To conclude celebrating 100 years of sports at St. Thomas, we came up with at least 100 great moments in athletic history. We describe 10 here, but 90 briefer ancedotes are on the St. Thomas athletic Web site and the 100-year site along with more than 100 names of alumni athlete families. Go to www.stthomas.edu/100yearsofathletics.
St. John’s and St. Thomas squared off on athletic fields for the first time on Thanksgiving Day 1901 when a Tommie club football team fell to the Johnnies. A starter for St. John’s that day, I.A. O’Shaughnessy, left Collegeville the next year and enrolled at St. Thomas, where he was captain of the 1905 football team. O’Shaughnessy achieved fame and fortune in the oil industry and became the school’s biggest benefactor. Today his name adorns five campus facilities.
O’Shaughnessy’s switch to purple and gray is a fitting kickoff anecdote of the great athletic rivalry between St. Thomas and St. John’s. The archives overflow with accounts of triple-overtime basketball games and down-to-the-wire baseball and football finishes.
In St. John’s 2003 storybook football season, which produced an NCAA title and national acclaim for Coach John Gagliardi, his toughest game came against a rebuilding Tommie team. In Gagliardi’s bid to tie Eddie Robinson’s national record for coaching victories, the Johnnies needed a last-second field goal to escape with a 15-12 win over St. Thomas.
The football team took the longest train ride in school history at Christmas 1948 after it received a rare invitation to a Jan. 1 bowl game in Tampa. St. Thomas faced Missouri Valley College, which had lost just once in 42 games. St. Thomas rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit and settled for a 13-13 tie in the Cigar Bowl. It was the first Jan. 1 bowl game played by a Minnesota university.
Led by Coach Frank Deig, the 1948 Tommies outscored conference opponents 138-6 and were part of a dominant era. In 11 seasons from 1938 to 1949, St. Thomas went 51-4-1.
Little All-American end Jack Salscheider was among five Tommie Cigar Bowl players who received NFL contract offers. Salscheider played with the New York Giants; halfback Jim "Popcorn" Brandt played with the Pittsburgh Steelers; quarterback Ed Krowka signed with the Detroit Lions before a heart ailment prematurely ended his career; end Don Simonsen played with the Los Angeles Rams; and tackle Jim White turned down an NFL offer from the Giants to attend medical school.
Several graduates played professional sports. In 1997-1998 alone, 10 members of Tommie athletic teams went on to pro or semi-pro careers – including current minor-league baseball players Buzz Hannahan and Jake Mauer; current Minnesota Thunder goalie Joe Warren; former NFL tight end Ryan Collins; former Milwaukee Brewers minor-league pitcher Chris Olean; and four hockey players, including ace Steve Aronson, the first player signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild.
One of the great underdog stories in St. Thomas history is Chuck Hiller. Hiller, who batted .576 as a Tommie junior in 1955 and batted cleanup for the Tommies’ 1956 MIAC championship team, played eight seasons in the majors.
On Oct. 8, 1962, with 66,607 fans watching game four of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, Hiller had his day in the sun. The Giants’ starting second-baseman, he stroked a seventh-inning grand slam and helped rally the Giants to a 7-3 win over New York. It was Hiller’s first grand slam and only his third homer that season. Hiller told reporters after the game, "Baseball sure is a funny game. All year I’ve been fighting for my life. And suddenly I’m a hero."
According to the Aquin, the St. Thomas alumni office sent this telegram to Hiller before the World Series: "12,452 alumni are with you in the (World) Series. Hit one across Cretin Avenue for us." Hiller hit well in the World Series but the Yankees won in seven games.
At least four others played major-league baseball: Richard D. "Rip" Conway ’18, Anthony Giuliani ’34, Johnny Rigney ’36 (he later managed the White Sox), and Francis "Red" Hardy ’49.
St. Thomas emerged as the dominant team beginning in 1965, when the Tommies won the MIAC championship for the first time since 1949. That team had the first unbeaten MIAC season in Tommie basketball history.
Tom Feely’s teams won crowns in 1966-67, and from 1969 to 1974, St. Thomas captured five consecutive MIAC championships. St. Thomas advanced to the NAIA tournament in Kansas City six times from 1966 to 1974. Those teams produced several university Athletic Hall of Famers, including Feely, Steve Fritz, Dan Hansard, Bob Rosier, Fred Korba, John Blum, Dennis Fitzpatrick and Terry McMahon. Hansard also became St. Thomas’ first Verizon Co-SIDA Academic All-American.
The 7-foot-4 inch Rosier, who was an NBA draft pick of Chicago in 1974, helped St. Thomas to a 99-21 record in his era.
Feely won seven MIAC titles from 1956-80. Fritz replaced Feely in 1980 and has 424 victories and 10 MIAC championships. In four years as a player, nine as assistant coach and 24 years as head coach, Fritz has been on the court or the sideline for 996 consecutive Tommie games.
Quiz time: Name the Tommies’ first two-time Academic All-American. (Hint: he’s also their first individual national champion, holder of the oldest St. Thomas track and field record, played with the Buffalo Bills, coached the first St. Thomas football team to qualify for NAIA or NCAA postseason play, won a national team title in track and field, and now is the university’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer). If your answer is Mark Dienhart ’75, you’re correct. With all his success, Dienhart said he’s as proud of his academic successes as anything he accomplished on the field. Only one Tommie (Dan Hansard) had won Academic All-American honors before that. St. Thomas’ Academic All-American list has grown to 38 honorees, 30 since 1990. In 2002-2003, the Tommies set a conference record with seven Academic All-Americans in one school year including three senior roommates – football’s Jake Barkley, track and football’s Andrew Hilliard and baseball’s Tom Carroll.
