Chapter VII: Tennis
There are no records extant to tell us when lawn tennis made its first appearance on the St. John's campus. The first specific reference to it is found in the 1892 St. John's University Catalog, copies of which were sent annually to prospective students interested in St. John's. In the section labeled ATHLETICS, four lawn tennis clubs are listed: the Columbian, the Stars, the Crescents and the Cleveland. For each "club" two members are named. It is possible that a club was actually a team, with two doubles partners-possibly also the only players who owned racquets, as "rackets" was then spelled. In the 1894 catalog, however, the club names are omitted and in their place is a simple statement to the effect that the school affords the opportunity to play tennis on campus: "Lawn tennis courts-Two. Clubs unorganized." Even that statement was dropped in 1896 when references to all sports were dropped, only to reappear in 1900 with the formation of the St. John's Athletic Association.
Why the term "unorganized" was used in the catalog for a few years is not clear. It is possible that there were only a few tennis players on campus and hence there was no need for an organization; or, possibly, they wished to avoid misleading a prospective student into the expectation of lawn courts with neatly trimmed grass and lines marked off with snow white lime. However that may be, it is still surprising to know that tennis actually was being played at St. John's in 1892. Tennis made its first appearance in the United States in 1874 in New York, and though it soon became a popular sport nationwide, St. John's was hardly the place in 1892 for the neatly rolled grass courts on which "lawn" tennis was played. From what we read about the rough, stony playing fields of early St. John's it is hard to imagine lawns on which the student body could romp and play.
There is no doubt that tennis was a popular sport at St. John's ten years or so later when the 1908 edition of the "Athletic Annual of the St. John's Athletic Association" was published. Under the title of "Tennis," pages 32-33, is the following appraisal of the game at St. John's at that time: "Tennis has always been a secondary sport at St. John's. During the past two years, however, prospects have brightened considerably, and at present it proves to be one of the favorite pastimes on the campus. Early this spring the courts have been overhauled, new implements acquired, and everything made ready for an enjoyable season. The outlook for a good representative team is most promising, there being a good number of A.A. members aspiring for the honor at present. Last year was the first in which our players had the pleasure of meeting an outside team; and although the Lake Shore Team of St. Cloud defeated the defenders of the Cardinal and Blue, the showing made by the latter was very creditable. Accordingly, several series with the same team have been arranged for this season, and it is hoped that the present tournament at home will develop some real fast material."
The account ends with the names of fifty-six members of the A.A. who signed up for the tournament. Tennis with outside teams never flourished at St. John's, though the two old courts of the 1900's remained in use until 1924-much used by the students in spring and fall. They were located in the area that now fronts Alcuin Library, were badly kept up generally, with two bedraggled looking backstops made of chicken wire to keep the service balls in play.
When the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was formed in 1920, St. John's enthusiastically entered teams in baseball, football and basketball, but for some reason, whether it was budgetary problems or the feeling that St. John's was as yet unable to compete effectively in track and tennis, or the miserable tennis courts, the administration did not enter teams in the two last-named sports. The students, however, had their own ideas about the matter. Unaware probably of the problems, or indifferent to them, they pressured hard for the organization of track and tennis teams on the intercollegiate level. St. John's sent four men to the MIAC track meet in 1921 and 1922, but tennis had to wait. Only in 1924 was approval granted for the organization of a varsity tennis team with Fr. Hyacinth Cismowski, O.S.B., as coach. Fr. Hyacinth was an all-around athlete in his student days and an enthusiastic supporter of sports in later years. The first announcement of a tennis team, probably written by Fr. Hyacinth himself, is interesting: "For the first time in its history, St. John's will be represented by a varsity tennis team. The material is somewhat limited and inexperienced, and while no glorious records will crown the deeds of the 1924 varsity team, we may look with an optimistic eye on the tennis teams of the future years. The squad, coached by Father Hyacinth Cismowski, consists of the following: Donald Blake, August Carroll, Robert Murphy, Edward Powers, Nick Schmitt, Leo Terrahe, Notker Thelen and Charles Topping" (Record, May 1924, p. 260).
In the June-July issue of the Record, 1924, p. 331, it was admitted that the varsity team had failed to play any outside teams: "Although the tennis squad did not play any outside teams, it showed the school that the athletic curriculum at St. John's is not complete without a varsity team. We hope that the tennis players will be given a chance to show their mettle even to better advantage next year."
