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The Sister on the sidelines

More news about: St. Scholastica
Lisa Maurer came to St. Scholastica to become a nun. In addition, she became an assistant football coach.
St. Scholastica athletics photo

Because of her background in athletics, Sister Lisa Maurer was drawn to the St. Scholastica football team.

Whether it was watching the Saints practice next to the monastery, leading a team prayer or attending a game on Saturday afternoon, Sister Lisa enjoyed her time with the team. So when first-year coach Kurt Ramler suggested she join his coaching staff, she could not turn him down.

During her first season with the program, the Saints have run the table — going 10-0 and winning their fourth consecutive UMAC championship. Now Maurer is looking forward to St. Scholastica’s trip to the postseason.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful. The thrill and that personal excitement I get out of it, I’m so grateful for being a part of that,” said Maurer, who came to Scholastica eight years ago to become a nun. “It’s great seeing it from the inside. It was a thrill seeing it from the outside, but seeing it from the inside and just seeing the dedication and the work and the effort that goes into it game after game after game — the respect I have for these people is amazing.”

Maurer was a teacher and coach before following her calling to the church. While living in Sleepy Eye, Minn., she coached and assisted various levels of softball, volleyball and basketball. She also had familiarity with football because her father coached the game while she was growing up.

Though she had a passion for coaching, her desire to follow her faith prompted her to pursue the ministry. But while studying to become a nun, she could not help but take an interest in the upstart St. Scholastica football program.

“The practice football field is literally in our backyard of the monastery and my particular bedroom faced the football field.” Maurer explained. “I would hear the whistles and I would go out there and walk around. Maybe I had some homework to do, or some reading to do, or pray a rosary. I would just go out there and watch and listen because I was homesick for coaching and homesick for being around the student-athletes.”

Former coach Greg Carlson accommodated Maurer, admitting her to practice and inviting her to team events to lead the group in prayer. And over time, Maurer became familiar with many of the players and their families.

Maurer was at Ramler’s introductory news conference when he succeeded Carlson this spring. CSS athletic director Don Olson introduced the two and they found they had some common interests.

“The other coaches told me she was a great asset and a great fan of the program,” Ramler said. “When you meet her, it’s clear that she’s intelligent, passionate and loves St. Scholastica football.

“When I’m looking for a coach, I’m looking for someone who’s intelligent, hard-working and cares about the kids and the people. I don't think anybody epitomizes those qualities more than Sister Lisa.”

“He asked me if I would like to help out with the team,” Maurer remembered. “And I said ‘Well, in any way I can. Particularly, I do some prayer things with the guys and am there for support.’ He said, ‘Well, I'd like you to take a little more active role.’ He goes, ‘What do you think about kicking?’ ”

As the volunteer assistant coach in charge of kickers and punters, Maurer has worked primarily with Mike Thiesmann, who is 4-for-6 on field goal attempts and has converted 55 PATs this season.

With no formal football coaching experience, Maurer said she watched a lot film and learned as much as possible about kicking. She said her experience with coaching in general has helped her work with Thiesmann.

“My style in approaching Mike was finding out what he needs from me,” she said. “It’s more just being a support for him.”

“Sister Lisa has done a really good job of befriending Mike and helping him where she can and providing guidance in the right way,” Ramler added.

Maurer said she was accepted by the players and the rest of the coaching staff even though it is uncommon for a woman — let alone a nun — to be a football coach.

“All those stereotypical negative things you might think of surrounding football really aren’t there,” she explained.

“There might have been people who wondered about it before they met her and saw her on the field,” Ramler said. “It’s a credit to our guys too. They’re a great group of really good people that shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”

The players are respectful of Maurer whether they are addressing her as Sister or as Coach. Maurer said it depends on the situation, but added she’s mostly ‘Coach Maurer’ on game days.

Maurer doesn’t fit the description of a stereotypical nun one might see in a movie. But she feels she fits the mold of a present-day nun despite spending time on the gridiron.

“I think I’m very stereotypical of who and what a religious woman is today,” said Maurer, who carefully balances her time to accommodate her duties on the field and in the church. “If we’re going to be about mission and ministry, we have to be where our students are at our college — if it’s on the football field, if it’s in the classroom, or if it’s down working at a shelter.”

St. Scholastica defeated Greenville, 42-14, in a winner-take-all contest Saturday as Andrew Smith caught a school record 12 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback Tyler Harper registered a career-high 363 yards and the Saints posted a season-high mark of 551 yards of total offense.

“Those types of games are the ones that you have to make sure you really enjoy,” Ramler said. “That’s what this program is all about — a chance to play in those big games.”

The victory gave the Saints their second-ever undefeated regular season, the UMAC title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

“I don’t think there are many seniors right now that can talk about four consecutive conference championships or four consecutive playoff appearances,” Ramler said, whose program will seek its first playoff after a week off. “We feel fortunate that our hard work this year has paid off. We’ve got an incredible group of guys that are having a great time.”

Maurer said she would like to continue coaching if it does not interfere with her work with the church. And Ramler said he would bring her back to the staff without question.

