As we inch closer to the start of the fall soccer season, we’re offering some early teases of the new beats starting up with our expanded team. In case you missed this very exciting news, current pro and former Summit League star Annie Williams will be covering St Thomas as they officially begin their journey as a DI program in that conference and Mark Privratsky will be covering both the powerhouse DII NSIC and Minnesotans playing DI in other states. These summer snapshots will shed some light on what Annie and Mark are looking for as they shape their coverage moving forward. In this piece, I ask Mark about Minnesotans Playing DI. You can also check out the previous pieces about the NSIC or St Thomas.
Question: Part of historically only having one DI program (until this fall, welcome St Thomas!) is that Minnesota has, almost by default, been an exporter of DI talent in women’s soccer. For a state of its size it may also fight a bit above its weight, but either way it means there are a ton of Minnesotans playing DI in other states. The Summit League alone had something like 40 Minnesotans in it. So this beat will be pretty damn expansive. How are you going to try and tackle it?
Like all Minnesotans, I’m obsessed with celebrating our successes, and sports is a great place to do that these days. We know that lots of Minnesotans play in the nearby Summit League which will be fun to track, but I’m looking forward to seeing what players pop up around the country. Even though we’ve seen great growth in coverage of the women’s game, college soccer is still so underreported that there are sure to be surprises. I’d actually ask for Equal Time supporters to help out in that regard! We have a web form that will allow you to tip us off about Minnesotans playing DI around the country. Please share with your soccer circles so we can amplify great Minnesota soccer stories! FORM: https://forms.gle/ZcpJqKcdY2nJ74A4A
Q: One tension I’ve heard from some player parents is about how much the U should or shouldn’t be focusing on keeping their talent home -- in other words, any good player NEEDS to go to the U, not just for keeping the talent in that moment but also to set more of an expectation in players minds long-term that the U is the place to go. So some of these players who head to other programs may in some ways feel sort of slighted to not be playing at home, etc. What are some dynamics like that that you’re hoping to learn more about?
The dynamic of “kids staying home” permeates all of college sports, so it should be no different in Minnesota, where we have a uniquely small number of D1 schools. It will be fun to see how recruiting patterns shift with St Thomas entering the fray (I look forward to following Annie Williams' coverage of it!). One piece I’m interested in terms of recruiting selection/stature is if any of the players can utilize the new opportunities for Name Image and Likeness granted by the NCAA this year. It’s too deep of a topic to cover well here, but the rule change presents a wide range of personal branding/sponsorship opportunities to make money as an athlete during your college career. The rule changes will benefit the higher revenue sports like Football and Basketball for the most part, but I expect young, social media savvy players to find ways to expand their personal business. Don’t forget that we are dealing with a lot of high achieving, driven individuals who often go on to successful careers. Does going to the U help you monetize yourself as an athlete? Almost certainly. Will it be an actual factor in recruiting choices? We will see.
Q: Other times, of course, players are just very good and might happen to choose another program because of any number of reasons. Programs like Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, scoop up Minnesotans all the time. Being able to tune in to the various high quality programs like that and focus on one particular player is different than our typical gopher beat. How will that open up opportunities for different coverage?
I hope that we find opportunities for unique and interesting stories! I bleed maroon and gold, but what I love most about soccer is learning from the deeper stories about new places and people. At it’s best, the beautiful game shows us different cultures and individuals who are making a difference in people’s lives. Also, don’t tell the Big Ten, but there can be a consistency about the playing style with many of the teams, and seeing some coastal flair would be a welcome addition. Aside from players, another one of our great exports is coaches, so I definitely look forward to seeing how Minnesotans are thriving on coaching staffs around the country.
Q: I’ve kind of been dying to eventually cover a Gopher game on the road, just to get a different flavor than always seeing them either on the broadcast or at ELR. With this beat, are you going to attempt any road trips to cover players in person, do you think?
I love a good road trip, and judging by our streak of 90 degree days, once fall hits, a soccer road trip will sound too good to pass up. If anyone has suggestions for a good stadium/field to watch a match within driving distance of Minnesota, let us know on Twitter! We will dig into the schedules and find some good destinations. Non football lined fields are the top choice but hard to come by.
As we inch closer to the start of the fall soccer season, we’re offering some early teases of the new beats starting up with our expanded team. In case you missed this very exciting news, current pro and former Summit League star Annie Williams will be covering St Thomas as they officially begin their journey as a DI program in that conference and Mark Privratsky will be covering both the powerhouse DII NSIC and Minnesotans playing DI in other states. These summer snapshots will shed some light on what Annie and Mark are looking for as they shape their coverage moving forward. In this piece, I ask Mark about the powerhouse D2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC). You can check out our chats with Annie about St Thomas's first D1 season or with Mark about Minnesotans playing D1 in other states as well.
