Helping Hand

One of the state’s major names ion handball has been coaching and teaching the spot for nine years at Minnesota State Mankato

Maverick alum John Stoffel, who for years has competed internationally and consistently ranks among the top handball players in Minnesota, says it’s the decorum of the sport that keeps him interested and keeps him volunteering as assistant coach for the University’s traveling team.

 “A lot of [sports] in my experience as a parent get tainted by some of the parents’ involvement, the yelling, etc. You just don’t have that in handball,” Stoffel said. “Those kids have to compete against each other and live with each other in a 20 by 40 room and get along with everybody. It takes a certain type of person.”

Stoffel playing handball
Stoffel in action

Stoffel was brought onto the team by head coach Mike Wells, an information technology  professor. Wells helped get the team off the ground as a student organization in 2008 with a handful of interested students and later – as more were involved — brought Stoffel on board to help coach.

For the past eight years, the handball team has traveled the world, competing in tournaments as its ranks continue to grow.  For their part, students are given unforgettable experiences and connections through a sport that many of them never considered until taking  a class in it.

“Maybe 98 percent who have gone through the program never played handball before college,” Stoffel said. “Part of that is from setting up the classes and getting the sport exposed to those who are interested.”

Stoffel said getting the classes formed was one of the easiest tasks ever. While Wells did the necessary paperwork, Stoffel was hoping to make a case for the class with himself as instructor as adjunct faculty. 

“The dean of the college at the time was my former wrestling coach at Minnesota State Mankato and who also played handball when he was younger,” Stoffel recalled. “It was the softest and easiest sell ever to get a program installed at Mankato. He knew our reputation at handball, and it was a no-brainer, where-do-I-sign and good-luck-guys kind of conversation.” 

Head coach Mike Wells and Jon Stoffel
John Stoffel, right, with head coach Mike Wells.

The handball team’s first years saw one or two members entering competitions. Today, the team travels around the country participating with upwards of 20 teammates. 

The tournaments serve as Ideal recruiting events for Minnesota State Mankato. The most recent team has members from Milwaukee, Ore., Vancouver, Wash., several from California, a student from St. John’s, Canada and – arriving in fall, a recruit from Ireland.

For the most part, it’s the students who serve as the best ambassadors for the University, Stoffel said.

“Kids listen to kids,” he said, noting his son and handball player Tyler Stoffel convinced the Vancouver transplant to attend Mankato.

 “The recruit from Vancouver had never stepped on campus,” Stoffel said. “He came all full-faith, ready to go and had never seen campus before his first day of arrival on his freshman year. That speaks to how well the kids can recruit.”

In addition to the quality of education, one draw to the University and handball in particular is the family atmosphere of the organization, Stoffel said.

“Mike and I, both of our families are involved, and I think that’s soothing from the players’ standpoint. We’ll have kids over for supper sometimes, we’ll celebrate things together. They kind of join a handball family. 

“That’s soothing for parents at home, too, that they get to know us and understand it really is a family environment. This isn’t a sink-or-swim kind of situation. Our ultimate goal is to get them through college, and by the way we’re going to play some pretty competitive handball while doing so.”

The men and women handball players in a team photo
The championship team

In February, the men’s handball team won its first-ever open division national title, and the Maverick women’s handball team finished second nationally at the 67th annual United States Handball Association’s National Collegiate Handball Championships.

The men’s team beat the University of Texas by a score of 2,148-2,118 to win the national title.

Tyler Stoffel, Michael Gaulton, Adrian Anderson, Clay Edwards, Sam Ure and Matt Johnson scored for the Maverick men’s team. Stoffel and Gaulton earned All-American honors.

The Maverick women’s team finished runner-up to Missouri State University by a score of 2,287-2,232. Scoring for the Maverick women’s team were: Ciana Ni Churraoin, Carina Aguilar, Kendra Kaupa, Maddie Kennedy, Courtney Sill and Crystal Theobald. Ni Churraoin and Aguilar earned All-American honors.