The Midwest Conference has suspended play for the fall season following a meeting of the league’s Presidents Council on Monday.
The presidents of the 10 conference institutions made the decision to suspend play for the fall season and to delay the start of the winter sports season through the end of 2020, according to a statement from the Midwest Conference (MWC). The presidents made the decision in coordination with their athletic directors in order to protect the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff, and the campus and local communities, the statement said.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes is our top priority,” Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. “With the surge of COVID-19 cases around the country, we believe this is the best course of action to protect our student-athletes, coaches, faculty and staff.”
See Lawrence’s Planning for Fall 2020, including FAQ, here.
The MWC will continue to monitor the factors impacting the decision for suspension of the fall and winter sport seasons and take action to resume athletic competition when it is deemed safe to do so, according to the statement from the league office.
Tatro, who has been a member of the Lawrence coaching staff since 1993, saw her final season as the softball coach cut short back in March as the pandemic forced the cancellation of the rest of the spring sports season.
“This was a very difficult decision for everyone involved in the process,” Tatro said. “Our student-athletes want to compete and our coaches want to be leading their teams. We certainly understand the desire of our student-athletes to play the games they love so dearly, but the dangers of exposure to COVID-19 are just too great.”
Lawrence teams that are affected by this are football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s cross country, and volleyball. The start of competition would be delayed for men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming (indoor track also is included, but Lawrence traditionally doesn’t compete during the indoor season until January). The Presidents Council had decided in mid-July to limit fall competition to Midwest Conference opponents only, but a dramatic increase in cases around the nation forced the league to evaluate the situation further.
“Throughout the summer Lawrence searched for ways to mount a fall athletic season while working hard to ensure our student-athletes and their coaches remained healthy,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “After many conference conversations it is clear that not all members can support the NCAA health guidelines for competition. In light of this situation, I deeply regret that the conference has decided to not proceed with competition this fall. This is a significant disappointment for me personally, and I am sure is a disappointment for many. I know Athletics Director Tatro and her team will find ways to keep our student-athletes engaged and in physical and mental shape, and I look forward to seeing our programs compete in future seasons.”
The Midwest Conference joins more than 20 NCAA Division III conferences that have suspended play for the fall season.
Decisions regarding men’s and women’s hockey, which both fall under the auspices of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, and men’s and women’s fencing, which is part of the Midwest Fencing Conference, will occur at a later date, according to Tatro. All four of those teams are scheduled to begin their seasons with practice in October.
“Our hope is to get through this arduous time and return to some sense of normalcy,” Tatro said. “I eagerly anticipate the day when our teams can return. Adversity is something our student-athletes deal with on a regular basis and this situation is no different. We will move forward in a manner that will make the best of a difficult situation.”
Alexander Gymnasium is already a grand, historic structure, but the home of the Vikings is getting a makeover.
The 91-year-old home of Lawrence’s Department of Athletics and the competition venue for basketball and volleyball is undergoing a transformation, which was funded through donations by alumni and friends of the University. The first phase is complete with the unveiling of the new basketball/volleyball court.
“We couldn’t be more excited and appreciative of the new floor design for Alexander Gym,” Lawrence Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. “While resurfacing was certainly a maintenance requirement, the fresh new design work is an added bonus. We appreciate those whose donations made this possible.”
The main court will retain the east/west configuration that has been in place for 35 years, but the court will look dramatically different. Designed by Art Director Matt Schmeltzer of the Lawrence Communications Office, the court features a Viking ship that stretches from the 3-point lines on either end of the floor.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the new floor design,” said men’s
basketball coach Zach Filzen. “It looks phenomenal and is extremely
well-designed. The new court, in addition to the other renovations, will
go a long way in improving Alex Gym. We have a special facility when it
comes to character and history. Being able to bring some updated
aspects to our gym should make it a very fun place to play and watch
high-level competition in the future.”
Cutting through the waves, the Viking ship uses as a figurehead the
antelope from the Lawrence coat of arms. The shield from the same coat
of arms adorns the side of the vessel. On the massive sail is the center
jump circle with Lawrence’s interlocking LU logo.
“We are really excited about the new floor,” volleyball coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “It is a great upgrade to the facility that is not only eye-catching but shows our pride in Lawrence athletics. Looking forward to getting the team out there and trying it out.”
The border of the court is done in the dark blue that has been worn by Lawrence athletes for more than a century. The free throw lane, known as “the paint” in basketball parlance, wears the same dark blue paint. Each baseline features the words Lawrence University, and the sideline in front of the bleachers says Home Of The Vikings.
“We are already fortunate to have one of the most unique and distinct places to play,” women’s basketball coach Riley Woldt said. “I’m really excited for our current players, all of the Viking alumni, and the entire Lawrence and Appleton communities to see and embrace the new court design, one that does an awesome job of incorporating Lawrence tradition within the comfy confines of Alexander Gymnasium. It’s going to give off a great feel on game day but will provide some wonderful energy for all those who come through the doors on a daily basis.”
This is the first phase of improvements taking place at Alexander Gymnasium during the summer of 2020. Alexander Gym, which has seen three teams win a total of 11 conference championships over the years, also gets a new set of bleachers. The old wooden bleachers, which were the original set of pull-out bleachers in the facility, had been in the gym since the mid-1960s. The new bleachers are set to be installed at the end of May.
The final piece of the renovation is a transformation of the lobby. With its terrazzo floor and high-arching ceiling, the lobby will serve as home to the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame and serve as a gathering space for fans and families of the Vikings.
Joe Vanden Acker is director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
Lawrence University is launching a brand-new athletics program: Get ready for women’s hockey!
It will be the 22nd varsity sports program at Lawrence, bringing the roster of varsity sports to 11 women’s and 11 men’s teams. The Vikings will join the men’s hockey program in the competitive Northern Collegiate Hockey Association and play at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Lawrence will be the 10th women’s squad in the NCHA and one of 67 teams competing in NCAA Division III.
“We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women’s ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020–21 academic year,” says Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray. “The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence. It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking.”
After an extensive search, Jocelyn “Jocey” Kleiber has been chosen to lead the new Lawrence University women’s ice hockey program as it prepares to embark on its inaugural season.
Kleiber was an assistant coach at the North American Hockey Academy in 2015 and 2016. She also served as a graduate assistant coach at Robert Morris University (Pa.) from 2013 through 2015. Prior to joining Lawrence, she spent three years as an assistant coach at Stevenson University in Maryland, helping to coach them to the Middle Atlantic Conference championship in 2018. A 2012 graduate of Niagara University, Kleiber was a standout defensive player for the Purple Eagles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management in 2012 and went on to earn a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Robert Morris in 2015.
“What made Jocey stand apart was her detailed plan of growing a program from the beginning and her enthusiasm to become part of the community, here on campus, in the Fox Valley and the Upper Midwest,” says Abaray.
We sat down to talk to Kleiber about taking the helm of this
exciting new program.
On Kleiber’s first day on the Lawrence campus as the new women’s ice hockey head coach, she did not yet have access to her email. By day two, she had 25 emails in her inbox from possible new recruits. From there, the recruitment process took off.
By the beginning of the 2020–21 school year, Lawrence will have
formed its inaugural women’s ice hockey team—the first new Lawrence NCAA
program since the 1980s. And Kleiber is building it from the ground up.
“I have a lot of friends that are coaches too, so they’ve inherited programs that have been around for 10-20-30 years,” Kleiber said. “So they have to try and change a culture, whereas here, you actually get to start the culture. … I’m just trying to get [the players] to buy into being the first players to wear our jersey next season, which is a pretty unique experience.”
With three years of experience as an assistant coach under her belt, Kleiber is excited to take on the challenge of being a head coach. For now, that means focusing most of her energy on recruitment.
Before the COVID-19 safer-at-home lockdown, Kleiber’s year consisted of traveling around the U.S. to watch women’s hockey tournaments, reaching out to coaches and potential recruits and helping to facilitate campus visits. Through this process, 30 recruits have already applied to Lawrence.
Kleiber hopes Lawrence can win 10 games in its first season. She acknowledges that the goal is optimistic, but she is confident that it is attainable as long as the players embrace the systems and strategies she presents.
From there, the team can start working to achieve a more
long-term goal: a spot in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA)
championship. Eventually, Kleiber hopes they might even earn a spot in the NCAA
“It’s going to take maybe some baby steps at first, but
we’ll get there,” Kleiber said. “It’s just a process of [getting the team to] buy
in. It’s getting everyone to be on the same page and getting it to work.”
Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.
You’ll hear Lawrence University’s new head football coach
say it when imploring his players to embrace the academic and athletic rigors that
come with being a scholar athlete. You’ll hear it when he talks with his
coaches about the challenges of rebuilding a winning tradition in a football
program that was once among the nation’s Division III elite but hasn’t won consistently
in years. And you’ll hear it when he talks about re-establishing the Fox
Valley, the state of Wisconsin, and the upper Midwest as essential recruiting
territory for Lawrence football.
“We talk about not flinching, coming in and accepting the
challenge,” Aker said as he settled into his office in the lower level of
Alexander Gymnasium in mid-January, a month into his first foray as a collegiate
head coach. “It’s about these guys knowing they have to go and attack it, never
backing down from any challenge. … When you have setbacks on the field or
classes start to pick up and it gets a little tougher, we tell them, that’s
what we signed up for. We tell our scholar athletes we want them to be excited
about studying for an exam. I want them to walk up and slam that exam down and
feel really, really good that they put the work in and they’ve done everything
they could to put themselves in a position to be successful.
“And as coaches, we have to live it out. We have to have
that don’t flinch mentality. We’re going to go in and attack everything, and
that’s the same way we’re going to play football.”
A conference first
Aker, 32, makes a bit of history upon his arrival at
Lawrence. He is the first African American head football coach in the Midwest
Conference, the second among all Wisconsin colleges. The first African American
head football coach at the collegiate level in Wisconsin was Fred Reese at
Lakeland University in the early 1990s.
Aker said he counts a number of talented African American
head coaches at the high school level in Wisconsin as mentors. He points in
particular to Dennis Thompson, who became the first African American high
school coach to win a state football championship at Racine Park High School in
“It’s an honor, it’s something I’m proud of,” Aker said of crossing
that barrier in the Midwest Conference. “But I don’t really think about it. I’m
proud of it but I definitely don’t want it to define me. At the end of the day,
I’m a football coach and an educator and I take great pride in developing my
scholar athletes. I’m just excited about the opportunity to be a head football
With challenges come opportunities
If enthusiasm alone was the ticket to success, Aker would
already have the Lawrence program turned around. He knows the challenges are
many. The Vikings are coming off a 1-8 season. The Banta Bowl, as beautiful a
setting as you’ll find in Division III football, has failed to draw sizable
crowds. Lawrence football has mostly fallen off the Appleton community’s radar.
High school coaches in Wisconsin haven’t regularly looked to Lawrence as a
landing spot for their players.
Aker isn’t flinching. Challenge accepted, he said.
