Feb. 9, 2012
For the second installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, MGoBlue.com caught up with former field hockey player and current analyst and co-host of the Big Ten Network's "The Women's Show" Kara Lentz (2003-06), who discussed how she got the job at BTN and who helped her on her path at Michigan as well as her favorite feature stories for the network.
MGoBlue.com: How did you get the opportunity to work at the Big Ten Network?
Kara Lentz: Well I think one of the great things about Michigan Athletics is that it's a great networking tool. That definitely worked for me in a lot of ways. I graduated the same year that the network was launching and I knew that they were going to broadcast field hockey games and things of that sort so being a communications major and minoring in field hockey, I figured I'd try to utilize both of my majors. I basically just pushed and shoved. I contacted the Big Ten. This is when they were still kind of forming and not all of the executive positions were filled out yet. They were still kind of streaming through things. I called and sent them resumes and I had a couple letters of recommendation but after the spring that I graduated, I moved out to Chicago and lived with Eleanor Martin and I pushed and shoved. I kind of showed up on their doorstep and gave them my credentials. The spring of my senior year, I did an internship with Patrick McLaughlin and Collin McCarty and I kind of got some experience there and that gave me some good footing, and like I said it was a great way to utilize the communications and the field hockey major. I think in August, two weeks before we launched, I was working in the office in the production side for studio shows and things of the sort and those were extreme growing pains. We were working 12 hour days for two weeks. Just really, really intense stuff. And then the first field hockey game was ACC/Big Ten Challenge on the Big Ten Network and that was kind of the launch point from there. Like I said, I think the athletic community at Michigan is a great way to network. There are a lot of people who are very well established in different media components in the industry, so that's kind of how I did it. I really wanted it. I just went full blast to it and thankfully, being a Michigan graduate and a field hockey player, everything in the sort really behooved me.
MGB: Did you go into Michigan with an interest in broadcasting?
KL: No. I was all over the place. When I was looking at schools, I thought I wanted to do engineering. That wasn't really a place for me. At one point I wanted to do physical therapy during my freshman year. Then, I was kind of enticed by the business avenue, but I took economics, and they call it a weeder course for very distinct purposes. So I took that, and then communications kind of just fell in my lap and like I said, I have that senior spring where I got that internship. My father has been doing home videos since my older brother was first born. Since I was very young, I had a comfort for being in front of the camera. Even with my recruiting video, my dad had me do a 30-second lead in. He was holding a postcard/poster board with everything I was supposed to say, so there was an intro/lead in stand up to my recruiting video. God only knows what the coaches thought. Doing this was not really something you see very often. I kind of just fell into communications. I originally wanted to minor in Spanish as well, but I just didn't have enough time and patience to pursue that.
MGB: You mentioned Collin and Patrick. Is there anyone else at Michigan you would thank for the job?
KL: Bill Martin. Head over heels, Bill Martin, and above and beyond. I actually got to have a really good relationship with him. When Marcia (Pankratz) retired, we had a big roast for her. And of course the field hockey team wanted to do a skit. I could impersonate Marcia pretty well. Her mannerisms, her sayings, anything else in between. So during the roast, it was the field hockey family, friends, alumni and Bill Martin was there. After the skit, he came up to me and he was just so in awe of how much I was spot on Marcia. We kind of had a relationship after that. Definitely a mentor in a lot of ways and he was one of the people who wrote a letter of recommendation for me. He has always pointed me in a really good direction. He was kind of the main person that really helped me get my in at the Big Ten Network.
MGB: It seems like you have a great chemistry with everyone on the Women's Show. What makes that Women's Show special and makes it work?
KL: The great thing about the Women's Show, and the Big Ten Tetwork kind of made this pledge when they launched that they would have equal coverage of women's sports and men's sports, most of that being game broadcasts. They're really gung ho about it. Lisa (Byington) was a duel sport athlete at Northwestern, as she played soccer and basketball. So we both have a very intimate knowledge of the Big Ten and of our sport, so we really pride ourselves on that. Given the unique perspective of being women student-athletes, I think that adds a lot of value to it. Like I said, what we say on the show and how we make it work, I just think that it's a lot of very intelligent, bright, and motivated people that are very proud of what we did in college and at our universities. We all have a blast off set. I think the makeup room probably has the best conversations. We dance before the show comes on, and we make up sayings. Last year we had voices that we would do. We just had a lot of fun with it and I think when you have good chemistry, this is true through all television stuff, if you have a good chemistry off the set, that definitely transpires to when you're on the set. Lisa's great. She's a professional. She knows her stuff. If you think about it, it's one host basically directing and orchestrating conversation with two analysts, which is not an easy job to do. She just pulls it off very, very well.
