so we've got a chance.

The biggest thing that's come from this, the number of followers we have on Twitter has grown immensely. I've gotten more local media people - the strong media people - whether it be the magazines in Fargo-Moorhead, and also some national-level people. To me, you talk about things going forward, now that we're on their radar and these people are following us, maybe we won't get another story like this out there, but the recognition we'll get going forward is incredible. To me, that's huge - the followers we added and some of the people in the media.

I'm constantly shaking my head, saying, 'All this because of a stupid Troll.'"

MIAC MEDIA: Well, a stupid Troll, and the ever-growing power of social media. Well done, Mr. Cella. It was certainly a thrill to see a MIAC mention on a show with the relevance and reach of ESPN GameDay, and great to learn the details and dedication it took to pull it off.

Did you know?

A year ago, the MIAC switched to a new format for the season previews. Instead of schools submitting write-ups, the conference's sports information directors agreed on a template so each school could equally share the same interesting information about their team heading into the season.

As I compiled the previews for this fall, I particularly enjoyed the "Did you Know?" section for many of the sports and schools. Many of the facts provided were interesting and amusing, and are worthy of highlight in the MIAC Media Blog.

Since football gets a lot of love on the MIAC site and in this space, I thought it would be great to spread the love around to other sports by sharing my favorite "Did you Know?" facts from our other fall sports. There were a lot of great athletically-related facts submitted by the schools, but the ones that caught my eye helped me get to know the student-athletes or coaches a little better, or provided information that I could never get from the standings or statistics.

Without further adieu...

The MIAC Media Blog's favorite fall "Did You Know?" facts

• Concordia senior Ryan Sederquist is also an accomplished musician and is a Music Education major. He has played the trumpet in the Concordia jazz band and is also a board member and newsletter editor for the Bad Medicine Lake Association.
• Gustavus assistant coach Brenden Huber won the men's 10k race at the Ninth Annual Fargo Marathon this past May.  Huber turned in a winning time of 33:41.  Also at the 2013 Fargo Marathon, 2005 Gustavus graduate, Nicole Porath, won the women's marathon with a time of 2:50.49. 
• Macalester Head Coach Matt Haugen is a former MIAC champion.  He won the race as an Ole in 1977.

• Bethel’s top runner for the past two seasons, Mollie Gillberg, will not be with the Royals in 2013 as she is studying with Discipleship Training School (DTS) in Belfast, Ireland from October through February. Gillberg will look to return to the Royals lineup in 2014.
• Concordia junior Becca Asheim grew up singing and performing music with her family.
• Macalester sophomore Sarah Jonathon (Guilford, Conn.) is the great-great granddaughter of former U.S. President (1909-13) and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft.

• Concordia junior Sam Christian had three uncles and his grandfather all play on the United States Olympic hockey team. His uncle Dave played on the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” team.    
• Macalester Head Coach Tomas Adalsteinsson is a former golfer for Iceland's national team and in 2000 placed 25th at the European team championship.  In 2001 he was Icelandic Junior champion and Icelandic Junior Tour champion. 

• Cobber freshman Allison Burns is a second degree black belt.
• Gustavus first-year Mallory Drenttel (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) is the third Drenttel to play for head coach Scott Moe in the last six years.  Mallory follows in the footsteps of sisters Taylor `12 and current captain Jordan `15 in joining the Gustie women's golf team in St. Peter. 
• Saint Benedict Head Coach Daryl Schomer was runner-up at the 2012 State Amateur Tournament, while winning the Mixed Amateur Team Championship.

• At one point in the 2013 season Bethel University’s men’s soccer team will travel 1,157 miles for four games within a seven-day time period. The Royals travel to Saint John’s, Wartburg, Concordia, and Saint Mary’s in the middle of October.
• Concordia freshman Ben Deetz was born in Harrisburg, Pa. but was raised in Harrisburg, S.D.  
• St. Olaf's David Rosenthal played for the Team USA men's open soccer team in the 2013 Maccabiah Games, an event that featured over 9,000 athletes from 77 countries in 38 sporting events, known as the "Jewish Olympics." The US team won the gold medal. 

• Carleton has 13 states represented on their roster—Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin—as well as a player from Canada.
• The Gustavus women's soccer team will host its second annual "Kicking For The Cause" match on Saturday, September 28th against Saint Benedict.  The match will serve as a fundraising event for Yuwa, a nationally-based non-profit organization reaching out to girls in rural India, specifically Jharkland. Through team sports, Yuwa provides a platform for young women to gain confidence and make a change in their world. 
• Macalester coach Michele Cornish helped lead George Mason (Va.) to the 1985 Division I national crown and was head coach at Division I North Carolina-Asheville from 1994 to 2010. 