Earlier in January, he attended the annual Red Smith Sports Award Banquet in Appleton, an annual event that brings together coaches, athletics administrators, and sports fans from around the state. It was a chance to introduce himself, to shake some hands, to begin the process of building positive relations here in the Fox Valley and across the state.
Aker, the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel’s 2005 Wisconsin High School Athlete of the Year while at
Brown Deer High School and later an all-conference selection as a wide receiver
at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, had been working the past four
years as an assistant coach at Carroll University. He knew Lawrence well, its
proud football history and its recent struggles.
“It was very, very intriguing,” he said of the coaching opportunity. “And quite frankly, we have some work to do, and that appeals to me as well. I’m a firm believer in nothing that’s worth having comes easy. I wanted to come here and have the opportunity to help us get back to some of those past successes that we’ve had in the football program.”
“First and foremost, I’m a Wisconsin guy,” Aker said.
Originally from southern Indiana, he and his family moved to Milwaukee as he was entering eighth grade. He excelled at multiple sports at Brown Deer before going on to play football for Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota and then Stevens Point. He graduated from UWSP, having majored in sociology, and joined its coaching staff as a graduate assistant. That led him to Carroll, where he worked as an associate head coach/offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks, and most recently served as interim head coach.
Aker and his partner, Haley, have an 18-month-old son and a
baby on the way, due in April.
Those Wisconsin roots, he said, will drive much of his
philosophy as he looks to put a renewed recruiting focus closer to home.
“I take great pride in recruiting and being able to
re-establish our footprint in the state of Wisconsin,” Aker said. “When you
look at some of our past teams, especially our most successful ones, we’ve had
a lot of scholar athletes from Wisconsin, Illinois, that upper Midwest and
Great Lakes region. And we need to get back to that. I think that’s important.
We are still a Wisconsin university, and we need to have that represented. Even
as we continue to make headway and continue some of the national recruiting
we’ve done, I would really like to have an inside out focus as we move
That includes a new emphasis on recruiting scholar athletes from
in and around the Fox Cities.
“We have to try to do our best to protect the back yard,” Aker
said. “Go in and find the best and the brightest and sell our vision and sell
our great university and make them understand that you don’t need to go
someplace else to succeed. You can accomplish all that and more right here.
It’s something we have to take great pride in.
“We’re going to be visible. I plan to be out on many, many
sidelines and in many, many bleachers come fall as we enjoy those Friday night
lights, watching the great high school programs around the area.”
With that inside out recruiting focus, Aker believes, will
come renewed excitement in the community for Vikings football. And better
attendance and more energy at the Banta Bowl on Saturday afternoons.
“We’ve got to do a little bit of work in the community to
make it fun again,” Aker said. “It’s a great setting, and this is a great
university, and this is a great campus and a great town. We’ve got to get
people here to show it off.
“We’re a part of the community and they’re a part of us, and
we’re trying to get back to that as much as we can.”
Tony Aker, a former football standout in Wisconsin at the high
school and college levels, was announced Tuesday as the new head football coach
at Lawrence University.
Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray said Aker, who has spent the
past four years on the coaching staff at Carroll University, will bring with
him a deep knowledge of Wisconsin and Midwest recruiting.
“We are excited to have Coach Aker and his family join the Lawrence University team,” Abaray said. “Tony is the right person at the helm to steer our program forward – implementing the steps to build, piece by piece. His experience, knowledge and energy represent what we will do — bring our Wisconsin and regional talent to Lawrence while continuing to embrace our national footprint, grow and develop our football scholar-athletes into leaders of the world and be active members of the community.”
Aker is the 29th head coach in Lawrence history.
“I’m beyond thrilled and excited to be named head football
coach at Lawrence,” Aker said. “I want to extend my thanks to
President (Mark) Burstein, Christyn Abaray and the search committee for
entrusting me to lead this great program. I look forward to developing our
current Lawrentians both on and off the football field, establishing great
relationships with our many alumni and working relentlessly to bring the best
and brightest future Vikings from our great state, region and beyond.”
Aker was an All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection as a wide receiver during his playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In high school, he was a standout athlete at Brown Deer High School and was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Wisconsin Athlete of the Year in 2005. Before transferring to UWSP, he spent two years at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota, where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and two-time all-region performer, helping to lead his team to the 2007 NJCAA national championship.
Aker was on the coaching staff at UWSP before moving on to Carroll, where he worked as associate head coach/offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks. He was most recently serving as the interim head coach at Carroll.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UWSP in 2012 and is working toward a master’s degree in education.
and I are excited to become members of the Lawrence community as well as
our greater Fox Valley community,” Aker said. “It truly is a great
time to be a Viking.”
For a complete story on the Aker hiring, see here.
Pull out your cozy sweaters and go find your pumpkin-carving kit, because fall is upon us. Personally, I love fall. The cool weather, leaves changing colors, cute fall outfits — everything about fall is just perfect. And I get it, some of you may be sad about summer ending. But honestly, there is no reason to be sad over summer, because Fall Term is jam-packed with so many fun things to do on and off campus. That is why I have created this list of things Lawrence students can look forward to this fall.
1) Soup Walk
This is exactly what it sounds like. On Oct. 19 from 1 to 4 p.m., restaurants in downtown Appleton will have their best soups for people to try. With your soup ticket, you can walk into the participating restaurants on College Avenue and try their soups. And once you’ve had all the soup your heart desires, vote for your favorite. Tickets for the soup walk are $20 and go on sale Oct. 1. There’s is nothing better than a bowl of soup on a cool autumn day.
2) Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade
The Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade always takes place on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That’s Nov. 26 this year. As odd as that might be, it’s great for Lawrence students because we are still on campus for it! The parade takes place on College Avenue, meaning you can see the parade from campus. It is filled with floats, bands, Santa Claus, even floats that shoot out fire to make sure everyone stays warm. If you want to watch the show from College Ave., be sure to get there early because the streets do fill up. The parade starts at 7 p.m.
Who doesn’t love fancy cars and good food? On Sept. 27 and 28, Appleton will be hosting its annual Octoberfest. The first night of Octoberfest kicks off with a classic car show called License to Cruise. The car show is filled with about 400 cars, live music, and great food. And if you think that’s great, the second day of Octoberfest is a huge block party — Appleton’s largest block party of the year. The party boasts five stages with live music, an arts and crafts station, and more delicious food. Luckily for us, Octoberfest takes place right on College Avenue, only a few blocks from campus.
4) ‘Hamilton’ in Appleton
Your eyes are not deceiving you; Hamilton is coming to Appleton! The Broadway production that took the world by storm will be at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a multi-week run in October. And unlike trying to see Hamilton on Broadway, you may actually be able to get tickets thanks to their lottery system. Check the PAC website for show dates and details.
5) Apple picking
This is a fall classic! As a kid, my favorite school trip was going to the nearest orchard and going apple picking. I didn’t really like eating the apples; I just really enjoyed picking them. Luckily for us, Appleton has a ton of apple farms, (see what I did there?), meaning we can take part in this fall ritual. The Hofacker’s Hillside Orchard is the closest orchard to campus, and they also have a pumpkin patch!
6) Fall Formal
Get your outfits ready! Every year Lawrence International hosts a Fall Formal, which is happening Sept. 27. The formal will be taking place at Liberty Hall in Kimberly, which is about 15 minutes from campus. If you don’t have a ride, no worries. There will be a shuttle running from campus to Liberty Hall every 15 minutes.
A new academic year means a new Convocation Series. Every year, the Convocation series is kicked-off with the Matriculation Convocation. This Convocation is special because it is led by our very own president, Mark Burstein. This year, the Matriculation Convocation will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 19 in Memorial Chapel.
8) Indigenous Peoples Day
Every year, the Lawrence University Native American Organization (LUNA) hosts an Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration. This year, the celebration will be held on Oct. 14 on Main Hall Green. The celebration is typically filled with music, food, and traditional dancing that is sacred to indigenous cultures. This celebration gives indigenous students a chance to celebrate and share their culture with the wider campus as it also gives non-indigenous students a chance to learn about indigenous cultures.
9) The Price is Right
Lawrentians, come on down! As a way to celebrate Lawrence’s annual Giving Day, the Student Ambassadors Program (SAP) will be hosting a game of The Price is Right. Students will be able to dress in funky costumes and guess the price on different items around Lawrence to win prizes … just like the game show! The game will be held on Oct. 10in the Mead Witter Room (second floor Warch), starting at 6:30 p.m. Giving Day will also have other events for students. Stay tuned.
10) Blue and White Weekend
Let’s go Vikes! As a way to celebrate the Lawrence community, Lawrence University hosts an annual Blue and White Weekend. From Oct. 3-6, Lawrence will be filled with different events for families, alumni, and students. Last year’s Blue and White weekend was so much fun! There were different sporting events, concerts, and lots of places on campus to get free food, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for this year!
11) Artist and Jazz Series
The performers coming to Lawrence during 2019-20 season have been announced! Brooklyn Rider will be the first group to kick-off the Artist Series, preforming Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Brooklyn Rider is a strings quartet that creates music focused on healing. The Jazz Series, meanwhile, will begin with the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, with the Miguel Zenon Quartet as the first featured performance. Miguel Zenon is a Grammy-nominated saxophonist who will be preforming at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9. You will not want to miss these performances, and the best part is, they’re free for students.
12) Game Night
As a way to ease the transition from high school to college for first-year students, Lawrence University’s Black Student Union (BSU) will be hosting a series of game nights. The game nights will be open to the entire campus with a focus on being a space where students of color can have fun and get to know each other. The first game night will be held at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20in the Diversity and Intercultural Center.
13) Events from S.O.U.P.
S.O.U.P. is the Student Organization for University Planning. All the fun, really random things that happen on campus are typically brought to us by S.O.U.P. This year will be no different, as S.O.U.P. continues to bring new events to campus for student to enjoy. On Sept. 28, S.O.U.P will be hosting Blacklight Zumbaand bringing magician Peter Boie to campus. Be sure to be on the lookout for more events hosted by S.O.U.P happening this fall.
14) Fall Sports
TOUCHDOWN! Fall term means fall sports. Be sure to stay up to date on the schedules for the football, volleyball, soccer, and tennis teams so you can support our Vikes!
15) Wriston Art
Let there be ART! The Wriston Art Gallery will soon be opening its fall exhibitions. New pieces will be displayed in the gallery with an opening reception at 8 p.m. Sept. 27. Come check out the incredible art right here on campus.
16) World Music Series
The World Music Series is keeping the ball rolling from last year with a performance from Çudamani: Gamelan and Dance of Bali. This group is considered Bali’s most forward-thinking ensemble and will be coming to campus at 8 p.m. Sept. 23. The World Music Series is free for students, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to see performances from around the world.
Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.
Lawrence University will add a 22nd varsity sports program when women’s hockey begins play in the 2020-21 season, Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray announced.
“We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women’s ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020-21 academic year,” Abaray said. “The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence.”
The addition of a women’s hockey team brings the roster of Lawrence women’s sports to 11, matching that of men’s teams. It marks the first program to be added to Lawrence athletics since men’s hockey achieved varsity status in 1986.