Question: Ok so this beat is a little different than covering a single team because we really wanted all of the NSIC schools in Minnesota to get some shine since they’re all playing at the same DII level. What are you initially curious about in terms of tracking the conference this fall?
There are a few things that really intrigue me about the upcoming NSIC season. Firstly, this will be the first full season since 2019 (!), but teams did play a rag tag “season” this past spring, and I’m curious to find out what happened in the shadow season! I love the idea of players bragging about stats that we cannot look up. Was the trash talk more severe? Who had the worst bubble facility? We will take it all.
Second, even though we had a somewhat gap year in full league play, lots of the top performers from 2019 return, and they’re scattered across more than just the traditional top finishers. It’s easy to want to watch Jenny Vetter at Mankato, who had 20 goals in 24 games (2nd best scorer had 10), and Brynn Desens (16 goals and 10 assists) who lead the NSIC in points in 2019. But we also have plenty of other players who could see a step up. University of Mary has Hannah Richter, who had 7 goals and 5 assists in 2019 (5th in points), and Maureen Sullivan, who had 5 goals and 2 assists in just 13 games (10th in points). Bemidji State returns Sarah Wendt, who had 10 goals and 3 assists in 19 games (4th in points).
Lastly, because there is such a top heavy history to the conference, I’m looking forward to the upsets! Can my alma mater (6 college credits) University of Minnesota-Crookston upset the mighty Mankato? Go Eagles (and their very fun array of jerseys), I say.
Q: The sort of historical powerhouse teams in the NSIC more recently have been Mankato, Augustana, Bemidji, and Concordia and St Cloud have both had some strong individual years. But college soccer can kind of always be anyone’s game with two game weekends and some long bus rides. We’ve done some background research with some NSIC alums and they say Mankato kind of likes to embrace their villain role in the conference, even doing some fairly wild intimidation tactics like screaming a full volume and slamming the walls just to sort of freak out the opposing team. That’s kind of amazing.
Sports are most fun when there is a real villain and a true chance at knocking them off their pedestal. For Division 2 soccer around the upper midwest, Mankato St has long been a regional contender. Their goal has to be pushing for a National Championship, and they have a few really solid rivals to stand in their way. Any game with the top third of the conference will be one to watch, and we will definitely check out those matches. I’m looking forward to including former NSIC players in our coverage so we get the behind the scenes stories and also so we can hear about some glory days.
Q: You’ve covered the WPSL for Equal Time this summer, we came from watching DIII soccer while at Morris, you watch plenty of other levels of soccer. And some things sort of hold true across different levels and other aspects like speed of play maybe swing more depending on the league. What are you curious about in terms of the game play itself since tracking this conference in detail is not something either of us has really done before?
Each college sport is structured differently and that has an effect on where talent balances out. For women’s college soccer, the huge amount of Division 1 programs creates situations where good D2 programs can have similar talent to D1. I expect the standard of play to be high in some games, but with a conference as big and diverse as the NSIC, we will see some varying degrees of quality as you’d expect. I’m most curious to see how individual players can shine even if they aren’t at a big program, and if some “less talented” squads can overachieve with good cohesive identity.
Q: I think one thing I’m most excited about, with you and Annie coming on board, is for you two to be able to do shows with players and coaches from these new beats so fans get to see not only more hosts but also just a much wider set of guests because there are so many badass women in the game that we just couldn’t amplify when it was me alone. What are some of the sort of features or conversations you’re looking forward to as you build these relationships across the conference?
I’m interested in conversations with the non male coaches around the NSIC. Because we still have such a lack of equity when it comes to coaching hires, especially in gender and racial terms, hearing more about these stories is something that is good for the soccer community. Coaches like Gretta Arveson at St Cloud State, who has been a steady leader for that program going on 8 years, or Erin Kasmarik-Mallet at Southwest Minnesota State in her 7th year. Erin coached the Brookings SD Boys soccer team for two years before going to Southwest State! I want to hear that story.
We also want to hear about the players' experiences. Being at a Division 2 program means less resources for athletes, and I want to hear how these women balance everything to be successful student athletes and people. If we need to talk to former players to get the REAL stories, we will!
Q: Lastly, I think all of the Summit League games are streamed, for free, online. So maybe not quite as much need for the kind of aggressive live tweeting I sometimes do? Ha ha.
