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Return of the Maverick Machine

Band adds excitement to games.

Nell Musolf, Special to the Mankato Free Press, 3-13-2015

NOTE: Photo at right is a Mankato Free Press file photo.

Minnesota State University, Mankato sports has its pep back.

Thanks to the return of the Maverick Machine band, fans and players get the added excitement a band brings to sporting events.

Michael Thursby has been the director of the Maverick Machine Athletic Band program since the fall of 2013. Prior to coming to Minnesota State Mankato, Thursby worked as a high school band director in Grand Rapids and as a marching band director and percussion instructor in Iowa and Wisconsin. Thursby received his undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and his masters’ degree from the University of Northern Iowa.

His arrival at Minnesota State Mankato marked the return of what is commonly known as the pep band, the group that keeps the crowds entertained during sporting events. Under Thursby’s directorship the Maverick Machine has grown from about 40 students two years ago to close to 100 currently. Thursby predicts that the number of members will easily eclipse 100 next fall.

“The band started in the fall as a marching band for all of the football games,” Thursby said. “When the winter sports season started we split into two bands that played for hockey, basketball, wrestling and other events.”

High on that list of winter sporting events is Maverick hockey, always popular at Minnesota State Mankato and in Mankato and especially so this year since the Mavericks are currently in the playoffs.

“The hockey team has been incredible and we are so fortunate to be a part of that,” Thursday said. “We are lucky to be a part of such an incredible athletics department — Kevin Buisman, Nathan Christensen — the whole staff along with all of the coaches. They are all amazing.”

The Maverick Machine has been able to travel to some of the away games that the hockey team has participated in when they are close to home but when games that are played at a longer distance the band has to remain behind due to budgetary constraints.

The Maverick Machine consists of traditional instruments including flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, horns, tubas and drums as well as some non-traditional instruments.

“We also have guitars and even some vocalists from time to time,” Thursby said.

Playing for the team creates what Thursby called an “atmosphere.”

“I would absolutely say that the band feels like it’s a part of the game,” Thursby said. “The team feeds off the energy that the crowd creates and the band helps. In some cases the band makes up a good portion of the student section so we have to be into the game.”

The audience seems to appreciate the music provided by the Maverick Machine as well and considers the band a part of the overall experience.

“College sports have such a different atmosphere than professional sports,” Thursby observed. “The band at these events create the pageantry and culture that makes college athletics so special.”

Band member Katelyn Royce agrees. Royce has played the bass drum for the Maverick Machine for the past three years and appreciates the positive atmosphere created by the band.

“I really like the feeling of being part of a family that I get when we play,” Royce said. “When people think of college sporting events, they usually think about the cheerleaders and the band along with the team. It feels like we’re all part of a united front.”

Thursby said that his group has received a great deal of positive feedback since its return two years ago, a sentiment repeated by Jeremy Friedrichs Jr., snare drummer and drum line section leader for the Maverick Machine.

“The Maverick Machine has been embraced by the entire community,” Friedrichs said. “I have lived in Mankato my whole life and it is great how we have fans who are kids and adults alike.” Thursby added: “During the second and third periods at hockey games, people come out just to watch us perform. They cheer and thank us each time we play. Our fans are the best in the country.”

The coaches at Minnesota State Mankato have also been supportive. Thursby said that the coaches and teams thank the band and let its members know how important they are to the games that they perform at. Thursby and his performers work consistently with the fans, coaches and the athletes to ensure that they are playing music that will be enjoyed.

“We are current with the music that we perform and like to play music that is exciting to all audiences, not just what was done in the past. We also like to lead cheers and create as much energy as possible.”

While Thursby is pleased with the Maverick Machine, he said that at the same time he will never be satisfied with where his program is currently at and that the Maverick Machine is constantly striving to be the best band that it can possibly be. Over the past two years, Thursby and his group have gradually tried to increase the number of performances and events that they perform at. This past year the Maverick Machine played at over 50 events for approximately 170,000 people.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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