The work of getting the program up and running begins now with the hiring of the person to guide the team. Lawrence is conducting a national search for the program’s first head coach.
“We will hire a head coach this summer so that person has the full year to recruit our first varsity women’s ice hockey roster and integrate into the athletics department and greater institutional environment,” Abaray said. “It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking.”
The addition of the Vikings brings the number of NCAA Division III women’s hockey teams to 67, and Lawrence is in the middle of fertile recruiting ground. Minnesota has the largest girls’ hockey participation in the country, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois rank fourth through sixth, respectively.
The Lawrence women’s team is the 10th member of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, the premier hockey conference in the country and the home of the Vikings men’s squad.
“The NCHA is extremely pleased and enthusiastic with Lawrence University’s decision to sponsor an intercollegiate women’s hockey program, bringing membership in the women’s division to 10 programs,” NCHA Commissioner Don Olson said. “The conference is particularly pleased to have a present conference member initiate competition in women’s hockey and add to the strength and depth of the women’s division of the NCHA. In addition, Lawrence’s decision further establishes the NCHA’s leadership in the NCAA Division III hockey community as Lawrence becomes the fourth conference member to initiate sponsorship of women’s hockey in the past five years.”
The NCHA women’s conference started in 2000 with five teams, but the league was reshaped in 2013 when four teams, all from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, departed. At that point, the NCHA had seven members, Adrian College, Concordia University Wisconsin, Finlandia University, Lake Forest College, Marian University, St. Norbert College and the College of St. Scholastica. Aurora University, Trine University and Northland College began NCHA play in 2017. The league has nine members heading into the 2019-20 season.
The winner of the NCHA playoffs receives the Slaats Cup and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. NCAA women’s hockey championship competition began in 2002 with Elmira College winning the first title. Plattsburgh State took the crown in 2019.
The Lawrence women will play at the Appleton Family Ice Center, which has been home to the Lawrence men’s team since 1999. The Lawrence women will move into the current quarters of the Viking men’s program as an expanded men’s locker room, student-athlete lounge, athletic training area and office space are currently under construction on the south side of the building.
Joe Vanden Acker is the director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
you haven’t seen anything like this before.
an opera performance. And, yes, many of the usual expectations are there —
there are opera singers and percussionists, trumpets, a cello, even a flute.
There are dancers and a keyboardist and a bass player. Tuxedos will be
there’s a twist.
stage? Well, it’s a swimming pool. A fully functioning swimming pool.
Welcome to Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera, set to be staged this weekend at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
normally consider the arts, we put it on a stage and we sit, and there it is,”
said Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, the composer and musical director for the
production. “But here the audience is going to interact in a much different
The mastermind behind Breathe is Gabriel Forestieri, a Boston-based choreographer and director who teamed with Dempster two years ago to stage the water opera at Middlebury College in Vermont. He, along with Dempster and author and visual artist Adrian Jevicki, will try to bring that same magic to the pool at Lawrence this weekend, an invitation that came from Margaret Sunghe Paek, who is married to Dempster, is an instructor of dance in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and curates the Lawrence Dance Series.
the video of them in the water,” Paek said. “I said, ‘We need to bring that
here to Lawrence. We need to bring some version of that here.”
It’s taken two years, but it’s finally here. This version is heavier on musicians than the one at Middlebury, a nod to the diverse talents available courtesy of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.
as it might be, it wasn’t a hard sell, Dempster said.
“With the conservatory here and the wealth of really great musicianship available and people who are really excited to try something different, you find there is a curiosity there,” Dempster said. “It’s really doubled in size.”
There are more than 20 performers in the cast. Some are students from the conservatory, some from the college, some are athletes — including a diver — and some are professional dancers from the community.
“I saw a diver doing dives one day,” Paek said. “I went up to her and said, ‘Would you want to be in a water opera?’ And she’s in it. Things like that happened.”
That diver is Maddy Smith, a freshman biology major and member of the Lawrence swimming and diving team. It’s been a thrill, she said.
“I get to do diving in a different way, a more artistic way,” Smith said.
In the second to final scene, she’ll be on the board for seven dives. The biggest challenge, she said, is slowing everything down.
“They’ve been talking to me about how I need to slow down all of my dives and just kind of listen to the beat of the music and just go through it all at a slower tempo.”
Trial and error
Dempster said he had his doubts when Forestieri first broached the water opera idea. He had to go into the water to convince himself it was doable.
working with dancers and bringing them to the pool in Middlebury,” Dempster
said. “The question was, can I make sound underwater or even play the cello
underwater? So, I messed around with that, and eventually figured out that,
yes, it kind of works. After a bunch of experimenting and reading and doing
research, I found you can buy a hydrophone, something that would be used by a
marine biologist to record whales or sounds of marine life, and you can use
this to record playing underwater.
this cheap cello, or strange-looking box cello, as I call it, that when you
dunk it underwater, it still has enough air in it to create a resonator, so
when I play on this hydrophone, it makes a sound of some kind. Definitely not
like a regular cello. It has a very watery kind of sound.”
say, this isn’t like any cello recital you’ve been to.
much has the effect of performance art,” said Dempster, an Appleton resident
who teaches at Lawrence, has a private cello studio, and is a guest artist at
Renaissance School for the Arts. “We wear our tuxedos and get in the water. There
are always these different things happening. It evolves into a thing with
singers and percussionists and trumpet players.”
of the instruments are getting wet, of course. Some are played above the water.
