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Gene's Blog: Bagel buyers, Tommie fans like 13's karma

Mike Ekern photo
Mike Ekern photo

Are you a triskaidekaphobe? Does your fear of the number 13 leave you breaking out in hives?

Or maybe you're afraid specifically of Friday the 13th, making you a paraskevidekatriaphobe. 

It's been estimated that nearly 13 percent of people could have a No. 13 phobia. According to a story by Barbara Maranzani, the anxiety over 13 is real:

  • More than 80 percent of U.S hi-rises are constructed without listing a 13th floor; many hotels, hospitals and airports avoid using that number for rooms and gates
  • Mathematicians and scientists point to preeminence of the number 12, considered a "perfect" number, in the ancient world: most calendars have 12 months; a single day is comprised of two 12-hour half days, etc... thus 13 was thought to be lacking or unusual.
  • The appearance of a 13th guest at two ancient events fueled suspicion: In the Bible, Judas Iscariot, the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper, is the person who betrays Jesus. Also, Norse lore holds that evil and turmoil were first introduced in the world by the appearance of the mischievous god Loki at a dinner party in Valhalla. He was the 13th guest, upsetting the balance of the 12 gods on hand. 

Yet plenty of others -- including fans of the Baker's Dozen bonus at bagel stores -- embrace the number 13. Logic says that it just as easily will bring good karma as it will bring anything bad.

As the calendar hit August 13 on Thursday, the bad Covid karma of 2020 played on across our nation, including on many college campuses.

This weekend, St. Thomas was supposed to begin welcoming back the first wave of its more than 275 fall student-athletes. Instead there's an eerie quiet in the halls of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. With MIAC fall competition called off in all sports but golf and tennis, the Purple's longest off season in at least 75 years continues.

On the bright side, plans move forward at St. Thomas for hybrid learning and a full campus in September. There's optimism that detailed planning, community buy-in, and unity will produce a positive experience this fall.

Our challenges and consequences certainly could be worse.

Consider how deeply the pandemic has squeezed NCAA's Power 5 institutions. Without a crystal ball to see the virus' effects in the coming months, the most visible universities have struggled from a health and safety consideration to green light athletics. Try making that call while also attempting to avert the short-term financial disaster expected with the loss of a fall football season. 

Hopefully Power 5s can stop the fiscal bleeding, and winter sports can be contested in some capacity across all of our campuses.


Virus 1, U.S. 0 (Game in Progress)

Looking back, it has been 158 days since March 9, when senior closer Shaun Falbo, wearing jersey No. 13, struck out a UW-La Crosse batter to wrap up a Tommie Baseball sweep in U.S. Bank Stadium. It would turn out to be the final play of the 2019-20 St. Thomas athletics season.

Just three days later on March 12, as Covid-19 surged in parts of our country, the NCAA canceled all remaining championships for the 2019-20 school year.

Events erased included all of the Division I March Madness basketball tournaments for men and women, plus the last four NCAA postseason hoops games for Division III teams, including the Tommie men. St. Thomas track and field athletes already in North Carolina for the national meet came home with no competition held. St. Thomas swimmers and men's golfers would later lose their NCAA Championship opportunities, too. Same for Tommie Outdoor Track, Baseball, Softball and Tennis.

One day later, on Friday the 13th of March, MIAC presidents officially shut down all spring competition, and campuses quickly began to transition to online learning.


Lucky 13, Part 1

In an otherwise successful 2019-20 school year, all three dates that included a Friday the 13th turned out to be unhappy ones for Tommie teams.

Last September, on Friday the 13th, two high-flying Tommie teams combined to go 0-3. After an 8-0 start, Tommie Volleyball lost a pair of matches in the UW-Eau Claire tournament. Later that night in California, Men's Soccer dropped a sudden-death overtime decision at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

On Friday December 13, St. Thomas Men's Hockey lost 4-2 at home to Trine in that day's only contest involving the Purple.

Friday March 13 provided a permanent pain, especially to our dozens of spring seniors. 

But a look back across most sports showed that old Number 13 found its way into many fun points of pride.

In all, St. Thomas teams in 2019-20 led all 13 MIAC institutions as it recorded the most:

  • Conference team titles in the regular-season (eight) and playoffs (three); 
  • CoSIDA Academic All-Americans (five, tied with Augsburg);
  • NCAA team playoff appearances (five of 10)

St. Thomas had 13 student-athletes make CoSIDA Academic All-District in 2019-20, and five went on to be voted Academic All-America.


Lucky 13, Part 2

In her 13th season guiding Tommie Women's Soccer, Coach Sheila McGill led her team to a 17-2-5 finish, and a share of fifth place nationally. The Toms tied for the league championship and won the MIAC playoff title in a shootout tie-breaker. They went unbeaten in the postseason (3-0-3). In one of the many hard-fought victories, Elizabeth Luotto, wearing jersey No. 13, scored the winning goal with a mere 13 seconds left in the second overtime in a 1-0 road victory at Concordia-Moorhead. That started a 10-0-3 run over the Purple's last 13 games.

