Emilee Thiesse and her husband Brandon walked around the Minnesota State campus Wednesday afternoon, feeling the energy of the new school and all the students who were showing up, and it hit her.
“This is the right place for me.”
Thiesse was introduced as the new Mavericks women’s basketball coach Thursday morning, and it comes at an important time in the program’s development. Four seasons ago, the Mavericks were national champions. The next two seasons were down, as they missed the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament.
Last season, the Mavericks again qualified for the national tournament, and even though they were bounced in the first round of the postseason, it was a nice, five-win improvement and provided serious optimism with a strong returning group.
Then coach Pam Gohl left in July, leaving a void that threatened to interrupt this progression.
But Thiesse seems like a good fit. Senior Alyssa Van Klei served on the search committee, and she said Thiesse distinguished herself early in the process.
“She really set the bar high,” Van Klei said. “She seemed really excited about the opportunity, and I think she’ll run the program with class and integrity and a focus on academics, which is really important. It makes me really excited about Mavericks basketball, and I’m excited to get started.”
Athletic director Kevin Buisman faced a tough call in this search process. Thiesse had a solid resume but no head-coaching experience, while the other finalist, Allison Kruger, had posted two unsuccessful seasons as the head coach at Southwest Minnesota State.
“It was a difficult decision that I contemplated for a long time,” he said. “I don’t think I could have gone wrong with either choice, but a lot of signs kept pointing back to Emilee. She’s been successful at every step, and hopefully she can continue that legacy at Minnesota State.”
You might say that Thiesse has been preparing for this moment for her entire life. Her dad, Tim Gusso, is a long-time, successful high-school coach back at Spearfish, S.D. Thiesse’s older sister, Amy Williams, was just named the women’s basketball coach at South Dakota.
In the last eight years, Thiesse has been mentored by Aaron Johnston at South Dakota State and Amy Stephens at Drake.
“Aaron is the one who has given me more responsibilities and groomed me to be a head coach,” Thiesse said.
Johnston said that he’s been pretty busy the last couple of days as he tries to figure out who will take over Thiesse’s duties. He’s seen his share of assistants, and he’s pretty sure that Thiesse will be successful.
“She’s 100 percent ready to lead a program,” Johnston said. “She understands the big picture of everything it takes to run a program.”
Sometime before she arrived on campus, Thiesse was already processing the step from assistant to head coach, making decisions instead of taking instructions. She played in the first game at Bresnan Arena in 2000, a victory in the season-opening Tip-Off as a member of the Nebraska-Kearney team, and it started an attraction to Minnesota State.
“That as my first glimpse of the university,” she said. “As I continued to research this opportunity, I could just tell it was right for me.”
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofrepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.