There’s even a kayak in one scene. Much of the musicianship and dancing takes
place on the deck or on the water, but almost every cast member ends up in the
water at some point, and the entire pool is basked in dramatic lighting.
— restricted to no more than 250 or so because of limitations of the space — is
encouraged to move around during the performance, best to experience a variety
really about transforming the space,” Paek said. “Gabriel’s hope is that people
will go into the space and feel it and experience it differently. Even if they
go swimming there every day, they’ll be aware and present in a new way.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge as showtime draws near has been getting in the needed rehearsals. This performance, as you might expect, comes with its own set of challenges.
only rehearse when there are lifeguards,” Dempster said.
What:Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera
p.m. Saturday and Sunday (March 30-31)
Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University
Admission: Free, but reservations are required by calling the Lawrence Box Office at 920-832-6749. Access is limited to about 250 people per performance.
It’s a Tuesday evening in February, and the super snow moon — the biggest, brightest full moon of the year — is hanging over the outdoor ice rink in the Appleton yard of Chuck and Lesley McKee, shining like a beacon on a scene that screams, “This is how we all should embrace our Wisconsin winters.”
The rink, more than 100 feet long and 35 feet wide, is crafted with detail; the ice tended to with care, perfectly smooth on this 20-degree night. A dozen friends and acquaintances, pads on and hockey sticks in hand, ages ranging from 30s to 70s, skate across the rink in a game of pickup hockey, navigating around a large shagbark hickory adorned with lights while firing pucks into mini-sized goals.
“Tonight is perfection,” says Bill Carlson as he scans the scene
that unfolds on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons — weather
permitting — during the winter. He’s been coming to these makeshift hockey
games at the McKee house along Green Bay Road — just a few blocks north of the
Lawrence University campus — for 25 years.
“This is called The Venue, and this is the finest athletic facility in the state,” Carlson says with a wink and a smidge of exaggeration. He smiles and gives a nod to Chuck McKee ’68, the architect who has lovingly tended to this winter oasis for nearly three decades.
The McKees are alumni of Lawrence — both 1968 graduates — and are longtime friends and supporters of the school. Chuck, who retired three years ago after a long career as an Appleton physician, was a football star for the Vikings in the 1960s. He was a captain on the 1967 team that went undefeated and was inducted into the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago. Individually, he was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1996.
The McKees have stayed closely connected to Lawrence through the years, attending shows and games, serving on boards. Chuck once served as director of the wellness center on campus and assisted as a doctor for LU athletic teams. Lawrence hockey players will sometimes come to the McKee ice rink to play low-key pond hockey after their season ends.
In many ways, this house is an extension of Lawrence.
Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame: See Lawrence honorees here
A party on ice
It was the McKee daughters who first inspired an outdoor ice rink in the years after the McKees moved back to Appleton in the late 1970s. The rink was much smaller back then. But through trial and error, it would grow and become a more elaborate undertaking.
Others have taken notice.
In its January edition this year, Better Homes & Gardens magazine featured the McKees’ rink, showcasing an outdoor ice-skating party they threw last winter — it was dubbed Moon Over Ice and featured everything from homemade ice lanterns to an outdoor spread of food and drink. The elegant party was initially launched in the 1990s when the McKees thought it would be a good excuse to get friends and neighbors outdoors in the winter. It was halted after a couple of years, then revived again a few years ago.
“Everybody wore old-fashioned fancy clothes and I had a tux
that I wore,” Chuck says. “It was really fun.”
If the weather cooperates, it can be a fabulous experience.
If it’s too cold or windy or the ice doesn’t cooperate, then not as much.
The 2018 party fell into the fabulous category, a blessing considering the presence of the photographer working for Better Homes and Gardens. It was like a dinner party in a snow globe.
“That day it snowed all day,” Chuck says. “People were out setting
up stuff from 10 o’clock in the morning, hanging lights and fashioning the
snowbanks to put the tables on. We had a 30-foot-long table on the ice. It was
really nice. The whole idea was to spend all that time outside, and everybody
Then there’s the hockey
The activity on the ice the rest of the winter is a bit less sophisticated than a dinner party. It’s about hockey, but mostly it’s about camaraderie.
There are upwards of 25 guys who come for the hockey games on a semi-regular basis, usually 12 to 15 on any given Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, skill levels varying from some to none. They’re not necessarily friends outside of the hockey get-togethers, but they come because they’re drawn to the casual nature of the hockey and the friendly banter that comes with it, not unlike pickup basketball games or weekly softball leagues that draw players well beyond their athletic prime who still revel in friendly competition. This just happens to be at somebody’s house, a side yard transformed into an elaborate ice rink and a basement turned into a makeshift locker room.
“I’m most taken by how these various people got here,” Chuck
says. “The only thing we do together is play hockey. Otherwise, very few of us
have any close relationship.
“Probably only half or a third of the people who try this
actually stick with it. We’ve had a lot of people who have said, yea, I want to
give it a try, and then said, nah. It’s hard to predict who is going to stick
Marty Thiel came to the group this year. He’s 62, has been
playing hockey since high school but had put his skates mostly on the shelf
while his kids were growing up. They’re out of the house now, and one day he
was asking around about where he could play some “old guy hockey.”
A week later he got a call from Chuck and an invite to join
“Now I’m here three times a week,” Thiel says. “It’s
everything and more. I’ll be sad when the season ends because the setting here
is just perfect.”
The group helps the McKees keep the rink in working order. They
come together on a weekend in December to help set up the rink, and then tend
to it during the winter as if it were their own.
“It’s a human labor of love,” Carlson says. “During
intermissions, about 15 shovels come out and we shovel the ice. It’s like a
Zamboni with shovels. And then at the end of the night, there are a few guys
who use the hose and spray another layer so it’ll be ready for the next time.”