• Augsburg head coach Jane Becker will be inducted into the University of St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame in a ceremony on Sept. 19. A 2004 St. Thomas alumnae, Becker (nee Gibbs) was a two-time All-America and four-time All-MIAC honoree as a setter for the Tommies, as part of teams that won MIAC titles in 2002 and 2003. She was named MIAC Volleyball Player of the Year in 2003.
• Concordia senior Angie Waller is very proficient at walking on her hands. She can walk on her hands for a very long time. 
• Hamline first year head coach Becky Egan has some familiar faces to work with. Assistant coach Karlee Lursen and soph transfer Micki Green played for her at Eastview High School.
• Head Coach Annie Doman played Division I competition as a collegian.  Doman was a standout setter at Austin Peay State (Tenn.) and finished with just under 5,000 assists.

Johnnie football leftovers

Last week's MIAC Friday Feature took an in-depth look at Saint John's University football as it enters the post-John Gagliardi era. As a former journalist, I really enjoyed this assignment because it let me get back to my reporter roots. I spent a day at Saint John's this summer speaking to players, coaches and Athletic Director Tom Stock. I attended the Johnnies' practice that day, and collected photos and videos as well.

The feature had a lot of substance, thanks to all the great stuff I got from everyone I spoke with at SJU. It's a pretty detailed report about the dawning of a new era at SJU. Amazingly, I had a lot of material that I didn't use so the blog was a perfect spot to share some unused items of particular interest.

Because of the nature of the story, one aspect I didn't delve into was the much-publicized coaching search to hire Gagliardi's replacement. New Head Coach Gary Fasching and new Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Kurt Ramler were two of the finalists along with Saint John's alum Mike Grant, who has a built a prep dynasty at Eden Prairie High School, in addition to his famous football lineage as the son of legendary Minnesota Vikings former coach Bud Grant.

Mike Grant decided to stay at EPHS, and Gary Fasching and
Kurt Ramler (center) took over the Johnnie football program.

Grant had a lot of supporters throughout his interview process, and when he withdrew from consideration, there were a lot of different things written and said as to why. During my interview with Stock, he gave me some great information regarding the search process and specifically, how things played out with Grant. I was fascinated by some of the details and grateful for Stock 's transparency. I hadn't seen some of this information in other reports, and I immediately knew that many MIAC football and Johnnie fans would share my interest in the AD's assessment of the process.

"It's one of those things with an open search," Stock said, "a lot of people were happy with an open search, some were unhappy. Many were very happy with Gary because he's recruited our student-athletes here the last 18 years and they're really happy with him. But I think when your football team is 5-5 and the bar is where it is at Saint John's in football, others have felt like it was time to go outside the organization and have a change.

"It came down - and it's no secret - Mike Grant was a finalist; Gary was a finalist. Finally, Mike Grant withdrew his name and it had nothing to do with Saint John's not honoring his wishes. His demands were very reasonable. He just loves where he's at and what he's built. He's built a wonderful program at Eden Prairie and I think in his career he's looking to spend more time at the cabin, more time with his father, more time with his family. He's looking to unwind rather than wind it up, which is what it would have been. Here he'd have to recruit and start rebuilding our program. By hiring somebody on the inside I think we've really made great strides and made them in a hurry under Gary."

With Grant out of the process, things worked out quite well for Saint John's. Fasching got the head job, and Ramler was also brought into the mix as the Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. Fasching also gave me some great material on the start of his tenure and how crucial it is at Saint John's to connect with the very large, incredibly passionate community of alums, fans and former players.

"I think any time there's a change there are going to be people that have a favorite candidate or stuff like that," Fasching said. "But really once the decision was made, the alumni have been very, very supportive. I couldn't have asked for more. They've reached out to me in a lot of different ways and I couldn't be more grateful for our alumni here. I think it's what makes us unique in all of college football is that we do have a passionate alumni here; it's evidenced by the crowds that we get. They're connected, they're engaged to what's going on here. It's been really good. I've been really pleased with the outpouring I've gotten from the alumni."

Another interesting nugget I didn't work into the feature was regarding Saint John's foreign trip to Canada, which no doubt helped the team acclimate to the coaching change. It also led to the Johnnies hosting a spring football game, which was a thrill for the tradition-rich program, and likely an important step in moving on after bidding adieu to college football's all-time wins leader.

"It was one of the things - when I got hired - we talked about it right away," Fasching said of the trip to Canada. "And then with Kurt coming on and implementing his stuff on offense, I brought it up to the staff. I said, 'What do you guys think about making an international trip to Canada?' We were all in favor of it. It made a huge difference - having those 10 extra practices. We didn't use all 10; I think we used eight of them. Having those practices really helped our kids out a lot. Just from a terminology standpoint and knowing where to line up and things like that. It was very beneficial, it was one of the better things we've done so far."

Finally, the reverence everyone in Collegeville holds for Gagliardi is still palpable. It certainly isn't surprising after six decades of excellence, but it certainly was made clear in each of my interviews.

"I want to start by saying I want to thank John Gagliardi to Saint John's University," Stock began our conversation. "He leaves as the winningest coach in college football. He coached 64 years as a head coach, 60 of those right here at our great University. He won 75 percent of his games over that time span. he cannot be replaced. Thank you John. Nobody's gonna come in here and win 75 percent of them for the next 60 years, and if we think that's going to happen, Gary's going to be something like 115 or 120 years old. It's not going to happen. John's an aberration and we're so grateful for him."