MGB: Do you pinch yourself sometimes that you are covering the sport you played and working with the conference you played in?
KL: Yes. It's kind of fun when people ask what I do. First of all, I do so many different things at the network besides the field hockey stuff. I kind of have to explain that, but I get to talk and watch sports for my job. I really can't complain. Even when I go to universities and do feature shoots, and I interview people and I get to go to the practices, I meet the coaches, I meet the players, I understand the culture. Just being in that, it's almost like I never left college. That's really cool and it's fun. One of the great things about being with a startup company is the fact that I got to have many hands in many different cookie jars. I got to kind of create the position that I have at the network. They call me slash because I do so many different things. I had an extreme interest. When I originally went there, I really wanted to give respect, coverage and notoriety to the sports that deserved it, most of those being the Olympic sports and especially female sports. That was kind of my direction and I really wanted to pursue that and give a strong voice to sports that don't get enough coverage, and that was definitely doable. There were a lot of great mentors at the network too, a lot of great mentors.
MGB: Of course you have a wealth of knowledge of field hockey, but maybe not as much in the other sports. Have you learned a lot about the other sports that you have to talk about on the Women's Show?
KL: I think volleyball is a women's football, in terms of the audience it attracts, it's a simple sport to understand. It's hard hitting. You have these specimens out that that are six foot something and can jump and slam and hit and dive on the floor. It's such an exciting sport to watch. It's not a big East Coast sport, so when I came to the Big Ten, it took me a while to really understand how big of a deal volleyball is. It is a total Big Ten sport. It is the strongest conference in regard to the sport. After watching it and understanding it, and meeting the coaches and team, I really wanted to play volleyball. It's the one sport that I never played. But now that I'm kind of immersed and at the extreme epicenter of the sport, it's the one sport I'd really love to play. I mean at 5-6, I'm probably at a little bit of a disadvantage. With soccer, I used to be a soccer junkie. I gave up soccer for field hockey. I used to do Olympic development stuff, club, I was really into that. Seeing the Big Ten is really exciting. And then the other sports, the big name sports like basketball and football, you definitely learn a different side of it. Working with our analysts even for that matter like Gerry Dinardo and Howard Griffith, and just having simple conversations with them, it gives you a knowledge of how things really work, which is very, very neat. Ice hockey is great. I'm glad we were able to do some pre-game and postgame shows last year. Aaron Ward, who is a Michigan graduate, is probably one of the best people I have ever met, talking about the Michigan alumni and former athletes networking and stuff, Aaron is always looking out for people and is extremely helpful in that matter. In lacrosse, with the growth of the sport, I've been able to cover Northwestern for the past three years. I go down to the national championship to do coverage there. Lacrosse is one of the most exciting sports I've been able to cover because, like volleyball, it just draws an incredible audience. It's super fun to watch, not to mention Northwestern is pretty darn good.
MGB: Can you pick a favorite feature story that you have done for the network?
KL: I have one in mind. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop. I went to where the U.S. women's hockey team was training before the Olympics two years ago and I got to go up to Blaine, Minn., go to their practice, talk to Mark Johnson, met some of the girls, talked with some of the girls who were on the team, and just to see that level of play with hockey, that high level of play was incredible. And then seeing the Big Ten representation on those teams was fascinating. That was really, really neat. Plus you're talking with a gold medalist, the coach, a gold medalist, who's also led Wisconsin to X amount of national titles. It's really just inspiring. Sometimes I come back from those feature shoots feeling ultra inspired. The other one was interviewing Eric Kapitulik, who did The Program. That was insane. That guy is the most motivating, inspiring person I have ever met. What he's doing now with his program and how it's really spread throughout a lot of athletic teams and universities, I know Michigan State is doing the program with their coaches. They're doing a special session like that, which I think is neat. So those are probably two of the top ones. I've done so many that it's kind of hard to recap on them, but those are definitely up there.
Past Spotlights: Emily Brunemann (Feb. 2)