The supporters of Equal Time Soccer have scrolled through dense Twitter live streams long enough! We will do our best to promote all of the streaming options you have to watch Summit League, NSIC and all of the soccer. That being said, Twitter is a great place to connect with me to get my attention on a soccer story you think we should cover. Never mind my lefty ramblings or pop culture commentary @markprivratsky
As we inch closer to the start of the fall soccer season, we’re offering some early teases of the new beats starting up with our expanded team. In case you missed this very exciting news, current pro and former Summit League star Annie Williams will be covering St Thomas as they officially begin their journey as a DI program in that conference and Mark Privratsky will be covering both the powerhouse DII NSIC and Minnesotans playing DI in other states. These summer snapshots will shed some light on what Annie and Mark are looking for as they shape their coverage moving forward. In this piece, I ask Annie about her St Thomas beat. Find our chat with Mark about the NSIC online as well.
Question: First, Annie you spent four years in the Summit League. You were one of dozens of Minnesotans plying their trade there for schools *outside* of Minnesota. What do you think it will mean for St Thomas to add a Twin Cities college to that conference lineup?
A: I’m interested to see the immediate impact that the University of St. Thomas could have in the Summit League and in Division 1 soccer. After a 17-2-5 record in 2020 (9-1-1 conference play) at the Division 3 level, the Tommies look to make a smooth transition to division 1. Although UST cannot qualify for the Summit League Women’s Soccer Tournament or the NCAA tournament, this year will be monumental for the program. The Tommie’s first year as a division 1 soccer team will become the foundation for future seasons.
Q: One thing I have a hard time predicting is how much the long standing winning culture that St Thomas built in the MIAC will translate, even as the competition gets tougher. I think people probably, at times, may over assume the gap between a great DIII team and a run of the mill mid major DI team. But what do you think that transition will be like for the individual players? What big differences might the carry over players notice during those first few games?
A: As you said, the gap between some DIII and DI teams can be over assumed and I think St. Thomas’ DIII winning culture will translate over into a DI winning culture, if not immediately, then over time. Mentality is a big component in successful programs and the mentality that the returning players bring into preseason along with the newcomers will set the tone for the program moving forward. From a physical standpoint, players will be met with a more physical, fast-paced, and technical game than they saw in DIII but as I said before, I think the Tommies will be able to adjust very quickly.
Q: They obviously knew about the transition during some of the most recent recruiting conversations so they aren’t only bringing over their MIAC roster to play in the Summit League. They also have a large incoming freshman class. Do you think being able to be part of this “first team” in DI is a draw for some of these recruits? And how much of a hit might some of the other Summit League teams take now that a school right in the Twin Cities is here as an option vs another team in the conference 5+ hours away?
A: Absolutely I think that being a part of the first Division I team in UST history is a selling point for recruits. There is so much opportunity for new players to come in and contribute to the team right away and to be successful. Most DI recruits face the challenge of finding their roles during their first couple years on the team, especially in programs that have sophomores, juniors, and seniors returning to the team with DI playing experience. Although the newcomers at St. Thomas will also have to find their roles within the team, all players will be new to DI and the Summit League, leaving opportunity for all players, returners and newcomers to step up. Recruiting wise, the University of St. Thomas offers Minnesotan players another option to play Division I soccer and stay close to home. I predict that the biggest recruiting impact will be on schools that are similar to the University of St. Thomas, such as the University of Denver and possibly the University of Nebraska-Omaha, both located in urban areas.
Q: For those Minnesota soccer fans that maybe didn’t see you and the Jackrabbits at SDSU suit up and don’t really know the Summit League super well, what kind of style of play will St Thomas be going up against? Talk about some of the top teams and the styles of play the Tommies might need to prepare for.
A: Overall, The Summit League is known for its physical play and rivalries. I am interested to see how St. Thomas will match up against the reigning Summit League tournament champions, the University of Denver. The Pioneers, known for their athleticism and technical play, will challenge the Tommies defensively and I am excited to see how the two teams will match up in conference play. South Dakota State, another top team in the league, returns with a very solid roster, a strong defense, and a lot of championship experience. I look forward to seeing how UST will match up with the Jackrabbits in the Tommie’s second Summit League appearance.
Q: What other things will you be looking for as you follow this team through their inaugural DI season? What themes or stories do you want to track?
A: This season, I am looking forward to following how head coach Sheila McGill and the Tommies will handle the transition from DIII to DI. An interesting component will be to see UST’s ability to learn and grow from game to game and throughout the season. I am also excited to see what characteristics will define the Tommies this season regardless of wins and losses; I’m talking style of play, mentality, and team environment. These characteristics from the first year will help build a foundation for St. Thomas at the Division I level.
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