"I think No. 1 - people will come into a program after they're named the head coach and they'll decide that they're going to change everything and do it their way," said Fasching. "That's certainly not something that we needed to do here. I think the situation I came into was a lot different than other people. A lot of people come into a place and it's probably because the coach got fired and the program's in shambles, that certainly is not the case here."

Perhaps Johnnie senior Kevin Battis said it best. "[Gagliardi is] a great, great figure and he's still definitely - you can feel him around here - and that's great," said the All-MIAC lineman.

He's right ... Gagliardi's presence is still everywhere, and after six decades of stability and success, moving forward is quite a task. That task resulted in a fun story for me to report, and all these leftover tidbits that didn't make the final cut, but couldn't stay on the cutting room floor.

Tweet of the Week
Wednesday was a fun Twitter day in the MIAC. With ESPN College GameDay coming to nearby Fargo, N.D., to broadcast from the North Dakota State campus, Concordia SID Jim Cella (@CobberSID) sent a tweet to host Chris Fowler to let him know that the Cobbers and St. Olaf would play their annual game for "The Troll" in the vicinity of the broadcast Saturday. Fowler responded, and is interested in giving the unusual trophy some air time on Saturday. We followed with a tweet this afternoon to Fowler to offer our support, so I'll have my DVR set Saturday to see what transpires. The power of social media just continues to amaze me, and kudos to Jim for his enterprising nature to get Concordia and the MIAC a few seconds in the national spotlight!

Extra Points
-Congrats to Bethel's J.D. Mehlhorn on his selection tothe Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. J.D. is one of just 22 players selected for the incredible honor in all of college football. It seems like it's become pretty trendy to bash on college athletics, specifically college football, so kudos to J.D. for reminding us about everything that's right with college athletics.

-We've publicized the MIAC's 7-0 and 12-1 start to the 2013 football season, but it's really been an amazing fall thus far for all MIAC team sports. In addition to football's 12-1 collective record, volleyball entered MIAC play a combined 94-50, men's soccer started the conference slate with a 32-19-8 combined record, and women's soccer started its MIAC season a collective 26-22-8. Combined, the MIAC's four team sports are 164-92-16. MIAC teams have won 64 percent of games against nonconference competitions. 33 of the MIAC's 44 football, volleyball and soccer teams are .500 or better in nonconference play. We couldn't be prouder of our teams' accomplishments on the field thus far this fall. Thanks for representing our league in such outstanding fashion.

-How 'bout the St. Thomas women's golf team? The Tommies have three first-place finishes in three tournament appearances, and star Doyle O'Brien (two) and Erin Dingmann (one) have claimed the conference's first three Athlete-of-the-Week awards. Outstanding.

-Will any of our schools have a cooler special event than Saint Mary's getting a visit from the Stanley Cup? Chicago Blackhawks President/CEO John McDonough is an alum of SMU, and he brought the cup to his alma mater to share its glory with the school and Winona. Read more and see photos here. Just awesome. Congrats to John on his immense success, thanks for representing Saint Mary's and the MIAC with such distinction, and thanks especially for giving one of our campuses a day they'll never forget.

-If you have any questions for the blog or the MIACWeekly Podcast, email me! I'd love to make this more interactive. Chances are, I might not be able to answer all questions, but I know people.

-MIAC play started yesterday for volleyball and soccer and continues today with full slates for those sports. Football's MIAC season starts Saturday. This is when it REALLY gets fun! If you're at a game this week or this weekend, email me your pics, or send to the MIAC on Facebook and Twitter. Let's see that school spirit! Good luck to all the athletes this week, and we're excited to see the conference standings start to shake up.

MIAC mini camp tour

So I was watching the Big Ten Network's football preview series, which involves the network's football crew visiting each team's preseason training camp for a day an discussing the team's prospects for the upcoming season, interviews with players and coaches and highlights from that day's practice.

The MIAC doesn't have our own network, but we do have MIAC Media, so I got the idea to try and recreate the same concept, on a smaller scale. Since it was a late-blooming idea, I wasn't able to get around to visit all nine MIAC teams. However, I did cram in five campus visits into one weekend and gathered a ton of video, and some initial impressions of the teams I visited.

I stopped by the first full-pads practice for Augsburg, then headed up to catch a half-squad workout at Saint John's, as its massive freshman class was attending orientation for first-year students. The following day I hit the latter part of a Bethel practice in the morning, a St. Thomas scrimmage against Rochester Technical  and Community College (RCTC) and a spirited late-afternoon practice at Hamline.

The first of the video series debuted on Thursday - along with the MIAC Football Preview and Preseason Coaches' Poll - and the rest of the footage will be used in the MIAC Media video series throughout the season.

All-in-all, it was a gorgeous three days to be outside and I came away with football fever a week or two earlier than usual. I loved the chance to visit our teams and talk with the coaches and players during their preparation. Preseason training camp truly is a time of optimism. For the moment, everyone is tied for first place at 0-0 (except 1-0 SJU), and excitement and expectations are never higher.

Next year, I hope to make this more of a full-blown preseason tour. My lofty aspiration at this time is to visit all nine teams and file both a video and blog from each stop. (Whether or not that will actually happen with our hefty preseason workload will remain to be seen.) However, here is an abbreviated report from my trip around (half of) the conference, with 10 observations from my travels (in no particular order) mixed with some thoughts and questions about the upcoming season. Thanks a ton to the coaches, SIDs and student-athletes that allowed me to look into their preseason preparations, and my apologies to those I missed this time around.

No. 1 - Crank it up
NFL fans have undoubtedly heard about Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll's tendency to pump music - crank the volume to 11 - throughout practice. It's been reported he does this to prepare his teams to perform in deafening situations on the road later in the season, and to help the energy and spirits run high. MIAC teams aren't reaching the Seahawks' decibel level, but many employ the same tactic.

Augsburg rocked a good variety throughout its drills, seven-on-seven work and full-squad scrimmage, highlighted by B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize." The blaring, upbeat country music coming from Bethel's sound system easily guided me to their practice like the pied piper. Speaking of Pipers, Hamline's practice started with Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and some dance-fueled warm-up exercises.

No. 2 - Tommie defense in midseason form
Though it was just a preseason scrimmage, the St. Thomas defense looked to be in midseason form in their scrimmage against RCTC. Second-ranked UST didn't lose much from last year's D-III runner-up squad, but the most significant losses were on that side of the ball in Ayo Idowu (DL) and Chinni Oji (CB). However, the Tommies were their usual fast, aggressive, swarming selves in my look at them. Anytime RCTC tried to find some space - screen passes, a flare to a back, tosses ... the Tommies were there in tandem to shut it down, often behind the line of scrimmage.

On that day - at least the 90 minutes I saw - St. Thomas' offense was solid but perhaps lacked a little explosiveness. A lot of that could be vanilla preseason play calls and winds that affected the vertical passing game, but the Tommies are loaded with returning talent on that side of the ball and are expected to put up big numbers. But on this day, my biggest takeaway was that the defense will survive graduation and continue to thrive.

No. 3 - Gary Fasching is having fun
Saint John's has received a ton of attention for its coaching change - the first in 60 years in Collegeville - so I was excited to get a look at a Johnne practice. My number one takeaway was that new Head Coach Gary Fasching, his assistants and his players are having a ton of fun.

Practice was upbeat and uptempo on the final two-a-day of the season. From calisthenics through drills and eventually scrimmaging, there was a lot of energy and a lot of smiles. I'm guessing the Johnnies had a fun bus ride home after their season-opening win last night over UW-River Falls. The Fasching era got off to an unforgettable start as his team scored 10 points in the final minute for a 17-14 win. However, SJU will need to show continued improvement for the good times to continue in Collegeville as they start conference play with UST, and most of the conference's contenders over the first half of the season.

No. 4 - The message at Bethel
The Royals enter 2013 ranked as high as No. 6 and optimism was high at their Saturday-morning workout. My biggest takeaways were the talk of taking the offense to the air more than usual. Bethel has built its reputation with a strong ground game over the years, but this year's team is blessed with talented junior QB Erik Peterson and a strong class of upperclassmen wideouts, so the Royals could take to the air more in 2013. The defense - led by All-American LB Seth Mathis - should still be the heart of the team, but it will be interesting to see if a more explosive offense changes up tradition at Bethel.

However, the No. 1 thing I took away was the way Head Coach Steve Johnson and his coaches navigate their players through the process that is the season. Johnson assured his players in a post-practice talk that everything they're doing and all the work they're putting in are for very specific reasons, and the tough times on the practice field will build their mettle and resolve for those tough Saturday afternoons that require players to dig a littler deeper.

No. 5 - Augsburg's ascent
Since I started in the MIAC office in 2010, Augsburg's football team seems to take  step forward each year. That process appeared to accelerate last season with the emergence of freshman QB Ayrton Scott, who played well beyond his years and racked up mind-boggling offensive numbers. Now, with a lot of talent back around their star sophomore under center, the Auggies are optimistic their rise can continue, and I heard the world "Playoffs" more than once from players when discussing the upcoming season.

A lot of that hinges on Scott's development, and how MIAC defenses will prepare for his combination of speed, strength and savvy in year two. However, he's got All-America TE Adam Carl back as his favorite target and RB Jerise Washington to team with Scott on the ground. The defense is led by Hakeem Bourne-McFarlane, and if it can progress alongside the offense, the Auggies could join the conference title conversation with Bethel and St. Thomas.

No. 6 - Hands-on at Hamline
The Pipers clearly have a lot of work ahead of them after going 1-9 and 0-8 in the MIAC a season ago, and at their practice it was clear first-year Head Coach and Hamline alum Chad Rogosheske is working to improve the Pipers' fortunes by building from the ground up. I saw a lot of enthusiasm and hands-on teaching from Rogosheske as his staff, with a focus on fundamentals and doing the little things right.

I like that approach a lot. I saw some innovative drills that really focused on the key fundamentals at each position. The players were learning, working hard and having fun. For Hamline fans, that should be good news as Rogosheske and his staff works on rebuilding.

No. 7 - Hitting someone else
All the players and teams I visited last month have been waiting for this weekend for a long time. It seemed each team was about to the point in camp where they were ready to hit someone wearing a different colored uniform. This weekend offers that first opportunity in real game action, so this weekend I'll be watching for which teams enter the season sharp and focused and can channel that aggressiveness into positive results on the field. Sometimes, the desire to move from preseason camp to that first game is so great, it can result in almost too much aggression, which can stray from fundamentals and game plans.

No. 8 - Star watch
Which MIAC stars will continue to shine, and which stars will become familiar names by the end of the season? Last year, there was a new wave of QB talent with sophomores Matt O'Connell (UST) and Peterson (BU) and freshman Ayrton Scott (AUG). All three of those are back, and looked impressive in my visits to their camps.

But who are some of the players that aren't on the MIAC radar yet that will emerge throughout the season? That' s always part of the fun of a new season, and I'll be combing the box scores the first few weeks to look for standout performances from the conference's new faces.

No. 9 - Coaching carousel
In a conference that was recognized nationally for coaching stability, led by John Gagliardi's 60 years at SJU and NCAA record 489 wins. However, a third of the MIAC will debut new head coaches this season, with Carleton's Bob Pagel entering his first year as the full-time head coach after having the interim tag a year ago. Which new head coach will have the best debut and the biggest impact? I liked what I saw in camp from both Fasching and Rogosheske, and St. Olaf's Craig Stern has been a big part of the Oles' success as the assistant head coach, so it should be a comfortable transition in Northfield.

It will be fun to learn the identity of those teams under their new leadership. Will we see any drastic stylistic changes, as we did with Hamline's last hire and John Pate running the option with the Pipers? Will any of those teams take a significant step forward under its new coach? How will the players respond to new leadership? It all adds to the intrigue of a new seaosn.

No. 10 - Excited about the rest
It was great to get a look at five of the MIAC's nine teams, and I'm excited to get a look at the rest of the league as the season kicks off. I'll have seen seven teams in person after today, as I'm heading to Northfield to catch some of both Carleton's and St. Olaf's home openers. Some of the things I'm looking forward to learning about the league's other teams ...

What will be the bigger transition at St. Olaf - the coaching change with Stern taking over, or the change under center with the graduation of star QB Dan Dobson? Speaking of QBs, is Concordia junior Griffin Neal ready to take on more command of the offense with MIAC MVP Brett Baune no longer there to ground things out for the Cobber offense? How will Carleton progress in the second season under Head Coach Bob Pagel, and how will the Knights rebuild their secondary after the graduation of talented defensive backs Mike Elder and Paul Hoffer? And just how big a load can Jeffrey Dubose carry at Gustavus? The star RB has been tremendous as an underclassmen, so how will he write the final chapter of his collegiate career, and what kind of success will follow for the Gusties?

Let's kick it off
 The MIAC couldn't have scripted a better start than Saint John's amazing comeback win over UW-River Falls last night. I had planned to finish this blog then, but I was glued to the web cast and couldn't break away to do any writing. Today, we'll see if he MIAC's amazing stretch of nonconference success can continue (16-2 last season, 13-0 over the first two weeks in 2012) and we'll start to answer some of those pressing questions about the league's teams and players.

If you're craving more MIAC previews, check out the most recent MIAC Media Podcast with Mike Gallagher, which is preview heavy and features an interview with Bethel's Steve Johnson, and check out the MIACFootball Preview & Preseason Coaches' Poll.

Enough speculation. Enough practices. Enough scrimmages. Let's kick it off. 

And here we go...

Hello again MIAC fans. How are you? How was your summer? Ours was great. We launched our new web site, which I hope you're all enjoying. With the start of the new season upon us today, we expect there to be some bugs, some small issues, some little things that we're not quite familiar with yet that aren't quite working right, so we appreciate your patience as we tune things up and get them working to their fullest abilities. I really think the capabilities of our new site are going to be very exciting for all our fans and should make the MIAC easier to follow than ever.

Some exciting things I'd like to point out.

We debuted this last year, and go full-fledged with it in 2013-14. I think our scoreboard is much improved. Each team sport has their own scoreboard, and there is a main conference scoreboard. The scoreboard now includes sports without standings (such as golf and cross country this fall). Now you can navigate by date to see upcoming games or past results. 

We're going to be adding links to follow all of our action live, and we're also working on something to pull the information from any game with live stats so the scoreboard updates in real time. That's kind of  technological mystery, but I'm already seeing some success with it in volleyball today, so that's exciting and makes the MIAC scoreboard feel more like or something similar.

I think every time I go to a MIAC event (or any sporting event in general) I constantly notice people on their phones or tablets during the game. Now, you won't even have to look back up at the action to follow along thanks to the new MIAC app! We have an app for both Apple products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) and Android devices as well. Best of all, the new app is free! I think we can all agree that mobile web sites aren't the best thing in the world, so the MIAC app takes all the great things from our site - schedules, standings, the scoreboard, stories - and puts it at your fingertips in an easy-to-use resource. Hopefully now when I see people looking down at their phones instead of the action on the field or on the court, they'll still be following along with the goings on in the MIAC.

No. 3 - MIAC Live
On the home page of our new site, and on each sport page for team sports you'll notice a tab called "MIAC Live" ... this tab shows any event that day that has some sort of live coverage - stats, video, audio, etc. If you can't make it out to a game and want to follow the conference action from home, this is another great place to navigate from broadcast to broadcast to stay on top of the action.

Those three new additions to the MIAC's online portfolio should make our site even more desirable for fans of the conference. The reason we're here, and the biggest part of our world, is the action going on across the conference. These new items will allow our fans to stay connected to the action in some exciting new ways. If you love the MIAC (or even just one of our schools), we hope you like what you're seeing and we'll continue to try to grow and improve.

**With the new site, and some much-needed time off, the blog went on an unintended hiatus this summer. Now that we're back in the swing of things, expect at least one new post every week, and often times more. If you have any suggestions or ideas for a blog post, please let me know. If you have a question you'd like me to try to answer (or hunt down an answer from a coach or sports information director), I'd love that, too. Email me at:

**I went on a mini-tour of MIAC football camps last week to get a feel for things heading into the start of the season. I'll be doing a Friday Feature soon about the changing of the guard at Saint John's, and I got some great video at SJU, Augsburg, Bethel, St. Thomas and Hamline. I'll be blogging more with my thoughts from those practices and scrimmages, and look for some cool videos to promote the start of the season very soon. Huge thanks to the coaches and SIDs that allowed me into practice to give me my first look at 2013 MIAC football. Next year, I'm going to try to hit all nine.

**Make sure to watch our new Sportsmanship Video. It was produced by Gustavus women's hockey player Carolyn Draayer, who is incredibly gifted with a camera and an editing program. She's doing one more video for us as well that will be just as cool. Hopefully this video inspires you all to be good sports this season.

**With Concordia and Saint Benedict tying atop the women's soccer Preseason Coaches' Poll, I believe we have the first tie for No. 1 in a poll since I took over my current post (entering my fourth season). Pretty cool, and should lead to one heck of a season on the soccer field.

**Are you listening to the MIAC Media Weekly Podcast by Mike Gallagher? You should be. It's great. This week's episode previewing the upcoming Volleyball and Golf seasons with St. Thomas Volleyball Coach Thanh Pham and Gustavus Golf Coach Scott Moe was especially good.

**It's Friday, Aug. 30. Volleyball, Soccer, Golf and Cross Country all start today, with football kicking off next Saturday. TheJoker said it best...

Good luck to everyone as the season starts. Can't wait to see the MIAC teams in action this fall!

Q&A with Coach Olean

Baseball is a sport often best defined by numbers. And when it comes to telling the tale of the 2013 MIAC season, the numbers don’t lie. The University of St. Thomas steamrolled its way through the weather-punctuated season, using a near-perfect 19-1 record to claim the conference title. Then, the Tommies continued their dominance in the conference postseason, outscoring Bethel and Concordia by a combined 21-5 en route to the MIAC Playoff title as well.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the Tommies led the MIAC with a remarkable team batting average of .348 in overall games. UST also ranked first in runs (302), hits (401), doubles (74), home runs (30), RBI (277), walks (150), stolen bases (65), on-base percentage (.432) and slugging percentage (.523). St. Thomas also ranked first in ERA (2.84), strikeouts (267) and fielding percentage (.976). In conference play, UST was somehow even better, hitting .368 as a team with a 1.94 ERA and a .983 fielding percentage.

To top it off, St. Thomas had the MIAC MVP in outfielder Tim Kuzniar, Dylan Thomas repeated as MIAC Pitcher-of-the-Year and Head Coach Chris Olean was voted the MIAC Coach-of-the-Year. In all, eight Tommies were selected to the All-Conference team, and UST also had three All-Defensive Team picks.

However, the numbers rarely tell the whole story, and they certainly didn’t with the 2013 Tommies. The fielding percentage, batting average and ERA don’t accurately describe how crisp UST was in the field, how staggering their talent and depth was on the mound, how explosive the offense could be. And the scary part is … almost all of the team is coming back.

The MIAC Media Blog wanted to look even closer at UST’s remarkable season on the diamond, so we’re proud to bring to you another installment of Championship Coach Q&A with the MIAC Coach-of-the-Year, Chris Olean.

MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A
Chris Olean, St. Thomas Baseball

MIAC: First of all, congratulations on your 2013 MIAC Championship. What made your team so successful this season?