It was at this time that Fr. Arnold Mondloch, O.S.B., stepped into the tennis picture. One of the most energetic and farseeing benefactors of the early MIAC athletic program at St. John's, he was acutely aware of the folly of attempting to enter a tennis team with no more than the old tennis courts on which to play. During the summer of 1924, almost single-handed, and with the aid of a small motorized tractor-grader, he constructed seven new tennis courts and enclosed them within a heavy chain-wire enclosure. It was truly a magnificent tennis court, certainly the best in the conference for the time it was built-the era preceding the concrete court period. When in September of 1924 the students returned to St. John's, the tennis advocates realized the superior workmanship in the construction of the courts and the effect they would have on the quality of tennis at St. John's. The Record wrote of it as "an acquisition of which we can all be proud. No institution in the state can boast of better ones. Fr. Arnold Mondloch, under whose supervision they have been perfected, is to be congratulated. Plans for a grand opening for Sunday morning, October 26, 1924, are nearing completion" (Record, October 6, 1924, p. 4).
For some reason the enthusiasm of 1924 did not carryover into 1925. A team was organized by Fr. Hyacinth, but no outside games were played, at least not on the intercollegiate level. They did devise a method for the selection of the team, however: namely, a series of elimination matches in the intramural system, after which the survivors would be evaluated and the team members announced. It is possible that the process of elimination was never completed, for Fr Hyacinth, whose health had been failing, was sent to the Bahama Islands for recuperation and work in the missions.
On May 6, 1926, the Record carried the announcement that "this year, finally, St. John's will enter a track and tennis team in the conference meet, which will be held at Hamline, May 22. This is the first time for a number of years that St. John's will have representative track and tennis teams, and tight here is the chance for our 'Spike and Cleat' athletes to show their ambition."
When the team representatives had been chosen, St. John's sent them to the Hamline meet. In tennis doubles, Donald Blake and Walter Miller were defeated by the veteran St. Olaf champions. George Clifford, a freshman, won his way to the semi-finals, however, which was, the Record reported, "quite an achievement, considering that it was his first appearance in intercollegiate competition" (Record, May 27, 1926).
- 1927 -
"St. John's Will Stage College Tennis Meet," so reads the headlines of the sports page of the March 31, 1927 Record. It was the St. John's announcement that the conference delegates at their spring meeting had accepted the invitation of St. John's to hold the 1927 annual MIAC tennis tourney at St. John's, May 20. There followed a flurry of intramural contests between likely candidates for the selection of the St. John's team members: Donald Blake, Joe Ryan, Claude Maertz, James Deagan, Norvell Callaghan, Willard Johnson, Edmund Schaefer, Walter Moynihan, George Clifford, Dick Hornig, and others. George Clifford was selected to represent St. John's in the singles.
The final results of the conference meet found George Clifford the singles champion of the MIAC, but Macalester the doubles champion. Clifford was master of the situation, though pitted against Tendall, the St. Olaf champion, a thrilling match between a sophomore and an experienced veteran. The match began with Clifford losing the first set 6-0. After that Clifford settled down and ran out the match in straight sets: 0-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5. In the last set he had trouble with Tendall, who ran up the count to 5-2. But at that point Clifford rallied by breaking through Tendall's service, then won his own service to tie the match at 5-5. He then ran out the match by winning consecutive sets and clinching the championship at 7-5.
As the Record emphasized, George Clifford deserved the title. In fact, even as a sophomore he was one of the natural athletes of his time, a star in football, basketball and baseball as well as in tennis.
He was amazingly fast and quick, almost instinctive in his reaction to playing situations. He had a strong backhand and was endowed with an uncanny sense of anticipation in knowing when to rush to the net for the kill or when to lie back on the baselines. As described by a ' knowledgeable observer, he played a conservative game, keeping the ball in play and forcing his opponent to err.
George entered medical school at the end of his sophomore year and did not return to St. John's. He spent the major part of his life as a competent, highly respected physician in his home town, Alexandria.
- 1928 -
The 1928 tennis team was chosen in the usual way by an all-college Spike and Cleat tournament. From a long list of contending candidates, the most promising were Norvell Callaghan, Raymond Hite, John "Red" Dore, Walter Moynihan, and the Pettit brothers, James and Bert. Freshman Ray Hite, Walter Moynihan, Bert Pettit and John Dore were the survivors. In this particular year the number of team members was limited to four players.
