April 5, 2023 at 7:24 p.m.

Doing it all for Duluth

Doing it all for Duluth
Doing it all for Duluth

By Evan Michealson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Former Streeter Thiesen keys collegiate championship appearance

After the 2023 NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament had reached its conclusion, University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs head coach Mandy Pearson called senior point guard and Sauk Centre native Maesyn Thiesen and told her she should consider coaching for a career choice.

After all, in a strange sense, Thiesen already was a coach for the Bulldogs during a remarkable run exemplified by perseverance and belief, as UMD competed in the NCAA Division II national championship against Ashland University April 1, the first time the Bulldogs had ever appeared in a title match. 

“One of the most impactful quotes I’ve ever heard is: ‘Leaders do what needs to be done when it needs to be done,’” Pearson said. “That’s what she (Maesyn) does. She’s the real deal.”

Thiesen, alongside NCAA Division II Player of the Year Brooke Olson, created a critical leadership fifth-year senior combination that provided leadership and on-court abilities to propel UMD to historic heights. The soon-to-be graduates have been roommates for five years and have built an unmatched cohesion through sharing the same desire for success. For Thiesen, it stems from her high school days as the Streeters’ floor general.

“When I was in high school, Mr. (Scott) Bergman was a phenomenal coach and always had three goals: get better every day, be a great teammate and have fun,” Thiesen said. “With Brooke, we had those same three goals.”

From the moment the 2022-23 women’s basketball campaign started, it felt different to the Bulldogs, who have won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in three of the previous four seasons but struggled to find wins in NCAA tournament play. As it turned out, adapting one of Coach Bergman’s three components, having fun, proved to be essential in sustaining momentum throughout the season.

“Even the girl who didn’t play any minutes was on the bench screaming and throwing up her hands and the girls who played the most were doing the same thing on the floor,” Thiesen said. “The relationships we had with each other and the common theme of having so much fun was what made this team special.”

Enjoyment blossomed into eventual results. By the time the Bulldogs officially punched their ticket to the Big Dance with an 80-74 NSIC championship win over Minnesota State University, Mankato, Feb. 28, they sat at 27-3, including nine straight wins heading into March Madness. 

“They did everything together with so much joy, and they competed so hard,” said Pearson, a former First Team All-American for Concordia College of Moorhead and the fastest UMD coach to reach 100 wins. “I’ve had the opportunity to coach some amazing groups. I haven’t seen a group of people come together this well with this much joy to try and fight for the same goal.”

UMD entered the Central Regional first round with high expectations, and it was easy to see why. The Bulldogs boasted a premier scorer in Olson, excellent two-way threats in Taya Hakamaki and Ella Gilbertson and one of the strongest defenses in Division II. However, underneath all of these glowing statistics was Thiesen, whose impact went far beyond her 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

“She never quite gets the credit she deserves,” Pearson said. “She is so smart, the hardest worker I’ve ever been around, the toughest kid I’ve ever been around.”

And as the Bulldogs continued to grind out victories, Thiesen’s services were required more than ever. She often had the ball in her hands as the team’s leading distributor and communicator and also played consistent on-ball defense that frustrated opponents. These elements became so vital in big-time games where finding flow under pressure was necessary, leading to Thiesen remaining on the floor for a staggering 32.4 minutes per game, the most on the team. There were several times, including in UMD’s Final Four win over Catawba, where she never left the court.

“I just really always want to do anything I could do to help the team win,” Thiesen said. “If that was staying on for the whole time, I would do that. If that mean I was off the floor, I was fine with that too. I wanted to do whatever it took.”

Thiesen’s importance was never more evident than in the Bulldogs’ regional championship battle against Missouri Southern State March 13. UMD trailed by as many as 20 points, including a 17-point deficit with under six minutes to play. However, the NSIC champions mounted a comeback that no one visiting Duluth’s Romano Gymnasium will ever forget, with Thiesen connecting on a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes to lead the Bulldogs to a 77-76 triumph.

“There really wasn’t a time, even when we were down, where we thought that we were going to lose,” Thiesen said. “We all decided we were going to do it now and fight for the win or our season was going to be over.”

Off the back of this heart-stopping home-court finale, the Bulldogs traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri for the Elite Eight and Final Four, winning against Assumption University 61-41 and Catawba 70-59 to set up a championship matchup against undefeated Ashland. 

Before the big game tipped off, Thiesen and the Bulldogs received a chance to take part in a special set of circumstances. For only the second time ever in NCAA women’s basketball history, the DI, DII and DIII championship bouts all took place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, to honor the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The six national finalists, including Caitlin Clark and Iowa and Angel Reese and DI national champion LSU, all participated in a ceremony recognizing important figures in growing women’s basketball.

“Everybody in Dallas did such a good job of recognizing what we were celebrating,” Thiesen said. “There really was an emphasis on recognizing the women and the people who had been a part of the movement to get us to where we are.”

Even from across the country and years after her high school career’s conclusion, Thiesen regularly received positive messages and support from her hometown as Sauk Centre and the entire state of Minnesota rallied around the Bulldogs for its memorable run.

“I’m really proud of her and her accomplishments,” Bergman said. “What a nine-year stretch she had. The number of games she won at both the high school and collegiate levels is unbelievable.”

And while this dreamlike scenario did not end with a national championship, as Ashland picked up a 78-67 victory, Thiesen and the Bulldogs left Dallas with nothing but positive memories, the finishing touches on a season that defied expectations, crowned heroes and put an underdog story on the national stage. 

“It was such an exciting run for my whole team, everybody in the city of Duluth and the state of Minnesota,” Thiesen said. “There is really no other game I would have rather finished my career in. It was an exciting time and one I will remember forever.”


You must login to comment.


Top Stories

Today's Edition