It was the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and Big Ten Network reporter Elise Menaker (MSJ12) was preparing to ask the No. 3-seeded Michigan basketball team about the disappointment of being knocked out in the Tournament’s first weekend.
Then, freshman Jordan Poole hit one of the most memorable shots of the tournament.
The Wolverines trailed sixth-seeded Houston 63-61 with 3.6 seconds left. Michigan’s Ali Abdur-Rahkman received the inbounds pass and fired a pass to Poole, who fired a desperation three-pointer from the right side of the court. The shot went in zeroes on the game clock. Houston was in tears. Michigan was ecstatic. And Menaker, she was quickly changing the questions she had in mind for the Wolverines.
Menaker continued to cover the Wolverines run to the Tournament’s title game, covering the National Championship from Ann Arbor.
With March Madness behind her, Menaker took time to talk about the unique reporting experience, why she was excited to join the Big Ten Network and what advice she would give to aspiring broadcasters.
What do you remember most about Jordan Poole’s game-winning shot?
I mentally prepared questions to ask players who I thought would be dejected, disappointed and, above all, defeated. But in 3.6 seconds, that all changed. Michigan had smiles that couldn’t be erased, and Poole was signing autographs. He was a hero. Right before my interview with him, Poole had to shake out his hair soaked from all of the water that had been poured on him during the celebration. Head Coach John Beilein joined me right after and told me there was something special about this team.
Had you been prepared to cover March Madness for a while?
On that weekend, I was originally supposed to be in Minneapolis for the Big Ten Network as a sideline reporter for the women’s Frozen Four, but on Selection Sunday, I got a call that my assignment could change. The next morning, I had a flight booked to Wichita, Kan., to cover Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. That’s not uncommon as a sports reporter. You have to be flexible. I flew Wednesday to Wichita, where I’d meet the crew I’d be working with that week.
After I landed, I went to the arena, which was walking distance to the hotel, to pick up my credential and get a lay of the land. Experience has taught me never to leave anything to the last minute if you don’t have to and to take advantage of “free” time by doing extra homework. I got to the arena just in time to catch Michigan and Montana’s pregame press conferences. While not required, I listened in and tweeted some quotes.
How did interviewing Poole compare to other memorable reporting moments you’ve had?
It was one of the more memorable experiences of my reporting career. I’ve covered Aaron Rodgers winning a game on a Hail Mary and Mark Buehrle pitching a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox, but there’s nothing more pure than interviewing an 18 year old after one of the greatest moments of his sports life.
What type of reporting did you do for the National Championship?
This time, I was sent to Ann Arbor to get pregame and postgame reaction from fans to one of Michigan’s most memorable seasons. Prior to tip off, I put together a couple of stories for the network. That night, I attended the watch party at Crisler Arena and looked on with about 8,000 people. The atmosphere was electric. Fans chanted “defense” at the jumbotron as if the players could here them in San Antonio. But no heroics would win this game. Michigan lost to Villanova in the national title game by 17. I interviewed a couple of fans who stayed after the final buzzer. These diehards were undoubtedly proud of their team. This type of season doesn’t happen too often.
You joined the Big Ten Network in 2017. What was it about the job that appealed to you most?
It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I was very interested in trying something new and growing as a reporter. Prior to this job, I had never really done sideline reporting. While working in Decatur, Ill., I had the chance to report/host coverage of the Illinois High School Association state basketball finals that aired on NBC Sports Chicago, and I drew on that experience as I took on this new position.
One of the things I love about my job is that I’m constantly learning and growing. I felt that this was the perfect opportunity that would allow me to continue my growth in the profession.
What’s been the hardest adjustment for you?
I’ve been surprised at the different skills it takes to do this job. While working in local news, I gained and perfected my storytelling, shooting, anchoring, producing, you name it. And while all of those skills have helped me in my new role, sideline reporting is a different animal. Your reports are quicker, on the fly and observational. You are the eyes and ears for every viewer. As for your interviews, they’re shorter and deliberate. What a great opportunity it’s been to learn all of this.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sports broadcasters and sideline reporters?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that sideline reporting is easy and anyone can do it. There are a lot of things happening behind the scenes that a viewer never sees that can make your job challenging. I love and embrace those challenges, and when it looks easy, it means we are doing our jobs well.
How do you think your time at Medill helped you get to where you are today?
Medill has helped me immensely. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, no question. Prior to attending Medill, I had a job in local news; however, I went back to school because I wanted to learn about the industry and fully understand reporting for broadcast. Who should I interview for this piece? How do I tell a good story? How can I edit this video to catch a viewer’s attention? How can I be better? Through intense training, Medill made me a confident reporter. After graduating, I trusted my decisions in the field and developed my own style as a reporter and anchor. No matter your major, Medill emphasizes broadcast and print so I learned a variety of skills. When you combine those skills with my news background, I have become the storyteller, reporter and anchor I am today.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in sports media?
Learn as much as you can! The industry is changing so rapidly that it’s so important to be a sponge in learning all you can — from what is going on in the world to knowing the latest in technological changes. The more you learn, the more opportunities you will open up for yourself.