It is no surprise that Maurer wants to continue coaching, given the Saints’ success this season.

“Having been a coach and experiencing those special relationships with the student-athletes and the thrill of game day and thrill of competition, when I entered religious life, I thought that was something I was going to have to give up,” Maurer said. “I’m just one lucky sister.”

Conference races

In addition to St. Scholastica clinching the UMAC title and automatic bid, three other Around the West teams know they are headed to the playoffs.

Meanwhile the race in both the MIAC and Northwest Conference will come down to the final week of the regular season.

UW-Whitewater, Wartburg and Chapman clinched automatic bids with wins this weekend.

The Warhawks won a share of their league-record 34th WIAC title and clinched the conference’s automatic bid with a 42-17 win over UW-Stevens Point. UW-W can win the conference title outright with a win at UW-River Falls this weekend.

Wartburg clinched the IIAC’s automatic bid for the second year in a row, improving to 6-0 in the conference standings with a 41-10 win at Simpson. The Knights can win the championship outright with a win over Loras Saturday at Walston-Hoover Stadium.

Chapman won a share of its first ever SCIAC title and will join the postseason field for the first time after rallying to beat Redlands, 31-27. The Panthers will try for their eighth straight win and an outright conference championship Saturday at Whittier.

St. John’s defeated Bethel to pull into a first-place tie with the Royals and assume the inside track to the MIAC title. The Johnnies need a win at St. Olaf this weekend to assure themselves a share of the title and earn the league’s automatic bid. The Royals can still win the automatic bid with a win over Augsburg coupled with a St. John’s loss.

Pacific forced three turnovers in a win over No. 25 Willamette and secured a share of its first NWC championship since reinstating football in 2010. It is the Boxers’ first championship since sharing the NWC title with the College of Idaho in 1952.

“I am so excited for our players, our coaches and the entire Pacific community,” head coach Keith Buckley said in a Pacific press release. “It's a feather in the cap of this university, who jumped behind all that we were trying to. Our guys woke up ready to play football today. That's something we challenged our guys to do and they answered the call.”

After missing four weeks, Spencer Payne returned to the field and piled up 112 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns as Linfield defeated Puget Sound, 73-10. Linfield will seek a share of its sixth straight NWC title when Pacific visits Saturday.

If Pacific wins the matchup, they will be the outright conference champions and receive the NWC’s automatic bid. If Linfield wins, they will be co-champs with the Boxers and earn the automatic bid by way of head-to-head tiebreaker.

The rest of the West

St. Thomas scored 12 touchdowns in an 83-7 win at Carleton. The Tommies finished with 621 yards of total offense. … UW-Platteville scored 10 points in the final three minutes to beat UW-La Crosse, 24-17. Trevor Whitehead caught a 46-yard touchdown with eight seconds to play to lift the Pioneers to the victory. … Jacob Edleman intercepted his second pass of the game to seal Central’s 32-25 over Buena Vista. His IIAC-leading seventh pick of the year came with 43 seconds to play at the Dutch’s 5-yard line, ending BVU’s final drive. … George Fox got its first win as a new program. Justin Leatherman returned two interceptions for touchdowns and led the Bruins with 10 tackles. The George Fox defense also forced three fumbles in a 30-12 win over Lewis and Clark at Stoffer Family Stadium. … Hamline blocked an extra point in overtime. Then Brendan Nachtrieb scored his second touchdown of the game and Forrest Coughlin converted the PAT to give the Pipers a 28-27 win at Augsburg. … Despite trailing 23-7 late in the first half, UW-Stout rallied to earn its first conference win of the season. The Blue Devils topped UW-River Falls, 34-23. … Dalton Ritchay ran for 203 yards and three touchdowns in Pacific Lutheran’s 41-27 win over Whitworth. Whitworth quarterback Bryan Peterson finished off his season with 428 yards passing. This season, he averaged 34 completions per game to break the NCAA Division III season record of 32.1 completions per game. … Concordia-Moorhead intercepted five passes and finished its regular season with a 35-26 win over Gustavus Adolphus. … Joe Plassmeyer threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally Westminster (Mo.) to a 28-21 win over Martin Luther.

Number of the week

525 — as in the number of yards of total offense accumulated by Pomona-Pitzer quarterback Alex Bresler. The sophomore completed 31-of-49 passes for 478 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also ran rushed 11 times for 47 yards and a touchdown. However Travis Sparks Jackson scored his second touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter to lift La Verne to a 41-37 win over the visiting Sagehens.

Rank’em

Eight teams in the West Region were ranked in the Top 25 this week.

UW-Whitewater and Wartburg remained ranked Nos. 1 and 5, respectively, in this week’s poll. Linfield moved up one spot and back into the top-10.

St. John’s made the biggest leap of the week, climbing five places to No. 13. UW-Platteville moved up one spot to No. 15.

Bethel fell to No. 18.

Chapman rose one position to No. 20 and St. Thomas is up two spots to No. 22.

Willamette fell out of the Top 25 after spending one week in the poll. Concordia-Moorhead (17), UW-Stevens Point (10) and Pacific (3) received votes this week.

Be heard

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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