1985-1986 Mankato State women's basketball team 10-7-07

The 1985-86 Mankato State University women’s basketball team finished with a 25-4 record and won the NCC championship.

The gray is beginning to creep into their hair and the crows feet are a bit more visible, but the smiles are definitely their most prominent features.

Most of the members of the then Mankato State University’s 1985-86 women’s basketball team were gathered together in Mankato Friday night to be recognized for their efforts that record-setting season. The team was inducted, en masse, into MSU’s Athletics Hall of Fame during a banquet held at the downtown Alltel Center.

“It’s special, it’s great,” said Julie Cink, one of the starting forwards on the ’85-’86 team. “When you look back on it, it was one of the most exciting times of my life.

“We knew we had the talent and that year it all came together. I remember thinking, during that opening run of 16 straight wins — wow, we’re finally playing like I thought we could.”

The 1985-86 squad was the first and only MSU women’s basketball team to win a North Central Conference championship. It was also the first women’s basketball team to qualify for and play in the NCAA Division II national tournament.

The team’s 25-4 record remains a school record for victories in a season. The Mavericks set 17 school records in all that year and all five starters — Cink, center Lisa Walters, guards Anne Christopherson and Carla Schuck, and forward Pat Burns — have been inducted individually into the MSU Hall of Fame.

The foundation for the most prolific season in MSU women’s basketball history was built by longtime coach Mary Willersheidt who recruited virtually all of the team’s members. In her final season, the 1984-85 campaign, all five starters were already in place. The team went 20-8 that season and the team members realized they had the talent to compete with the best.

“I knew right away there were some special players on the team,” said Walters (now Lisa Sukalski), who was a freshman in 1984-85 and joined the team the same season as transfer Schuck. “All the other players had a lot of college experience but they made me feel welcome right away.”

Cink said the arrival of Walters was critical to the team’s success.

“She was the final piece to the puzzle,” Cink said. “We needed a center because I was just too short to play there. Lisa came in and started scoring and ripping down rebounds and we knew she was legit.”

Willerscheidt stepped down at the end of the ’84-’85 season and was replaced by Sarah Novak, who brought with her a renewed emphasis on defense.

“Coach Novak really made us work on defense,” Cink said. “We played a lot of presses that year and you could see the other teams get scared when we started to press. She told us to just get our hands on the ball, even if we couldn’t steal it, and that would frustrate (our opponents).”

After reeling off 16 straight wins to start the season, the Mavericks fell to Grand View 80-78. MSU then won four more consecutive games before losing to Creighton 72-56. After five more wins — including a 104-44 blowout against Minnesota-Morris — MSU fell to South Dakota State 62-61 to end the regular season.

Three of the team’s players — Walters, Cink and Burns — were named to the All-North Central Conference team and Walters was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Mavericks ended up leading the league in offense, defense, rebounding and scoring margin.

The impressive 25-3 record was put to the test in the first round of the national tournament against familiar foe North Dakota State — a team the Mavericks had beaten twice in two regular-season meetings. The game was played at MSU’s Highland Arena. When it was over, the Bison had ended MSU’s season with a 67-62 victory.

“I remember I was stunned,” said Walters. “It was the most devastating loss I’ve ever had.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Walters and her Henderson High School team had lost in double overtime in the state finals just two seasons earlier.

Cink looks back and has no regrets.

“We were all pretty good friends while we were playing,” she said. “It’s a shared experience we’ll always have. I got to play with a phenomenal group of players and nothing can ever change that.”

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