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Gene's Blog: Tommie athletics savors historic 2010s decade

Mark Brown photo
Mark Brown photo
St. Thomas' rich athletics history includes several defining eras.
 
Campus historians can point to three especially impactful decades over the institutions' first 100 years: 
  • The 1900-1910 era: Varsity athletics debut, first paid head coaches; Football started Tommie-Johnnie series; Basketball played first seasons; a new athletics field and an on-campus' Armory indoor facility were on the planning board
  • The 1940-1949 era: Riding the crest of the O'Shaughnessy Hall athletics building that opened in 1939, dominant teams emerged in Football, Basketball and Baseball, and nine athletes were offered pro contacts in those sports; the Tommies participated in a January 1, 1949 football bowl game in Tampa; rosters and student enrollment ballooned with former World War II vets using their GI Bill benefits
  • The 1980-1989 era: Only a few years after women were first enrolled on campus in 1977, in a span rom 1981-1986, St. Thomas won five national team championships in women's cross country, and three others in men's cross country and men's indoor track and field; the Purple regained an overall buzz for athletics success as it made the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III affiliation
Today we are closing out another high-visibility decade in St. Thomas athletics. Coming off a memorable Tommie Baseball/Softball/Hockey national run from 1999-2009 (four NCAA crowns, five runner-up finishes), the 2010-2019 years produced even greater department-wide success.
 
This 2010s decade will be remembered among the most accomplished and significant in university history:
 
Facilities/Investment
  • The campus' $52 million Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex opened in late summer 2010, helping both athletics and university student recruitment
  • The campus' $66 million Anderson Student Center opened in January 2012, adding another showcase facility
  • Long known as the radio home for professional teams and the Division I Minnesota Gophers, WCCO Radio signed on in 2011 for live broadcasts of Tommie Football games 
  • On the south campus, St. Thomas upgraded its Softball and Soccer fields in 2013, switching from natural grass to turf and adding better dugouts and bleachers as well as locker rooms and training facilities 
  • At O'Shaughnessy Stadium, a state-of-the-art video display board was added in 2012, and in 2017 St. Thomas resurfaced the outdoor track and replaced its field turf
  • At Koch Diamond, St. Thomas replaced the baseball infield turf and added bleachers and new hitting cages in 2017
  • At the Saint Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, St. Thomas renovated its men's and women's hockey locker rooms in 2017
 
On-Field Success
  • Tommie teams won three NCAA team championships (2012 Volleyball, 2011 and 2016 Men's Basketball) -- each title unprecedented in that sport in MIAC history; the three titles were led by three different head coaches in Steve Fritz, Thanh Pham and Johnny Tauer
  • Football's Glenn Caruso guided his 2012 and 2015 teams to NCAA runner-up finishes with nationally-televised Stagg Bowl championship-game appearances
  • In all, St. Thomas recorded 28 top-five NCAA finishes in 13 different sports over the 10 years, including 20 trips to Final Fours/eight-team national tournaments in Men's and Women's Basketball, Volleyball, Football, Hockey, Baseball, Softball and Men's Soccer
  • The Tommies finished in the top 17 nationally (top four percent) each of the last eight years in the Division III Directors Cup all-sports standings
  • St. Thomas teams were ranked first or second nationally in eight different sports during the decade
  • National Coach of the Year honors went to Caruso (Football); Jon Lowery (Men's Soccer); Fritz and Tauer (Men's Basketball); and Tom Palkowski (Women's Hockey)
  • Tommie athletes won National Player of the Year honors in seven different sports -- Baseball's Matt Schuld; Men's Cross Country's Ben Sathre; Football's Jordan Roberts; Swim-Dive's Emma Paulson; Men's Hockey's Drew Fielding; Women's Basketball's Kaitlin Langer; and Men's Soccer's Shae Bottom
  • Emma Paulson was a three-time NCAA champion and won the first Swim-Dive crowns in St. Thomas program history
  • Tommie Track and Field/CC had nine national champs with Sathre, Mike Hutton (800 meters), Mallory Burnham (100 hurdles), Emily Gapinski (mile), Eric Holst (both hammer, weight throw), plus three indoor distance medley relay teams
  • St. Thomas athletes claimed 39 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 13 different sports
  • The Purple swept all 10 men's and women's MIAC All-Sports championship trophies, and won or shared nearly 50 percent of the 330 conference team championships contested. 
  • St. Thomas men's teams won 61 league regular-season and 11 playoff crowns, while our women claimed 58 regular-season and 29 playoff titles, including Men's and Women's Track and Field winning 39 of a possible 40 MIAC team championships 
  • Each of our 22 sports either won an MIAC team championship or had an individual All-American
  • Tommie student-athletes won MIAC Athlete of the Year honors more than 80 times

 

 
Leadership
  • In spring 2019, legend Steve Fritz ended a 52-year continuous affiliation with St. Thomas sports as a player, assistant coach head coach and athletics director
  • Other key department retirements during the decade included administrator JoAnn Andregg; and head coaches Dennis Denning (Baseball), Terry Skrypek (Men's Hockey), Tom Hodgson (Swim-Dive), Aaron Macke (Men's Soccer) and Terry Peck (M-W Tennis)
  • Julie Sullivan was hired as university president in 2013, and has made an immediate impact on many fronts; in fall 2018, Dr. Sullivan hired a dynamic, experienced leader in Tommie baseball alumnus Phil Esten as a vice president and director of athletics to succeed Fritz
 
Potential Game Changer
  • In May 2019, citing "competitive parity" concerns over St. Thomas' broad conference success, the Tommies were involuntary removed from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, their home for the last 99 years, effective in summer 2021
  • In October 2019, Dr. Sullivan and Esten announced to the St. Thomas community and local media that as part of its search for a new conference, St. Thomas was invited to join the Division I Summit League, which sponsors all sports but Football and Hockey; they explained that St. Thomas will seek NCAA approval to move directly from Division III to Division I in 2021 via a waiver of current rules, or possibly by new legislation
  • Discussions continue with potential new affiliate conferences for Tommie Football and Hockey
You don't need a crystal ball to know that change will be a major theme for St. Thomas athletics in the 2020s decade. But as our university's history suggests, change can be capitalized on for opportunity and potential growth. 
 
Here's a prediction from my seat on press row:
 
Who will St. Thomas play and where we play on the sports field and courts? That will certainly change as we land in a new conference or group of conferences. 
 
Who St. Thomas is in its core beliefs as a university and as an athletic department? That won't change.
 
The same Tommie philosophy -- pursuit of excellence in all endeavors -- coupled with and our strong leaders, will ably guide us into the any challenges and opportunity that await in the next decade.

 

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 26th season at St. Thomas and 32nd overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu