Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Mankato Mavericks celebrate national titles for both men’s and women’s basketball

Basketball players cheer
The Minnesota State Mavericks jumped ahead by 13 points in the first quarter and rolled past Texas Woman’s University 89-73 in the championship game of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament on Friday.
Minnesota State Mankato

On Monday, Minnesota State Mankato is hosting a welcome home celebration for its national champion men’s and women’s basketball team.

Mankato State became the first Division II program in 40 years to win both the men’s and women’s basketball championships in the same season.

On Friday night, the women’s basketball team won the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament. That wasn’t the end of the celebration for MSU.

The men’s basketball team also won the NCAA Division II championship on Saturday night. It’s the first championship win for the men. It’s the second national championship for the women’s team.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke to the women’s head coach Emilee Thiesse.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Later today, Minnesota State Mankato hosts a welcome home celebration this afternoon for its national champion men's and women's basketball teams. Mankato state became the first D2 program in 40 years to win both the men's and women's championships in the same season.

Friday night, the women's basketball team won the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament. But that wasn't the end of the celebration for MSU, the men's basketball team also won the NCAA Division II Championships Saturday night. It's the first championship win for the men. It's the second national championship for the MSU women's team.

Joining us is the head coach of the National Champion Women's team, Emilee Thiesse Coach, welcome and congratulations.

EMILEE THIESSE: Thank you so much. It's sure been an incredible ride these past few days and we're just overjoyed and thankful to be joining you here today.

CATHY WURZER: I can only imagine what this road has been like. We're going to take listeners back here, coach, to the final seconds of that game. We're going to take a listen.

ANNOUNCER: And no one more appropriate to dribble out the final seconds. She's got a smile a mile wide. Joey Batt and the Minnesota State University Mavericks have done it. The dream has come true. They are the 2024 Division II Women's Basketball National Champions.

CATHY WURZER: So how did that moment feel for you and the team?

EMILEE THIESSE: Just surreal. I mean, I just have goosebumps hearing that call again. And just reliving back to what that moment felt like it was just such a surreal feeling. And so exciting to just know that all the sacrifices and all the commitment that those players have put in for not just the past year, but for years and years, to see that all come together, it's just an incredible moment, for sure.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you had a dominant game against Texas Women's University. The final Score there was 89-73. Talk us through the strategy just in terms of how things went during the game. I mean, obviously, it all fell into place for you. What was your plan? Obviously, worked your plan and it worked.

EMILEE THIESSE: Yeah, this season has just been filled with so many full circle moments for our team. And it's just incredible the way that it all worked out. We started the season 2 and 4 after being picked second in the country in the preseason. And so there were some discouraging moments dropping some of those early games.

We were missing our All-American point Guard Joey Batt, who you just heard our announcer say that fitting that she was able to dribble that out. We were missing some key pieces in there. But the way that it all worked out where we were able to, essentially, avenge all four of those early season losses, just incredible how it all worked out where we-- in the regional tournament of the NCA tournament, we got to face two of those opponents in that capacity where we were able to come back and thump them pretty good as well.

And then, to be able to face the team that gave us our very first loss of the season, Texas Women's, we got a chance to avenge that loss in our final game of the year, which is just incredible how that all worked out. But we are definitely a full court defense, pressure defense team. And so there's just a lot of comfort and preparation knowing when we have seen a team and how they've handled our pressure, it gives us such a better flow for how to prepare for that.

And so it was great that we had that film to refer back to from back in November. It gave us a lot of confidence over that 24 hour span of preparation. And really, that's how we set the tone. We jumped out on them pretty early in that game and just didn't look back from there. We just continued to build off of that. So it was great to see our defense just be our backbone all season long.

CATHY WURZER: And you all look great in that final game. With the two national championships your program has won, how does that help recruiting?

EMILEE THIESSE: I think, clearly, it helps. Everybody wants to be a part of a championship program. But I think, really, what kids in this generation are really looking for is a fit. And I think that's something that was really on full display from our program through the entire season and through our championship run was the love that this team has for each other, the joy, the depth that we play a lot of players in our system.

Our players work extremely hard. And I just think they garnered a lot of respect from that. And I think that's probably, at least I would hope, what a lot of maybe recruits are taking notice of. It's not just that, hey, they've won two national championships in that program and that's exciting. But to do it the right way with great kids who do all the right things and just love each other, I think that's the kind of culture and program that a lot of kids want to be a part of.

CATHY WURZER: Of course, all eyes are on women's basketball, which is really kind of fun, right? And I'm wondering why you think women's basketball is having a moment now.

EMILEE THIESSE: I think it's just about time. It's just unfortunate that it's taken as long as it has because that 2009 National Championship Team was an incredible group. I mean, they were so incredibly talented, they deserved to be in the limelight. And so many programs over the course of many, many years, not just at the division II level, but I think the biggest thing that people are taking notice of now why women's basketball is in the limelight is to see some women who are out there very vocal, very confident, just taking it to the next stage of we're capable of great things and you should take notice of watching our sport.

And it's so rewarding. I have two young daughters. And for them to be able to know the names of women's basketball players growing up and to watch them and to just know that this is where the future of the sport is going is so incredible.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, it's such a difference from when I was a kid, and probably you too, I'm thinking.

EMILEE THIESSE: Yeah. 100%. I mean, even over the course of the last 12 years since I've been the head coach at Minnesota State, just to see it transform to this is just so incredible.

CATHY WURZER: So I know you're going to be back next season and I'm wondering what you're looking forward to.

EMILEE THIESSE: I think I'm just looking forward to a whole new experience. I think that's the thing that I had to learn going into this year. Last year, we had a really, really talented team. We only graduated one senior. And we had high expectations going into this year.

And I think as many times as I said it, I don't know if I fully bought into my own words about the fact that you don't just pick up where you left off. Each season has its own journey and you just-- you have your highs and your lows and the teams come together in different ways.

And we just found so many opportunities to just make special moments throughout this year. And this team will always be so special because of our own-- because of this journey. And I think next year is going to be a special group because of that journey. And we've got a lot of talent returning. We've got incredible leadership returning. We have some really bright recruits coming in.

It's just exciting to be able to think about what the next team is going to be able to do, not just in wins and losses, but just the journey and the experiences.

CATHY WURZER: Say, when it comes to recruiting, and I asked you this question a bit earlier, but the new recruits coming in, are you getting more Minnesota players based on your record now? Or is it you coming from-- you are recruiting all across the country, obviously. But do you have a focus one way or another Minnesota versus other states?

EMILEE THIESSE: We've really hit our local Midwest area. That's just been over the course of my entire career. We'll have one recruit coming in from Wisconsin and one from South Dakota. And then, the rest are going to be Minnesota players. But Iowa, we bring in players from Iowa as well.

But just this area is such a hotbed for women's basketball athletes. And we're just-- we're fortunate that we don't have to go outside of our backyard to be able to find some of the best players in the country. I think they bleed Minnesota State. They know a lot of connections to this area. And so that's what makes it special too is it's not just a university, it's not just a team, but it's a place that they have loyalty to and where they want to be.

CATHY WURZER: So how did you all celebrate right after Friday night? Because you're going to have another celebration here later this afternoon. But what was it like Friday night?

EMILEE THIESSE: Oh, incredible. It was so amazing to just bring that opportunity to celebrate. We had so many families that were in attendance, but a great showing from the Mankato community. We had, I think, maybe five or six alums from that national championship team in '09 that had flown in to Saint Joe and they joined us for a little celebration after the game was over.

And just so many moments that I will always treasure just being able to not just have the confetti falling and cutting down the nets, but to be able to soak it in on more of a personal level with so many people that have been on this journey with us.

So that was incredible. Obviously, in a span of 24 hours for our program to win the National Championship and then for the men's team, that was also very special for us as we were making the trip back to Mankato to be able to be together as a team and watching our men's team seal the National Championship as well was just-- it made it extra special for sure.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you get to go walk in to the Taylor Center this afternoon with your team and also the men's team, both teams celebrating before-- I hope it's going to be a packed crowd at the Taylor Center. So that's going to be fun.

I wish you and your team all the best. Congratulations. It was a great season. We're proud of you.

EMILEE THIESSE: Thank you so much. We really appreciate the support of this area, the state. We're just we're just honored, for sure.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Thanks, coach. Take care.

EMILEE THIESSE: You got it. Thank you so much.

CATHY WURZER: You too. MSU Mankato women's head basketball coach Emilee Thiesse. And of course, I mentioned that this big celebration is at 4:30 this afternoon, Taylor Center, on campus. MPR News reporter Hannah Yang will be at the celebration and will join All Things Considered live with what she will experience. I'm sure that's going to be, as I say, a big crowd there.

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