MIAC Profile Of Excellence: Ackiss Leads Gustavus Turnaround

Posted on September 30th, 2016 by

Release courtesy of Rich Mies, Special to the MIAC

ST. PETER, Minn. – A year ago, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women’s soccer preseason coaches’ poll pegged Gustavus Adolphus College to finish 11th in the 12-team league. To everyone’s surprise, except maybe their own, the Gusties earned a second place finish, just one point behind conference champ St. Thomas. GAC then emerged as the league’s Playoff champions and secured the school’s first NCAA berth since 1996.

“At the start of the 2015 season, we felt we were closer to our goals but we were not aware how close we were and of all that we could accomplish,” said Head Coach Laura Burnett-Kurie. “We not only shocked everyone in the MIAC but we kind of shocked ourselves.”

Playing a pivotal role in this surprising turnaround were six juniors who showed poise and leadership that inspired their teammates to exceed expectations. Offensively, the group was led by Maddison Ackiss – now in her senior season – who has led the Gusties’ in scoring in each of her three seasons wearing the black and gold.

“[Ackiss] is a great all-around player and a threat to score in so many ways,” said Burnett-Kurie. “She can shoot from distance, she can cross the ball. She can create her own shots or can take a pass and make the moves.”

The changes that have swept the Gustavus program in the past four seasons have been impressive as the program as risen from a decade of dormancy to regain its position among the leading programs not only in the MIAC, but nationally.

From 1992-2001, no women’s program in the MIAC enjoyed more success on the pitch than Gustavus Adolphus College. In that 10-year span, the Gusties never finished lower than fourth in conference play, and ran off an impressive skein of four consecutive titles, including back-to-back unbeaten championships in 1993 and 1994. They made six appearances in the NCAA Division III national tourney in that decade.

ackiss2After that, Gustavus’ fortunes turned and it stagnated in the middle of the MIAC pack. After the 2011 season, long-time Head Coach Mike Stehlik resigned after 22 seasons. He was replaced by the energetic Burnett-Kurie. “It was kind of like spring cleaning,” Burnett-Kurie said. “We came in, bringing our philosophy and our goals. We began implementing them and started doing things the way we wanted. I’d say our plan was to be competing for a MIAC Playoff berth by 2015 and fighting for the top spot by 2016 or 2017.”

One of Stehlik’s final accomplishments at GAC was to begin the recruiting process of the class on 2017, most notably Ackiss. “I grew up in Fairbanks Alaska, and the summer before I started 10th grade, I was on a team that played in the Schwann’s Cup [in Blaine, Minn.],” Ackiss recalled. “I’d never heard of Gustavus. He emailed me, telling me about Gustavus and we kept in touch.”

After Burnett-Kurie was hired in February 2012, she picked up where he had left off in terms of recruiting Ackiss. “She really sold me on Gustavus,” recalled Ackiss. “[Burnett-Kurie] convinced me to visit the campus, which I did in late October of my senior year. I sat in on some classes, toured campus and the athletic facilities and met girls from the team. I was really impressed with the school and facilities. Meeting the team was great, too. I felt like I was part of the team. Since then, my teammates have been the core of my friends at Gustavus.”

When she was in 10th grade, Ackiss decided she wanted to play a varsity sport or sports in college and began looking at schools where she could do so and also get a good education.  She began by looking at a few Division III schools in the Pacific Northwest. But the efforts of Stehlik and Burnett-Kurie swayed her to St. Peter. “My family was very supportive of my desire to play sports in college and my decision to attend Gustavus,” she said. “My dad had played basketball and a junior college in California when he was younger, so he understood my wanting to play.”

She also ran sprints in track and took second place in the 4×100-meter relay and the 4×200-meter relay her sophomore year. “We made it to state in both relays the next year, but didn’t make the final heart,” she said.Ackiss was a three-sport star in high school. She excelled on the soccer pitch, basketball court and track cinders at West Valley High School in Fairbanks. She helped the Wolfpack to four state tourney appearances in basketball and also in soccer. “We took second in basketball my junior year, and fourth my freshman and sophomore years,” Ackiss remembered. “In soccer we were second in my junior year, third the year before that and fourth my freshman year.”