In a series of preliminary meets scheduled for the purpose of obtaining experience with the kind of opposition they would meet in the MIAC tournament, the St. John's tennis players lost to St. Olaf, Hamline, and Gustavus. It was not an encouraging record when viewed as preparation for the conference meet, but Ray Hite regularly emerged from each of the meets as the outstanding individual player and a favorite to take first place in the conference singles.
The state meet was held at St. John's on June 1-2, too late, unfortunately, for the results to be published in the school paper, since the meet took place after the appearance of the last Record. To the surprise of the conference, freshman Hite won the singles championship, the second consecutive singles crown awarded to St. John's. The story of Hite's victory was featured in the 1929 Sagatagan: "Hite defeated in turn Nelson of Gustavus, Reims of St. Thomas, Hall and Bowes of Hamline. These last two matches were tough, and in winning them Hite showed plenty to crown him for the year. From Hall, who had previously defeated a fine player in Doyle of St. Thomas, Hite won 7-5,5-7,8-6, and then defeated Hamline's Bowes 7-5,8-6,4-6, and 6-0" (Sagatagan, 1929).
Hite's style was much like Clifford's in 1927. He out-steadied and out-shot his opponents "by his clever serves to hard corners and following up with volleys down the side lines and lobs down the baseline, seldom committing an error in court work and seldom double faulting" (ibid).
Hite's victory was as noteworthy an event on the St. John's campus as that of George Clifford in 1927. Hamline, however, won the doubles championship.
- 1929 -
One feature of tennis that distinguished it from the other sports such as baseball and football, etc., was that the seasonal games and meets had no importance for the championship other than as a period of training for the MIAC tournament that concluded the season. But the 1929 tennis elimination tournament was even more interesting than the upcoming MIAC meet-the see-saw struggle between the contestants in order to determine who would represent St. John's. The struggle ended with Raymond Hite, Kenneth Raymond, Benjamin Stein (now Fr. Benjamin, O.S.B.), Tom Burke and Ira Bradford finishing as the team members, with William Carr, Edward Flynn and Adolph Spiering falling by the wayside.
In the preliminary meets between the MIAC colleges and St. John's, there were the usual ups and downs of fortune that characterize trial events. Generally St. John's was always a threat, though not a favorite for the tennis title. Ray Hite, however, was always the outstanding individual competitor, whether playing singles or when paired with partners Stein or Burke in the doubles.
Highlight of the 1929 MIAC meet was Ray Hite's match with Macalester's Laatsch for the singles championship. In a series of matches Hite had won over Anderson of Concordia, Broeker of Hamline, and Doyle of St. Thomas. In the finals, pitted against Laatsch of Macalester, he lost the first set, then won the second. In the third and deciding set he was leading Laatsch by 5-2 and advantage-love, needing only one more point for the championship, when suddenly he lost control of his game and was defeated. For Hite, one of the top performers in St. John's tennis history, the loss was a heart-breaker.
- 1930 -
Since Raymond Hite did not return to St. John's for the year 1929- 30 and Ben Stein was already in the novitiate, the 1930 team was open for an entirely new generation of tennis players. Kenneth Raymond, senior, was the only veteran who survived the spring try-outs, together with freshmen Harold Soukup from New DIm, Lance McEown from Minot, North Dakota, and William "Bill" Harrer, ex-St. John's Prep School star, from Minneapolis.
Preliminary meets were arranged with St. Thomas (two), Macalester and St. Olaf. The outcome of the St. Thomas meets was not reported, though the meets could have been cancelled because of bad weather. Macalester, however, swept the meet, and St. Olaf defeated the Johnnies 4-2. It was not a propitious beginning for the MIAC tournament.
The St. John's tennis ace for the year was Bill Harrer (now Fr. Philibert, O.S.B. [presently pastor in Frazee, Minnesota).] Lance McEown was a close second to Harrer, but especially effective in the doubles. Harold Soukup, "a flashy freshman" according to the Record, was among the most promising of the new group of freshmen about whom the Record reported after the MIAC tournament: "All the above were freshmen and much is to be hoped for in 1931-they will put the Johnnies out in front again in state college circles" (Record, May 29, 1930).
The account of Bill Harrer's match in the conference meet is interesting: "Bill Harrer, St. John's tennis ace, came through for the only tennis victory of the meet, with scores of 6-1, 6-1. His victory was so impressive that sports writers regarded him as the dark horse of the meet. His next match was with Dick Hall of Hamline, who had four years of college tennis experience. Bill Harrer lost the match, though the score 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 indicates how close the struggle was" (Record, May 29, 1930).
- 1931 -
A brightener for the tennis prospects in 1931 was the return of Ray Hite to St. John's in order to complete his course work for graduation Ray had won the MIAC singles championship in his freshman year, 1928, and missed repeating his singles title in 1929 by a narrow margin. It was immediately obvious when the season began that he and Bill Harrer would likely pair up for an attack on the doubles title, a feat not yet achieved by St. John's players.
The first agendum in the season's work was the selection of the team to represent the college. Veterans Hite, Harrer, and Lance Mc- Eown were the almost automatic winners of the first three spots on the team. The problem was to select the fourth man from a number of candidates: Ralph Koenig, Frank Plakut, Jay Cross, William Freeman, Tom Ryan, Walter Weisgram, and Ralph Williams. In the series of matches designed for the situation Jay Cross emerged as the fourth man.
In the preliminary meets arranged for the development of the team St. John's was more than usually successful. In two meets with St. Cloud Teachers' College, the Johnnies won both by scores of 4-1 and 7-5. Shortly after the St. Cloud victories, they defeated Macalester in a single meet by the score of 6-0.
The two meetings with St. Thomas were a different story. St. Thomas had in Wachtler one of the St. Thomas greats for its singles star, and Delaney and Heimbach, in the doubles, two understudies who were the match of anything else in the conference. The Tommies swept the two meets by scores of 4-3 and 5-1, momentarily dimming St. John's hopes.
In the state meet, held at St. John's, Wachtler defeated Hite in the singles 9-7, 6-2, and 6-3. It was Wachtler's second consecutive championship in the MIAC.
The conjecture of May 14 made by the Johnnies turned out to be correct, however. Hite and Harrer defeated the crack St. Thomas doubles team of Wachtler and Delaney. It was the first doubles championship won by St. John's in its short tennis history.
- 1932 -
With Ray Hite and Bill Harrer no longer on the scene, a new generation of netters took over in the 1932 season. Ralph Koenig and William Freeman had been on the roster the previous year and consequently were leading candidates for top positions. The number of contesting candidates was larger than usual: Koenig and Freeman (already mentioned), Jerome Fortier, Louis Niemeyer, Leo Brown, Eugene Dupuch, Alois Himsl, Edmund Piotrowski, Raymond Knaeble and George Klasen. Winners of places on the tennis team were Ralph Koenig (captain), William Freeman, Karl Kolling, and Eugene Dupuch.
Both the Record and the Sagatagan failed to report on the outcome of the conference meet, held at St. Olaf, May 28-too late in the season to be included in the Record sports section for the year. According to the official list of championships, St. Thomas won the 1932 title outright, both in singles and doubles.
- 1933 -
The 1933 Johnnies started late in the season. It was only on May 3, primarily because of bad weather and muddy courts, that the team was able to put in any regular time for practice and to commence the annual school tournament for the selection of the team personnel. A change of policy now required that six men should comprise the team, with the number-one and number-two men representing the school in outside meets. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth men would be selected by the usual process of elimination. The result of the tournament was that Ralph Koenig and Karl Kolling won the numbers one and two spots respectively; James Coyne and Thomas Rowan, third and fourth; Clinton Lundgren and Hogan, fifth and sixth.
In the first meet with St. Cloud T.C. the Johnnies lost by a score of 7-2. In the second, of which better statistics are available, St. John's lost again 5-2, Koenig defeating Colletti in the singles, but Koenig and Kolling losing the doubles match to Colletti and Arnold. In a later meet, St. John's lost by a score of 6-1, Tom Rowan being the only St. John's player ringing up a victory.
Although St. John's did fairly well in the MIAC conference meet by reaching the semi-finals in two categories, the singles and the doubles, the Jays failed to reach the finals. In the first round of the meet Koenig defeated White of Hamline 5-2, 6-4; Benson of Gustavus won over Kolling of St. John's 6-2. Eventually, in the semi-finals, Koenig was defeated by Harry Hite, the cannon-ball server of St. Thomas. In the doubles, Judd and White of Hamline eliminated Koenig and Kolling 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Winners of the conference meet were the following: Engstrom of St. Olaf over Harold Hite of St. Thomas in the singles; Hite and Heimbach of St. Thomas defeating Judd and White of Hamline in the doubles.
It was around this time that more tennis meets were being held at St. John's than elsewhere because of the finely groomed courts and the accommodations afforded the visiting teams.
