Gene's Blog: Good ol' summer time ushers in fall

How was your summer? The break and down time were nice, but it's refreshing to feel the energy that a new school year brings.

In case you weren't a seven-day-a-week disciple of Tommiesports.com or our social media sites since you left campus last May, here's a quick update with sports stories you might have missed back at Cretin and Summit Avenues.

 

New Digs

The Palmer Field turf inside O'Shaughnessy Stadium was replaced this summer, part of a busy facilities docket at St. Thomas.

UST also:

  • resurfaced its eight-lane outdoor track; with a splash of purple and grey
  • installed new infield turf on its baseball diamond;
  • moved and expanded its baseball hitting cages;
  • and moved its shot put venue out of the stadium to up behind the stadium video board.

 

Here's to 100

In June St. Thomas senior swimmer Emma Paulson was voted as a repeat Academic All-America honoree for 2016-17 by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). A three-event NCAA champion in March 2016, Paulson graduated from St. Thomas in May with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.81. In her five semesters at St. Thomas, Paulson never received a grade below A-minus.

A 2013 graduate of Wayzata High and an Accounting major, Paulson started her academic career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Paulson claimed the 100th CoSIDA Academic All-America honor for St. Thomas since our first recipient was honored 50 years ago. It's the 78th award for a Tommie student athlete in the last 17 years alone. St. Thomas is among approximately 50 of 1,000-plus college institutions to reach 100 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors.

 

Did You Hear?

St. Thomas and St. John's will play Sept. 23 in football in an unusual place. Their rivalry game will be held in Target Field – the first football game to be contested in the seven-year-old Minnesota Twins facility. It will be the first time in 20 years -- and seventh time in 87 all-time meetings -- that the game won't be played on one of the school's campuses.

The home team, UST, also signed up a presenting sponsor for the rivalry contest -- Twin-Cities-based Oppidan, a property development firm which works in real estate, asset management, brokerage services, construction management, and project management.

Tommie-Johnnie football games seem to attract a lot of firsts. In the last several years alone, this cool football rivalry has produced record attendance figures, overtime games, an unprecedented NCAA playoff matchup in 2015, plus a multi-day visit from the crew of ESPN's SportsCenter on the Road with stops at each campus. In August, Sports Illustrated magazine listed the Sept. 23 matchup among its spotlight national "road trip" games for the fall 2017 season.

Ticket sales have already zoomed past 25,000. With two weeks to go, the game is making a run at a target of 30,000 tickets sold. Watch for the commemorative game program on sale prior to the game in Minneapolis.

 

Diamond Talk

Former St. Thomas baseball two-time All-America Jake Mauer has guided the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts into the Southern League playoffs in his first summer as their manager. Mauer, 38, is in his 17th year as a player or coach in the Minnesota Twins organization. Chattanooga (88-49) won the North Division in both the first and second half.

Mauer's first-place Lookouts' needed 21 innings to edge the Birmingham Barons, 2-1, in late July.
  
Mauer resides in Shoreview in the offseason with his wife and children. His 243 career hits rank him second in MIAC history.
  
  

Wrap-Up

It was announced in June that St. Thomas placed 17th out of 440 institutions in the final 2016-17 Learfield Division III Directors' Cup all-sport standings. This marks the ninth time in the last 10 years that St. Thomas has finished in the top 20 nationally.

St. Thomas' 22-year average finish of 18th place ranks it in the top five percent of all Division III institutions.

The Tommies had four top-five national team placings: Men's Soccer, Women's Basketball, Football and Women's Hockey. They managed to score nationally in 12 of their 22 sports to compile 588.5 points.

UST also swept the 2016-17 conference all-sport standings for men and women for the 10th year in a row. The Tommies tied their own record with 15 MIAC regular-season team championships.

 
Travelers

Tommie Women's Basketball traveled to Greece in August for exhibition games and cultural visits. That made a busy summer for one of the team players, rising junior Lucia Renikoff, who also played ion a Division III all-star team in Brazil in July.