The average cumulative grade-point average of current Tommie student athletes is 3.16.
The Tommie women’s cross country teams of 1981 and 1982 won the school’s first national team championships. Two years later, St. Thomas men’s teams joined the party. In a four-month span of 1984-1985, they won three NCAA team titles (men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s indoor track and field). The Tommie men and women closed the year 6-for-6 in top-four NCAA team finishes in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. The Tommie men and women swept the NCAA team championships on the same November 1984 day in Delaware, Ohio, and repeated the NCAA sweep in 1986.
Coach Larry Russ’ men’s team was led by All-Americans Nic Manciu, Pete Wareham and Tom Faust. Coach Joe Sweeney’s women’s team was led by All-Americans Sarah Hintz, Cindy Hennessey, Laura Inderiden and Maura Sweeney.
The men won the first Division III Indoor Championship held in March 1985 in Lewiston, Maine. Coach Mark Dienhart’s Tommies scored 36 points. In cross country, the teams closed out the 1980s with a combined seven national team titles and 16 MIAC team championships and won 23 track and field MIAC championships.
While the 1980s were ruled by cross country and track, St. Thomas’ marquee team of the 1990s arguably was women’s basketball. Led by sophomore phenom Laurie Trow, the 1990-1991 Tommie women’s basketball team won the school’s only NCAA team title on campus.
The Tommies capped a 29-2 season with five NCAA tourney victories, all at Schoenecker Arena. Trow averaged 29.8 points and 9.8 rebounds at center while shooting 75 percent from the field.
Coach Ted Riverso’s teams had a 40-game winning streak in 1991 and 1992. It is still an MIAC record. St. Thomas became Division III’s winningest women’s basketball program of the 1990s and captured six MIAC championships.
A three-time Kodak All-American, Trow ranks first in conference history in scoring (2,607 points), rebounding (1,204) and blocked shots (203).
Trow, now the head women’s coach at Northern Arizona, still holds a national record of being the only player in NCAA women’s basketball history to score in double figures in 100 or more consecutive games – she did it in all 113 games she played.
Is there a more accomplished college athlete in MIAC history than Leonard Jones? It has to be the Minneapolis sprinter, jumper, receiver and hoops star.
From 1991 to 1995, Jones was a nine-time NCAA champion, 19-time All-American, 23-time MIAC champion and provisional Olympic Trials qualifier. He holds seven St. Thomas records and five conference meet records in track and field. His seven NCAA indoor championships are still a Division III record. Jones competed in seven NCAA indoor and outdoor meets and led St. Thomas to top-five team finishes in each competition.
In the 1994 NCAA Indoor Championships, Jones won the high jump, triple jump and long jump. (Only one NCAA athlete has ever won four individual titles in one national meet – Ohio State’s Jesse Owens in 1935.)
Jones, who also played football and basketball, is a teacher and coach at Minneapolis Henry High School.
Among the 70 NCAA Division III men’s hockey programs, no institution has more victories than St. Thomas. The Tommies won the 900th game in their 80-year history in February 2003 and have an all-time record of 917-542-59. St. Thomas hockey has posted 22 consecutive winning seasons, has won 12 of the last 16 MIAC team titles, and has qualified for the conference playoffs all 19 years. St. Thomas won seven consecutive MIAC championships from 1989-95, and five in a row from 1998 to 2002.
St. Thomas has reached the NCAA playoffs 11 of the last 21 years. The 1999-2000 Tommies were the only MIAC hockey team to advance to the NCAA Division III finals. Although they lost 2-1, Coach Terry Skrypek’s 1999-2000 team set a record with 27 wins, and Steve Aronson was named Division III National Player of the Year. Aronson broke a 35-year-old MIAC career scoring record (244 points) and was the first free agent to sign with the NHL expansion Minnesota Wild.
In one of his first hires as athletic director, Steve Fritz put together a full-time position and lure a legendary St. Paul high school coach to St. Thomas as head baseball coach in 1994.
Cretin-Derham Hall’s Dennis Denning, whose baseball playing resume ranged from a standout career with the Tommies to a brief time as a teammate of Satchel Paige with the Miami Marlins, had won six state titles and 83 percent of his games in 17 years with the Raiders.
All Denning has done in the 10 years at St. Thomas is: •take his team on an historic trip to Cuba ‘win 80 percent of his games ‘make the region finals six times in nine NCAA playoffs ‘win the MIAC title nine years ‘become the first MIAC coach to get a team into the Division III College World Series ‘place second nationally in 1999 and 2000 ‘win the Division III national championship in 2001 ‘earn National Coach of the Year honors in 2001.
Denning’s stamp carries over into softball – he encouraged in 2000 former Cretin-Derham Hall baseball player John Tschida to pursue the Tommie softball coaching opening.
In Tschida’s four years, St. Thomas softball: ‘has won 84 percent of its games in four seasons ‘earned a fifth-place NCAA finish in 2002 ‘captured the school’s first NCAA softball championship in 2004 ‘earned National Coaching Staff of the Year honors in 2004.
To understand the difficulty of winning NCAA team titles in baseball and softball, where 350 Division III institutions compete, consider that only three coaches have guided Minnesota college teams to NCAA team championships on the diamonds – Gopher baseball legend Dick Siebert (1956, 1960, 1964); St. Thomas baseball with Denning (2001); and Tschida in softball (2000 at St. Mary’s, 2004 with the Tommies).
Softball is the sixth different sport in which St. Thomas has won an NCAA team title – perhaps the Tommies’ most impressive athletic feat.