Getting the ice just right took years of starts and stops, Chuck says. He found silage film, typically used on farms, that he cuts to size and places on the ground before making the ice. He puts up 6-inch-wide boards around the rink, turning his yard into a massive bathtub. He replumbed a faucet in the basement to accommodate a 1-inch hose.
“So, we take that hose out of the window in the basement and
I just let the hose run for 18 hours when I know it’s going to be sub-freezing
for five days or so,” Chuck says.
Then it’s a matter of chasing falling leaves as the water freezes.
“Brown oaks are usually the last trees to drop their leaves,” Chuck says. “And these shagbark hickories, one of them didn’t drop its leaves this year until January.”
But now, on this Tuesday night in mid-February, the leaves are no longer an issue and the ice is gleaming, the super snow moon providing a glow.
“Now is the sweet time,” Chuck says.
When the hockey is done, the players return to the basement,
remove their pads, drink some beer and hang out. It’s a ritual that’s been
playing out over and over again, with an ever-changing cast of characters, for
nearly 30 years.
“Here’s what I think,” says Chuck, who at age 72 takes a back seat to no one on the ice. “Who gets to do this at my age? Who gets to sit down in a locker room and drink beer and play darts? I suppose I should be reading AARP books instead. You lose yourself in this, in the hockey. You’re all the same age out there.”
Chuck, who on this night was not playing because he had
broken a rib on a freakish fall during a game a couple of weeks earlier, says
the rink isn’t going anywhere, even when he eventually hangs up his skates.
This ice thing is a hobby he can’t quit.
“Honestly, I’m going to make ice even if I’m not playing hockey,” he says. “It’s really fun. It’s like winter gardening.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
“That’s when you start thinking, man, this is kind of a big deal”
Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications
Sometimes madness can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
Those who have even a passing curiosity of college basketball know the month of March is an unfolding tapestry of drama and strategy, unabashed joy and cruel heartbreak, playing out on hardwood courts across the country, often in spacious arenas housing hoops royalty but sometimes in small but achingly charming gymnasiums far from the spotlight.
So begins our flashback to 15 years ago, when the men’s basketball team from Lawrence University began its own magical dance through March Madness. It was a run that took the Vikings to the Division III Elite 8 before they suffered an agonizing 1-point overtime loss to the eventual national champions in a game that the then-Lawrence coach calls one of the greatest college basketball games ever played — even though the gymnasium in Tacoma, Washington, was mostly empty.
No, this is not a story that ended with a national
championship. History rarely remembers a team that came up two games short.
But March Madness is different. A good Cinderella story has
legs, made of moments and memories that live on.
Until March 2004, Lawrence had never won an NCAA tournament game. Ever. It hadn’t happened in 101 years.
They would win three on this post-season journey, a fourth slipping from their fingers, a Final Four berth just a few ticks of the clock out of reach.
Division III gets little love from national media, so this wasn’t quite the hysteria of Maryland-Baltimore County beating top-seeded Virginia last year. But it was big here. The Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, chronicled Lawrence’s run through the 2004 tournament with equal parts excitement and astonishment.
— — —
“Those brainiacs over at Lawrence showed they can ball with anybody on the Division III level, and those of you who were paying attention no doubt had quite a ball following their Shock the Nation National Tour. One point, one play from a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four. Lawrence University? Tell you what, folks, on a larger scale, this would be like Lehigh making it to the Elite Eight in Division I.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent
— — —
As we check in with that 2003-04 team 15 years later, we
find that those players who posted a 24-5 record and went undefeated at
Alexander Gymnasium were far more than basketball players. It turns out they
were scholars, embracing the academic side of Lawrence as fervently as they
attacked their basketball preparations.
Chris Braier, a sophomore that season who would go on to
become the most accomplished player in Lawrence history, would also earn the
status of Academic All-American. Now 34 and a physician assistant in Chicago,
he earned his MBA in December from Northwestern University and has added clinical
health care consultant to his resume.
Three other players from that team are now doctors — Kyle MacGillis, a hand/wrist/elbow surgeon in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Jason Holinbeck, an orthopedic surgeon in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Brett Sjoberg, a radiologist in Madison.
Chris MacGillis, brother of Kyle and the leading scorer with
22 points in that Elite 8 game, earned his law degree and is now a partner in a
Milwaukee area law office.
Ben Klekamp earned his doctorate and now works as an
epidemiologist in Florida.
Another is a college basketball coach, another a financial
advisor, another a director of business development, another a manager of a
regional business. The list goes on.
Count John Tharp, the then-34-year-old coach of that team,
impressed. Not surprised, but impressed.
“The greatness of that run wasn’t necessarily just the
wins,” Tharp says as he chats from Hillsdale College, where he now coaches the
Division II Chargers. “The greatness of the run was the collection of people
that we had in the program at that time. You want to epitomize what a
student-athlete is, it was the collection of guys that were on that basketball
— — —
“This whole experience has left a mark that will never go away, and that’s a good thing. For the journey was full of tales and memories that have no shelf life.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent
— — —
An historic run
By the time the tournament began in early March 2004, the Lawrence campus had already taken notice that something special was going on. Despite having no player taller than 6’6″, the Vikings had imposed their will as they marched through the Midwest Conference schedule.
As the season rolled on, Alexander Gymnasium got down-right
rowdy. It was full. It was loud.
The Appleton Fire Department had to turn people away because
of fire code concerns.
“The vibe around campus, people were really excited,” Braier says. “The first game, there was a row of chairs along the baseline at Alex, and by the end of the year they had to build a whole new bleacher section on the baseline because of the crowds.
“When you would come to games, a lot of times the women would play before us, so you would come in during the first half of the women’s game, and you started noticing that there would be a line to get into our games. You couldn’t find a parking spot an hour and a half before the game. That’s when you start thinking, man, this is kind of a big deal.”
They won all 12 home games.
Then came the tournament. The run began with a first-round
86-51 blowout of Lakeland at a packed Alexander Gym.
“I can remember diving for a loose ball into the standing
room-only crowd in one of the corners and realizing that they’re 10 deep in the
corners to watch this game,” Braier says.
Then it was on to Storm Lake, Iowa, a seven-hour bus trip
into the round of 32.
“When we went to play Buena Vista and we were in Storm Lake,
Iowa, we had a ton of students who were at that game,” Tharp recalls. “That’s a
great effort to be there. It was amazing. To come out of that locker room and
to see how many Lawrence kids were there, and just people from Appleton who
were not even necessarily connected to Lawrence, that was incredibly special.”
Lawrence would beat Buena Vista 72-66, sending them to the Sweet 16 in Tacoma and a match up with Sul Ross State, a team from Alpine, Texas, loaded with size and talented junior college transfers. It was unchartered territory for any school from the Midwest Conference, which had never seen a team advance past the second round.
A thrilling 86-79 overtime win that included a late double-digit
comeback moved the Vikings to the Elite 8 and a showdown with the University of
Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III power located just 60 miles west of the
Lawrence campus but light years away in terms of basketball history. The
Pointers at the time had advanced to the Elite 8 twice in the previous decade
and would go on to win back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005.
It was a nail-biter, neither team giving ground, filled with drama to the end — witnessed by no more than 400 or so people in a college fieldhouse nearly 2,000 miles from home. A late Stevens Point three-pointer sent the game into overtime — a bonus five minutes — and then Lawrence’s improbable journey came crashing down in the waning seconds of that extra period.
A made basket by the Pointers to retake the lead. Then a
last-second shot that would have won the game for Lawrence fell short. The
scoreboard read 82-81.
“I just remember being completely exhausted, dropping to the
floor,” Braier says.
Just like that, the ride was over.
“You felt like that last shot, how does that not go in?”
Braier says. “It’s like we were in a movie. In the movie, that shot goes in.”
Puget Sound, the host school, had lost the night before to
Stevens Point. Thus, witnesses in the arena that night were few.
“There weren’t more than 300 or 400 people in the crowd at that game, and it was probably one of the greatest college basketball games ever played,” Tharp says. “It was a phenomenal game.”
Stevens Point would roll through the next two games to claim
a national championship. Lawrence was left with what might have been.
“I think when you talk to everybody they all think we were
one or two possessions away from maybe having a chance to win a national
championship,” Tharp says.
After the game, even the Stevens Point coach wished aloud
that both teams could move on.
— — —
“The Vikings would
have gladly jumped at that invitation to play one more game together. On
Sunday, though, the talk in the airport was already moving to this week’s final
exams on campus, spring-break trips and other ‘real life’ adventures. The team
knew that this particular group, like all teams, only receives one chance to
write its story.” Dick Knapinski, The Post-Crescent
— — ——
“I think there was a sense of disappointment and heartbreak
after that loss,” Tharp says. “Afterwards, and over the years, I think there is
an obviously special place in everybody’s hearts about the run that was made.”
For Chris MacGillis, a senior on that team, the end of the journey hurt more than missing out on a chance at a national championship.
“I wasn’t emotional because we lost and I thought we should have won,” he says. “I just remember becoming emotional because of how proud I was and how happy I was to be with this group of guys. We were a very tight group. We all relied on each other and we all cared about each other, and we still do to this day. I was more emotional about not being able to do this with these guys anymore than I was about losing.”
Lawrence would continue to dominate the Midwest Conference for the next couple of years, going undefeated in the 2005-06 regular season and claiming the school’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking. They’d win a couple more tournament games, as well. But they never quite recaptured the glory of 2004.
“It really was magical,” MacGillis says.
Fifteen years later, most of the players on that team remain connected. There are job changes and weddings and children and other life moments to navigate. But the bonds formed during that memorable season remain to this day. For basketball players, a March Madness experience, no matter if it’s under the bright lights of D-1 or in the more dimly lit shadows of D-3, lodges in your soul and stays there forever.
When Braier was inducted into Lawrence’s athletic hall of fame three years ago, many of the players from that team made their way back to Appleton. Braier said it was a reminder to him of how special that group was.
“I always thought, man, these guys are ridiculously smart,”
Braier says. “That was my first thought when I first dealt with my teammates.
“I don’t think at the time you realize how special of a
group of individuals this was. It was just an everyday thing. … Everyone was
such a high achiever. You didn’t think it was anything different. But then when
you stepped away or you talked to friends from other teams, that’s when you
The coaches remain as connected as the players, despite a
decade and a half of travels and life experiences separating them from those
three weeks of madness.
“Those guys are part of my life, and obviously things have
changed a little bit with me being at a different school and those guys are all
over the country now, but I think everyone knows where everybody is at and what
everybody is doing,” Tharp says. “But what makes it special, I still think to
this day if anybody needed anyone else on that team, I think everybody would
still be there for each other.”
Braier is getting married in September and most of his
Lawrence teammates will be there.
There’s also a Las Vegas getaway every March that reunites
many of them. No better time than March to recall that fleeting moment when
Lawrence basketball got to dance.
“Man, I could talk about this forever,” Braier says.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org