Olean: We had a very balanced team, we played strong defense (second in the country in fielding percentage), had a deep and talented pitching staff and offensively we were very productive from top to bottom.  In addition, we had a great deal of experience on the team and the main core had very valuable experience in the Division III College World Series.

MIAC: Your team had a number of star players, including MIAC MVP Tim Kuzniar and Pitcher-of-the-Year Dylan Thomas. What made those two players so special this season and how did they contribute to your success?

Dylan is one of the best UST pitchers to ever wear a uniform.  He was dominant throughout the year and gave us very consistent outings on the mound.  In addition, I felt he was a much more complete pitcher this season as his walks decreased significantly and he was able to work deeper into games with a lower pitch count.

Tim is steady. Every time you look at a box score he seems to get at least two hits. He is very mentally strong and knows his game and his swing. This allows him to be a steady player for us and a guy we can count on in the clutch.

MIAC: Talk about some of the other players that helped your team have an outstanding season.

Olean: Really this year’s team was solid from top to bottom.  Between Ben Podobinski, Ryan Gerber and Kelvin Stroik, in addition to Tim Kuzniar, our outfield really was very solid both offensively and defensively.  We have guys who can beat you with power or speed and it just allows us to score runs in many different ways.  In the infield, we played great defense, up the middle Sam Miller and Jon Kinsel were as good as it gets. And on the corners we got great production from Tyler Peterson and Jack Hogan. The pitching staff as a whole was outstanding and as deep as we have ever been. We were able to run six different starters out there and not have too big a drop off; that was huge given the difficult and compacted schedule.

MIAC: Are there one or two special moments that stand out from your 2013 championship season?

Olean: Just like many of our players, I feel it really was a methodical type of year in that we played pretty steady from start to finish. The guys took the mindset that we would apply consistent pressure throughout ballgames and, with that, do our best to play outstanding defense and not give up and free bases. Just a steady year filled with a great group of guys all contributing.

MIAC: Obviously, this was an extremely challenging spring due to the horrible Minnesota weather in April and May. How was your team able to remain focused and persevere through all the weather issues?

Olean: Our guys were fantastic in this regard.  Despite several layoffs and a very difficult 18-day stretch in the middle of the season, I felt we stay focused and disciplined throughout. Despite being back indoors, our players took the mindset to improve everyday and maintain their focus. This was huge for us as we played extremely well after the break and finished off the MIAC season and MIAC tournament very strong.

MIAC: You lose a few key players but will bring back a lot of talent next year ... what's next for Tommie baseball?

Olean: Every year is different and we know that we have to earn it all over again. The MIAC is on the rise and I feel from top to bottom the conference is as good as it ever has been. With that, we have a very good core of players coming back many of whom have played the past three seasons. In addition, we have added high-end pitching and some more athleticism at a few key spots.  This will be a senior heavy team with very high expectations, but we know that like every year starting this fall we have to start over again and find our team identity and find the best guys to put on the field. I am excited at the team’s potential, but potential does not win ballgames. We are looking forward to working hard and the challenges that will come in 2014.

MIAC: Thanks to Coach Olean for giving us a better look at his 2013 team, and congrats again to him and the Tommies on an outstanding season. With the lull between sports seasons going strong right now, it’s easy to start looking ahead to next year and hoping for just as much outstanding, competitive action, as well as much better weather!

MIAC Summer Vacation
The MIAC Media Blog would like to know where the conference community is traveling this summer? Dan is in Chicago right now for meetings with other Midwest Division III commissioners, and we were both in Indianapolis earlier this month for meetings at the NCAA headquarters. I also spent six days in Texas – including a nice night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – and am headed out west to do some hiking in July. Sent me an email at or better yet, send me a photo of you on vacation for a blog/social media feature later this summer. Bonus points if you’re wearing gear from the MIAC or one of our schools!

The future is coming…
You may have noticed in that previous paragraph my email address is now “” and no longer “” The MIAC’s new web site will be launching next week … there will be an updated design and several cool new features to hopefully make your online MIAC experience even better! Stay tuned for more details/sneak peeks in the coming days…

Q&A with Coach Valentini

One old sports cliché claims, "It's tough to win a championship ... but it's even tougher to repeat." Apparently they've never heard that one at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The Gustie men's tennis team claimed the MIAC regular-season championship this season and achieved a significant milestone in the process. It was the team's 25th championship in a row. Take a moment to process that. For a quarter century, the Gusties have hoisted the MIAC trophy at the end of every season, and have been the top seed in every MIAC Playoff tournament (under its current format).

That's remarkable, and certainly worthy of a closer look. The run of dominance largely came under the direction of legendary Gustavus Steve Wilkinson. During that run, Wilkinson coached a young man by the name of Tommy Valentini. With Wilkinson now retired, Valentini has take the reins from his former coach, but the championship streak is still intact.

