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JAKE’S TAKE: SMSU hits the mark with three new additions

MARSHALL — At a time when the bulk of the latest news surfacing from college campuses throughout Minnesota has centered around the decline and dissolving of athletic programs, it’s been an encouraging local development to see that Southwest Minnesota State University has been adding to its list of varsity and club programs, rather than subtracting.

Last Wednesday it was announced by SMSU President Kumara Jayasuriya that men’s club hockey would be added for the 2020-2021 academic calendar year. The team, under faculty advisor and Assistant Professor of Special Education, Mike Deschneau, will begin competing in the American Club Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II level next season.

Flash forward to later in the week, SMSU made another splash with its announcement that Club Shooting Sports would be introduced next season as well. The pair of moves come a month after news broke that SMSU would be adding Esports as its 19th athletic program offered to students. All three of these additions have garnered unanimous praise and excitement from the community, and rightfully so.

Here’s a look ahead at what Mustang faithful can expect in the near future with the addition of all three of these new programs.

Esports

Details surrounding the addition of Esports as SMSU’s 19th collegiate sport have been limited since the official announcement on Dec. 11, 2019, but what is clear is that Marshall native Spencer Louwagie will serve as the program’s head coach, and the Science and Technology room 266 will be the team’s competition and practice space equipped with “24 top of the line machines and gaming stations.”

The Mustangs will seek to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the largest governing body of collegiate Esports, in the fall of 2020. The league includes Minnesota’s two other schools with Esports programs, Concordia St. Paul and Bethany Lutheran in Mankato. Among the games offered for prospective players are League of Legends (most popular), Overwatch, Fortnite, Counter Strike Global Offensive and Starcraft.

With interests varying from student to student when it comes to game of choice, SMSU’s program will likely take part in events and competitions for multiple games offered by NACE. In the case of CSP, its program most recently participated in a fall tournament for the game “Rocket League” which spanned five weeks between the months of September and October with schools in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania Iowa and Idaho. Because the matchups are held online, teams are able to participate in the event from the comfort of their own facility, thus saving on travel costs.

Recruitment for the upcoming season has already begun with the team hoping to attract 10 new students to the team for the 2020 season. Overall, SMSU is hoping to have 30 students, male or female, on its roster when it’s all said and done.

Club hockey

With the construction of the Red Baron Arena in 2016, it appeared as if the move to either welcome a junior hockey team into the town of Marshall (which nearly came to fruition) or develop a club team at SMSU was only a matter of time. On Jan. 8, that day arrived.

The Mustang club hockey team will officially begin its inaugural season in the American Club Hockey Association (ACHA) DII level in 2020-2021, and will seek to join the 14-team, two-division Western Collegiate Club Hockey Association (WCCHA) the following season. The WCCHA is comprised of fellow ACHA II teams in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

The DII level of ACHA is the largest of the five divisions (men’s DI, DII and DIII; women’s DI and DII) and provides the most cost-effective option for travel as the bulk of the Minnesota schools compete in DII.

At the helm for the Mustangs will be Deschneau, whose experience with the sport of hockey stems from his time serving as the assistant men’s and women’s hockey coach at DIII Gustavus Adolphus. Deschneau also coached at the high school level with stops at New Prague and Mankato West before serving as head coach of the boys program at North Branch for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons.

The current plan for the upcoming season is to have 17 players on roster for a 15-game schedule. The Mustangs will likely take on fellow club hockey newcomers like University of Minnesota-Crookston, Dordt and Jamestown during their first season before gradually expanding their schedule in upcoming years to include matchups with WCCHA schools like Minnesota State University, Mankato and the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The roster for the first year of Mustang club hockey will include “former hockey players who are current SMSU students, and high school students and junior hockey players who want to continue their careers in college.” With junior hockey teams located as close as New Ulm (New Ulm Steel, North American Tier 3 Hockey League, NA3HL) and Willmar (Willmar Warhawks NA3HL), as well as numerous high school hockey teams in the southwest region, the Mustangs will provide another outlet for junior and high school hockey players looking to continue playing the sport throughout college.

Shooting sports

With over 13,000 Minnesota high school participants in clay target shooting across the MSHSL, the sport’s rapid growth in the state was acknowledged on Friday with the announcement that SMSU would be offering a club Shooting Sports team in 2020-2021.

The team will be headquartered at Shooters Sporting Clays just east of Marshall and will consist of 15-20 students–male or female–who will compete in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) that is made up of 20 other colleges and universities in Minnesota. Assistant Professor of Theatre, Mike Lenz, will serve as the club’s Faculty Advisor.

Competitions for the club will take place during its two seasons, beginning with a six-week season in the fall and a nine-week season in the winter. Events like trap, skeet, five-stand and sporting clays will all be included for students to compete in. With competitions all held at Shooters Sporting Clays, the team will not need to travel for events as they will simply need to submit their scores online when they’re done.

Aiding in the team’s pursuit of recruiting talent is the large number of local high school teams in the area that field teams, including: Marshall, Lakeview, Dawson-Boyd, Minneota, Canby, Wabasso, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Red Rock Central. In all likelihood, the assortment of local schools will be well represented on the first season’s roster and in the seasons that follow.

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