La Velle E. Neal III
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Representatives of Minnesota State athletics have been on tour over the last month as the Mankato university basks in the afterglow of its championships in men's and women's basketball.

"They are quite a pair and they get out into the community," Mavericks director of athletics Kevin Buisman said.

They have been to a winery, appeared at nearby Madison Lake, hit bars and restaurants on Front Street and, on April 26, even visited the governor's residence in St. Paul. On Tuesday, they will be front and center at an event called Maverick 507 Days, a celebration and recognition of Minnesota State athletics. Fans flock to reach out to them, take pictures with them and enjoy a beverage with them nearby.

Buisman was talking about the Mavericks' shiny new pair of NCAA Division II trophies — it's like a small-scale Stanley Cup tour down there right now — but he could easily have been referring to the humans behind those trophies as well.

Women's coach Emilee Thiesse and men's coach Matt Margenthaler are feeling the love from the community, and beyond, after bringing basketball success to a hockey school.

It was just over a month ago that the women's and men's teams won national titles on back-to-back nights — the first time a Division II school has won both titles in the same season in 40 years. So party on, Mankato.

Margenthaler's team went 35-2. Thiesse's team went 32-5. The Taylor Center rocked all season long.

"Everyone has their head held high and their shoulders tipped back a little bit," Buisman said. "It was a great run."

Buisman recognized what he had in Margenthaler and Thiesse and, in the weeks following the dual championships, locked both up with five-year contract extensions. Not long after Mavericks guard Kyreese Willingham hit the shot heard 'round town, a three-pointer from the corner with seconds remaining to top Nova Southeastern 88-85 in the title game, Margenthaler said to Buisman, "That should be worth a five-year deal." How clairvoyant of him.

Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler embraces his father, Jack, after a celebration in April in Mankato.
Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler embraces his father, Jack, after a celebration in April in Mankato.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

The bus transporting the women's team from St. Joseph's, Mo., after its 89-73 trouncing of Texas Woman's University was just returning to campus when Willingham's shot swished through the net. The team, streaming the game in the bus, erupted. It was the second national title for the women's team, as Thiesse's squad set school records in points scored and field-goal attempts thanks to its high-pressure, fast-paced style.

That style attracted other schools looking to hire her away in the last month. She weighed professional growth and profit with what was best for her family and where her Mavericks program was headed. Thiesse turned down those opportunities to remain in Mankato and build a dynasty.

"I'm a big believer in loyalty," said Thiesse, who is from Spearfish, S.D. "And opportunity is what you make of it. So I believe we have a great opportunity here to continue to build an incredible program."

Besides, how can she end the relationship she has with the community? One day following the Mavericks championship, Thiesse pulled up in her driveway and found a large picture of her face pasted on the garage door.

"I wasn't expecting that on our garage door in a massive, life-sized type of thing," she said. "It's been positive and I'm just pumped for our team."

The post-title period has been a whirlwind for Margenthaler as well. Fundraising has been easier. Recruiting has picked up. Speaking engagements. Podcast appearances. Players from both teams are recognized and acknowledged throughout town, sharing the spoils of their success.

"I was with Kyreese on Tuesday," Margenthaler said. "We went to Panera. I'm telling you, the guy is a rock star in this town. We don't have to buy lunch. Everyone is coming up and talking to him."

How does a hockey school become a hockey-and-hoops school? When a pair of trophies can tour the state, thanks to coaches like Margenthaler and Thiesse.