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Gopher Sports

Winter 2012
Basketball’s Nicole Mastey, hockey’s border-to-border domination, Mary Jo Kane on the portrayals of female athletes and more Gopher sports news

In Good Hands
 Nicole Mastey
Backup senior guard Nicole Mastey, who played fewer than eight minutes last season, did not necessarily seem a natural choice to co-captain the Gophers women’s basketball team this year—except to her teammates. They selected the senior from Becker, Minnesota, to lead the team along with standouts Kiara Buford and Jackie Voigt. “We didn’t have to think about it too hard, because of all she does for us,” says Buford, also a captain in 2010-11. 

Mastey, a major in recreation, park, and leisure studies, established herself as an important presence on the team despite her scant time on the floor. Ever upbeat, she is an indefatigable cheerleader on the bench. Extra responsible, she texts reminders to teammates about important deadlines. A good listener, she’s the one they turn to with problems. “She’s always played the motherly role,” Buford says.

With her strong work ethic and drive to improve her skills, Mastey pushes her teammates to better themselves. Last season, she showed up half an hour early for practices to learn her new guard position—she was willing to switch from forward for the team. She set the pace in drills, finishing first in the line sprints. She added extra workouts in the summer and reported this fall in the best shape of anyone on the team.

Recruited out of Becker High School with her twin sister, Brianna, a 2008 Minnesota Ms. Basketball finalist, Nicole could easily have become discouraged watching her sister excel for the Gophers. But, characteristically, Nicole remains her sister’s biggest fan. “I want her to do well,” she says. “I love that we’re on the same team.”

When Coach Pam Borton announced Mastey’s selection as team co-captain, that was the ultimate affirmation. “It’s refreshing that teammates see all the hard work I’m doing, even if I’m not on the floor,” Nicole says. “It’s a great feeling that they respect me.”
—John Rosengren

Uhl Named Top Freshman
Big Ten soccer coaches named Gopher freshman forward Taylor Uhl the conference Freshman of the Year, and unanimously

Taylor Uhl
voted her onto the All-Freshman Team. Uhl, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, led the Gophers in points (30), goals (13), and shots (68) and is tied with three other players for a team-high four assists.

Fellow freshman Becca Roberts, a midfielder, was also named to the All-Freshman Team. The Lino Lakes, Minnesota, native tallied five points (two goals and one assist) in her first season.

Border-to-Border Domination
The Gopher men’s hockey team got off to its best start in a decade after sweeping a two-game series against rival North Dakota at Mariucci Arena in November. The wins sent the then–9-1-0 Gophers to the top of the national polls, a ranking they retained after splitting a two-game series against Wisconsin the following weekend. The win against the Badgers marked the 300th career victory for Coach Don Lucia. Pictured here are senior goalie Kent Patterson and freshman defenseman Ben Marshall. Patterson made 24 saves against North Dakota in his fifth shutout of the season.

Pictured here are senior goalie Kent Patterson and freshman defenseman Ben Marshall.

“Those kids have been good to us and taking care of us, and you know, we’re not doing very well. So I said, ‘Let’s reward them.’
So we are going to feed them lunch on game day. They deserve that.”

—Gopher football coach Jerry Kill on buying University of Minnesota students hot dogs, chips, and candy at the Iowa game on October 29. Kill was at the food giveaway prior to the game to thank students in person. The Gophers defeated the Hawkeyes 22-21.

A Major Early Season Loss

Trevor Mbakwe
Calamity visited the Gopher men’s basketball team seven games into the season when leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a game against Dayton on November 27. The 6-foot-8-inch, 245-pound senior forward will miss the rest of the season.

Mbakwe drew national attention for his leaping ability and aggressive, consistent play. He had been named to the John R. Wooden Award watch list, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate basketball player, and was on the preseason All–Big Ten First Team. The leading rebounder for Team USA at the World University Games this summer, Mbakwe was averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds per game at the time of his injury.

Athletes, Not Babes, Sell Tickets 
Mary Jo Kane says there’s an assumption about female athletes, and it goes like this: If they would only show a little more skin—you know, something like a beach volleyball uniform—then maybe they’d pack arenas a little more often.

Kane, director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, heard the sentiment so often that she began to dig into the archives on that scantily clad assumption. What she found was nothing, nada, not a word.
“In almost 50 years of sport research, the empirical data is completely silent on this question,” says Kane. “And there appears to be nothing in marketing either.”

So Kane and student Heather Maxwell (Ph.D. ’09) completed the first-ever research on the connection between consumer perceptions of female athletes and ticket sales. Their findings, published in the May Journal of Sport Management, surprised even them. Kane and Maxwell discovered that rather than making consumers more interested in buying tickets or attending games, images of sexed-up women athletes actually produced the opposite effect in several controlled focus groups, including 18- to 34-year-old women and 35- to 55-year-old men. Many study participants called the “cheesecake” images dopey or even disgusting. Most telling of all, images of women athletes dressed as athletes and performing as athletes produced the highest scores in terms of consumer interest in buying single-game or even season tickets.

The outliers were 18- to 34-year-old males, who, far from being offended by the sexy images, instead deemed them “hot.” Images of sexed-up female athletes, such as one of IndyCar racing star Danica Patrick sprawled across the hood of a car in a swimsuit, made the 18- to 34-year-old guys more likely to read a magazine article about women’s athletics, and even to watch a game on TV, but not necessarily to buy a ticket to a game and certainly not to buy season tickets.

“We now have empirical data and it’s very clear,” says Kane. “Portraying women athletes as athletes is a smart marketing strategy for
This cover of Sports Illustrated was one of the images Mary Jo Kane and Heather Maxwell used to measure consumer response to images of female athletes.
most consumer groups. And on the flip side, portraying women athletes as sex objects produces a significant backlash among most consumer groups.”

Kane and Maxwell seem to have hit a nerve in the zeitgeist. Media has interviewed Kane more than 15 times about the research, and The Nation magazine asked her to pen an article about it for the July 2011 issue. She’s also in talks with WNBA officials, who have asked her to consult on marketing strategy.

“What we’d love to see now is more consumer research along these lines,” says Kane. “That’s the nice thing about consumers. If you ask them what they think, they have no qualms about telling you.”

—Alyssa Ford

To hear an Access Minnesota interview with Mary Jo Kane click here.

Sports of Yore

Herb Brooks (B.A. ’62) began his collegiate coaching career in 1972 when he took over a struggling Golden Gopher men’s hockey program. In an interview in the December 1972 issue of the Alumni News (the name of this magazine at the time) he said, “I didn’t take this job to be a loser. I had a pretty good insurance job which a lot of people thought I was crazy to leave. When I quit, my dad said he must have raised an idiot for a son. When things get a little tough for us I think about that and chuckle. But I have no regrets. We’re going to make this the No. 1 hockey school.”

Brooks would go on to coach three national championship teams in his seven seasons at Minnesota. He left the U in 1979 to coach the U.S. Olympic hockey team, which upset the Soviet Union and then defeated Finland for the gold medal to pull off the legendary “Miracle on Ice.” He went on to coach three pro hockey teams.

Brooks died in a car crash in 2003.


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