The MIAC Media Blog is proud to resurrect the "Championship Coach Q&A" series, which goes in-depth with the title-winning coach for each sport following the season. With 25 straight titles to celebrate, and his contributions as both player and coach during the streak, Valentini was an easy choice to lead off the spring championship-winning coaches on the blog. Enjoy his insights about his team, the streak and the future of the storied Gusties' program.

MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A
Tommy Valentini, Gustavus Men's Tennis

Tommy Valentini
MIAC: First of all, congratulations on your 2013 MIAC Championship. What made your team so successful this season?

VALENTINI: We had a wonderful group of young men and excellent leadership from our upper classmen.  They really committed themselves to our values and to living them out on a daily basis. We had some guys really step up their games and make huge improvements. We were fortunate to be a deep team and we received important contributions from everyone on our roster.  

MIAC: Your team had a number of star players, including Amrik Donkena and Mya Smith-Dennis. What made those two players so special this season and how did they contribute to your success?

VALENTINI: Amrik and Mya gave us a lot of talent and stability at the top of our lineup.  They allowed us to compete at the top of the lineup with every team we played.  They both played some No. 1 singles throughout the year, and I think what is truly special about them is that they are team-first guys.  When one of them played No. 2, he always offered huge support to the other who was at No. 1, and went out to do his best for our team at No. 2 - a position at which we enjoyed great success all year.

As a doubles team they gave us a shot every time out, and experienced matches where they we're absolutely electric.  They're three-time All-Americans, NCAA runners-up and quarterfinalists, and undefeated in the MIAC throughout their partnership - but what's most impressive is that they are excellent young men on and off the court, and they really led our team by example in terms of poise and belief. They formed a very special partnership from the time Mya arrived on campus, and we will cherish their run together.  

MIAC: Talk about some of the other players that helped your team have an outstanding season.

VALENTINI: As I noted above, we really had unbelievable contributions from our entire team. Grant Leisner moved into a starting role in singles and doubles this year. He and Tyler Johnson gave us a very strong team at No. 2 doubles. Joey MacGibbon and Bradley Entwistle were very solid for us at the bottom of the singles lineup and really provided the depth that allowed for a lot of our success.  

But really, it's the entire team. It's guys pulling for each other, pushing each other and always being there to support each other. Marcel Gyswyt is a classic example. He's one of our leaders who has played in many big matches for us in the past. This year he started a few less of the big ones than he had in previous years, but he worked extremely hard every day, stepped in and performed at an All-Conference level when called upon, and was right there to love and support his teammates at every turn. Perhaps more than guys who put us ahead on the scoreboard, it's this type of leadership and commitment to being a great teammate that allow a team to grow together and have the type of season that we can we look back on as having been outstanding.  

MIAC: Are there one or two special moments that stand out from your 2013 championship season?

VALENTINI: There really are so many. When you have a great group of guys, the stand-out moments often take place during the week at practice. I would say, though, that in addition to having some great road trips, our win against long-time rival UC-Santa Cruz at the National Indoor was very special. The same can be said for our NCAA tourney win against UW-Whitewater. These were very long matches with many swings in momentum. The poise, belief, and togetherness our guys showed throughout them really exemplified what this group was about.  

MIAC: This is the 25th-straight MIAC Regular Season Championship. You've been involved in titles now as both a student-athlete and as a coach. Talk about this quarter-century run of success, and how it feels to have been a conference champion at Gustavus as both a player and coach.

VALENTINI: It's an honor, and something that we do not take for granted. The MIAC continues to get stronger, and this run continues to mean a great deal to our present team and our entire GAC tennis family. The first person that comes to mind when I think about the stretch is Coach [Steve] Wilkinson.  What he built here is truly remarkable and we're all blessed to be a part of it. The second thing that comes to mind is the amount of contributions from so many guys that go in to making these titles possible. It's truly remarkable to think about how many players have contributed to this success over the past 25 years. It's extremely special to be a part of it.  
The 2013 Gustavus MIAC Championship Team
MIAC: You lose a few key players but will bring back a lot of talent next year ... what's next for Gustavus men's tennis?

VALENTINI: It's very early to speculate. We have a long way to go to figure out what next year's group will be. We've graduated two guys in Donkena and Johnson who were not only great leaders, but fixtures in our top lineup for four years. Replacing their talent is one challenge, but replacing the experience and leadership they bring is an even greater challenge.

We are fortunate to have a number of guys coming back who understand who we are and how we go about things.  We'll rely heavily on our senior class as well as contributions from some of our young guys.  It will be exciting to see who steps up and how.  I'm confident that we'll come together as a group as guys grow into new roles while continuing to focus on our team's values.  We're looking forward to very challenging and exciting 2013-14.  

MIAC: Thanks to Coach Valentini for taking the time to shine some additional light on his team's remarkable season, and how it fits into an amazing historical picture at Gustavus, and in the MIAC. Continue to follow the MIAC Media Blog throughout the summer as we catch up with the MIAC's spring championship coaches. This summer, the blog also plans a significant look back at the 2012-13 season, as well as a look ahead to 2013-14.