After two years of spurning advances from the Gustavus track team, Ackiss gave in and became a two-sport athlete in the spring of 2016. She ran a leg in the 4×200 and 4×400 relays, as well as the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She competed at last spring’s MIAC Championships and is leaning towards running again after soccer season.

From day one, Ackiss has been a major part of the GAC program. In her freshman season, the Gusties labored to a 3-8-0 record in MIAC play, finishing 10th. Overall, they were a promising 8-9-0. Ackiss scored a team-best eight goals, three of which came in conference play. She tied for the team scoring lead with 19 points.

In 2014, Gustavus had six overtime losses en route to a 2-13-2 overall record and were 1-8-2 (11th place) in MIAC action. Despite the struggles, Ackiss shined, finding the net 10 times and scoring a total of 22 points, both of which led GAC. In MIAC play, she scored six goals (third-most in the league) with 13 points (fourth-best among conference leaders).

Those seasons set up the Gusties’ near-storybook turnaround last fall. Defying predictions, they surged to the top rungs of the conference, narrowly missing out on the regular-season crown. They posted an 8-3-0 record, good enough for second place and the school’s first-ever berth in the MIAC Playoffs. They fully capitalized on that berth, shutting out Concordia 2-0 in the semifinals and wrapping up the Playoff championship with a 1-0 win over St. Thomas. By winning the Playoffs, GAC secured the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championships, ending a 14-year hiatus from the national scene. The Gusties lost a heartbreaking 2-1 match to Wheaton College in the opening round, to close their campaign 13-7-1.

Ackiss was brilliant, leading the Gustavus offense with nine goals and 20 points. Five of those goals came in league play, ranking her third among conference leaders. She garnered All-MIAC First Team honors as well as a slot on the NSCAA All-North Region Team.

For her career, Ackiss has scored 30 goals, the eighth-best total by a GAC player. She needs just six more goals to take over sixth place in the school’s record books. Her 68 points also rank eighth in GAC history and with 14 more points, she would move into sixth place.This season, the Gusties were not going to sneak up on anyone. The MIAC coaches; preseason poll predicted they would tie with Macalester for second. At the midpoint of the season, the Gusties are 5-2-2 overall. They are 2-2-0 in MIAC play and tied for sixth, with seven conference matches remaining. Once again, Ackiss leads the GAC offense with three goals and seven points thus far in 2016.

Despite the long distance, her parents have made it to a few of Ackiss’ matches during her career. “Each year, Mom has come down for two weeks of our season,” she said with a smile. “My dad has come for a week two of the three years. They are planning to come again this season too.”

Off the pitch, Ackiss is a Business Management major with a minor in Art History. She is on track to graduate in May 2017.

This past summer Ackiss had an internship most student-athletes in Minnesota can only dream about. “I worked for the Minnesota Vikings,” she said. “I was in their Marketing/Sales departments at MSU-Mankato. Among my responsibilities were helping with various outreach and community programs the team has, staffing at an autograph table during PR events, and worked at VIP and corporate parties.”

She is hoping to launch a career with a pro or college sports team in a capacity similar to what she did with the Vikings, whether it is in sales, marketing or public relations.

For Ackiss, Gustavus, “has been my home away from home,” she said. “It’s a nice, tight-knit community. The academics are challenging and rewarding. The friendships and relationships I’ve formed her are special.”

Like most seniors, Ackiss pauses every now and then to reflect on her tenure at Gustavus. “When I came here – when the six of us seniors got here – the program wasn’t doing so well. We really are the first class [Burnett-Kurie] recruited. We’ve been able to help her turn the program around. It hasn’t been easy. It has been a lot of work but it’s been worth it.

Burnett-Kurie came to Gustavus with a vision and a plan. The Class of 2017 has helped her implement that vision and their play and leadership sped up the timeline of her plan. “My goal when recruiting is to bring in a like-minded core of individuals,” she explained. “The Class of 2107 – and Maddy in particular – leads well by example and sets the standard for others to follow. They are a special group. They play and work well together.”

MIAC Release

 


One Comment

  1. Tom Boyarsky says:

    Very proud of you Maddison…I knew College would be your time to shine. Sounds like you’re having the best time of your life…and your future career is sports marketing sounds exciting as well. Wish you the best kiddo! Keep up the great work…