Tommie Volleyball completed a 13-0 record against MIAC competition last fall in its 30-5 finish, with sweeps of league crowns in the regular season and playoffs. Newcomer Selena Levendoski, wearing jersey No. 13, averaged nearly 11 kills a match and hit .248 en route to receiving NCAA Region Rookie of the Year and MIAC Rookie of the Year honors.

On his way to winning All-America and MIAC Player of the Year honors, Men's Golf's Emmet Herb recorded 13 rounds last fall with scores of 73 or better. Teammate Ben Kisla placed 13th out of 49 in the MIAC meet to help his team claim the program's third consecutive championship.

Tommie Men's Soccer allowed just 13 goals in the 90:00 regulation time over its 19 games as it recorded a 12-4-3 finish and a conference title share.

MIAC Football co-champ St. Thomas scored the first of its 68 touchdowns last fall on a 13-yard run by All-America Josh Parks. St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso had 13 defenders record either an interception or a fumble recovery. Another 13 different offensive players scored a touchdown last season.

Women's Cross Country senior Jenny Launder placed 13th out of 212 runners at the MIAC meet to take all-conference and help her team take second place. Just 13.5 seconds separated the Toms' first five finishers.

MIAC runner-up and NCAA top-30 finisher Tommie Men's Cross Country team had 13 runners with cumulative gpa of 3.63 or higher and 13 runners place in the top 100 at the conference meet, and went on to run at nationals in Louisville. Coach Pete Wareham's team had 13 runners with cumulative gpa of 3.63 or higher.

Peyton Ekman won the MIAC one-meter diving crown on Feb. 13, helping her team place second in the conference championships. Ekman later competed at the NCAA Zone Diving meet.

St. Thomas Men's Hoops used a 13-game win streak to climb as high as No. 2 in the national polls. Coach Johnny Tauer's team climbed 13 spots from a preseason rank of 15 to a high of No. 2, and finished the season at No. 4. In a 13-point road win at Carleton that started the 13-game win streak, the Toms sank 13 3-point baskets. Despite having no players in the top 450 of Division III individual scorers, the Purple shared a conference championship at 19-1, made a repeat trip to the NCAA playoff Sweet 16, and posted seven victories (only one at home) over teams that won 18 or more games.

Tommie Women's Basketball had one of the youngest teams in Division III yet still reached 21 wins and were ranked in the top 25 nationally throughout the regular season. Coach Ruth Sinn led her team to the program's 13th consecutive season with 19 or more victories.

MIAC playoff champion Tommie Men's Hockey had 13 players with cumulative grade-point averages of 3.70 or better.  Freshman Justin Kelley scored 13 points, including five in the Toms' season-ending five-game win streak; John Peterson and Johnny Panvica tied for 13th place in MIAC scoring; Andrew Kangas took 13th in scoring among MIAC freshmen with seven points in league play.

St. Thomas Women's Hockey freshman Ali Monrean scored 13 points. The Toms won or tied 13 games when they scored the game's first goal but won or tied just three contests when they allowed they game's first goal. Monrean and Estee Frantz tied for 13th in MIAC scoring, while Maija Almich and Emma Larson tied for 13th among MIAC freshmen scorers.

Men's Track and Field All-America Karl Wachter broke 4:13 in the mile for the first time (4:12.78). The St. Thomas men had six of the 13 MIAC pole vaulters who cleared 13 feet, and six of the 17 MIAC shot put athletes who cleared 13 meters. On the women's side, MIAC champion Carly Scheuerman recorded a career-best time of just over 2:13 in the 800.

Softball's Elise Barnes, who once built a 13-game hitting streak for the Tommies, received CoSIDA Academic All-America honors for the first time. Her team came into the spring looking to replace 13 graduated seniors from 2019, when the Purple built a 43-7 record. But Covid ended the season after just seven games.

Tommie Baseball's Falbo pitched in three of the Toms' seven contests before the season was shut down. He went 1-0 with two saves in three appearances out of the pen. He faced 17 batters, struck out seven, and allowed just one hit and two walks. He held opponents to an .067 batting average. The Barrington, Ill., native finished his St. Thomas career with a 6-2 record with 11 saves in 36 appearances and a 1.27 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 44 innings.


Fear Not

Looking forward, Friday Aug. 14 sits 13 weeks away from the calendar's next Friday the 13th, set for next November. It's also 130 days until December 22 when St. Thomas final exams end and Christmas break starts.

Many important decisions will be determined over that coming time span, including who will reside in the White House, and which party will control the U.S. Senate and House.

These next 13 weeks will also reveal the degree of progress -- or lack thereof -- in our national fight against Covid-19. Specifically, the potential roll out of more accurate and economical rapid testing options; and any vaccines that could get a federal go-ahead.

That leaves us here today with a common mission. So let's wash our hands. Wear a mask. Social distance. Be optimistic. Resist the urge to make this political.

And if you are a spiritual person, with patience  being tested, consider the biblical message of discipline and faith expressed… in Psalm 13:


How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me? 

Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes... I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 

I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me.



Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 27th season at St. Thomas and 33rd overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division I and III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at