Coach Chris Olean's baseball team had several players compete in the Northwoods League, a summer wood-bat league for top collegians. That group included:

  • Ryan Zimmerman, who won five games and made 11 starts for Eau Claire, with 59 strikeouts in 57 innings
  • Henry DeCaster had seven starts and struck out 38 in 37 inning for Duluth, with a 4.82 ERA;
  • OF Jake Smith scored 19 runs drive in 11 and reached base 61 times (34 hits) in 46 games with Duluth.
     
      

Class in Classroom

It was announced in June that St. Thomas had 90 student-athletes make the 2017 MIAC All-Academic Team for winter and spring sports. UST also had 42 All-Academic honorees from the 2016 fall sports.

This elite MIAC team doesn't recognize freshmen or first-year transfers. Inclusion requires a cumulative grade-point average of 3.50 or higher and a set number of games played.

The Tommies' 11 women's sports teams had team grade-point averages last year that ranged between 3.25 and 3.59 on a 4.00 scale. Their 11 men's teams had team grade-point averages that ranged between 3.10 and 3.41.

St. Thomas had 87 student-athletes with a cumulative gpa of 3.85 or higher, including 10 with an unblemished cumulative gpa of 4.00.

Graduated senior Paige Gernes (Women's Basketball) received an elite $7,500 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

The 2016-17 year also marked the 15th time in the last 16 years that St. Thomas had at least one male and one female CoSIDA Academic All-America;

 

Coming and Going 

UST athletics returns all of its head coaches for 2016-17, with one asterisk – in men's tennis, assistant Ted Lauer takes over as head coach for Terry Peck, who will concentrate on his role as women's tennis head coach.

St. Thomas' has had unusual head coaching continuity over the last couple of decades. Lauer is just the third new head coach hired in the last six years.

In that six-year span just one St. Thomas head coach has retired: Tom Hodgson, who guided Men's and Women's Swim-Dive. One other resigned in 2012 but stayed at the university in a staff role: Aaron Macke, Men's Soccer.

 

Looking Ahead

A few changes are in store on the MIAC Championships front. It was confirmed that three conference fall championships will move to new venues for 2017: Men's Golf moves to Jordan, Minn.; Women's Golf moved to Becker, Minn.; and Men's and Women's Cross Country will be contested in Northfield at St. Olaf College.

 

Rankings

On the field, four St. Thomas teams come into the fall season ranked in their national polls:

  • Men's Soccer (third);
  • Football (fifth);
  • Men's Golf (24th);
  • Women's Cross Country (17th).


Happy Anniversary

St. Thomas is starting year eight of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. It's no coincidence that UST athletics teams have shined since the facility opened.

The Tommie Volleyball (57-11 won-loss), Women's Basketball (93-8) and Men's Hoops (83-13) programs have compiled a combined .880 winning percentage in the new Schoenecker Arena over those first five years.

Swimming and Diving has also received a major boost from the new facility: the UST men and women have combined to claim six MIAC team titles and six runner-up finishes during that seven-year window.

 

Add Another Year

St. Thomas athletics director Steve Fritz starts his 51st year on campus this fall. Since he's arrived as a freshmen basketball player in 1967, he's been a giant, figuratively and literally, as a player, coach and leader in Tommie sports.

Joe Sweeney starts his 38th year coaching women's cross country. Pete Wareham starts his 25th year coaching men's cross country.

 

Goodbyes

A few individuals with connections to St. Thomas athletics passed away this summer:

  • former men's basketball coach John Kundla was 101;
  • Tommie basketball alum Lloyd "Slick" Sandstrom, who was drafted by the NBA's New York Knicks in 1951, was 89;
  • former Tommie men's hockey coach Gus Schwartz was 82.

 

330 Strong

If it seems busy these days around the AARC, that's because St. Thomas has approximately 330 men's and women's athletes competing this fall on eight different varsity teams.

Another 330-plus men and women are getting ready to compete this winter in hockey, basketball, swim-dive, tennis and indoor track and field. Another 85 athletes will start practice next February in baseball and softball.

For the first time in 26 years, in February 2018, a Super Bowl will be played near the St. Thomas campus, just seven miles away in downtown Minneapolis.

And can you believe it? Playoff trips for both the Twins and the Timberwolves could also be on the horizon in the next nine months.

 

--

Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 24th season at St. Thomas and 30th overall in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at [email protected]