- 1934 -
In 1934 Fr. Damian Baker, O.S.B., took over the coaching job in tennis at the request of the players. There was drastic need of some sort of change, for the students themselves were disappointed in their performances, and even intercollegiate tennis itself had lost most of its glamor. One pressing problem was the lack of early practice time before the MIAC tournament, the result of late springs and inclement weather that left the clay courts unplayable, sometimes as late as the first few days of May. The fall before (1933), however, Fr. Damian had organized a tournament for candidates in tennis that had the double advantage of evaluating the freshman material on campus early in the year and of correcting the most obvious faults of those who appeared to have the ability to develop into first-class players.
The decision turned out to be of profit for the team. Though the same traditional policy of a school tournament was followed to determine who would make the team, the fall practice had already narrowed down the number of eligible candidates and therefore speeded up the selection of the required six-man team: Captain Thomas Rowan, num ber one man, Fred Thielman, number two, and Donald Schmid, Othmar Fuchs, Roger Vossberg and Dick Schulte, numbers three, four, five and six, in that order. Richard Schulte, a De La Salle graduate from Minneapolis, appeared to be the most talented of the freshmen.
In the pre-tournament meets St. John's defeated Macalester 4-2, but was defeated in turn by St. Thomas 2-4. St. Thomas turned out to be still a power in the conference, though not as formidable a foe as it had been the year before.
St. John's was represented in the MIAC tournament by only three players: Rowan and Schmid in the singles and Rowan and Thielman in the doubles. Schmid won over Ray Schaak of St. Thomas in the first round, survived the second round, and then lost to Venzke, Macalester's singles star, in the semi-finals, 0-6 and 3-6. The Thielman-Rowan doubles team defeated Sauers and Britton of Hamline in the second round but dropped their doubles match in the semi-finals to Schaak and Heisbach of St. Thomas. No championship in tennis was awarded for 1934 by the MIAC.
The Record reports on the 1935 tennis season are so scanty that there is practically no comment possible. The team was enthusiastic and hard working-at least that is the observation made in the one article devoted to the sport for 1935. St. John's scheduled two meets with St. Thomas, two with St. Cloud Teachers' College, and one with Macalester. The Record reported the results of one meet with St. Thomas, namely, that the Tommies had eked out a 4-3 victory over the battling Johnnies.
The conference tournament was held at St. John's, a popular site for the tennis finals because of the seven courts available and the excellent condition of the surface in the warm days of May. Athletic Director George Durenberger and his specially trained crew of groundskeepers spent hours of work on the courts, raking, rolling, and marking with lime for every meet that brought a conference opponent onto the St. John's campus. The favor was appreciated by the conference tennis coaches.
In the first round of the conference meet Captain Tom Rowan defeated Murphy of St. Thomas 6-2 and 7-5. Ralph Koenig lost to Holt of Hamline. In the second round Engstrom of St. Olaf defeated Rowan 6-2, 6-0. The only St. John's entry that reached the semi-finals was the doubles team, Koenig and Schwab, and they were defeated by Judd and Holt of Hamline.
Winners of the championship were Gustavus and Macalester-the Gusties in the singles, the Macs in the doubles.
In the fall of 1935 Fr. Damian and Thomas Rowan (captain of the team) expressed their satisfaction with the results of their autumn tennis tournament. They had found it a success, with a great show of enthusiasm on the part of the freshmen who were seeking places on the tennis varsity in the following spring. William Goblirsch, a fireball from St. Cloud Cathedral, and Harry Majerus (now Rev. Majerus), an alumnus of Cretin High School in St. Paul, were the number-one and number-two candidates for the spring try-outs. Other freshmen who showed up well were Joseph McDonnell from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Robert Dailey of Alexandria. Both Dailey and McDonnell made the varsity, as well as Harry Majerus.
Other candidates who survived the spring try-outs were veterans Fred Thielman, Dick Schulte, Jerry Schwab and John Corrigan. The meets took place immediately following the choice of the team. Joe Duffy, columnist writer of "Sports Shorts," commented briefly on one of the meets: "Our tennis team did not fare well against the St. Cloud Teachers' College. Bad weather kept them off the courts" (May 7, 1936).
The only complete available report of a 1936 meet was the contest with St. Cloud T.C., in which the Huskies practically shut out the Johnnies, except for a winning match by Jerry Schwab, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in the singles, and a victory in the doubles by John Corrigan and Joe Kelso, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
There was no report regarding the outcome of the MIAC state meet. Always dependable in saying something quotable, columnist Joe Duffy observed dryly: "The tennis team surprised its followers by stubborn opposition to Gustavus. The match was not decided until the final set of doubles had been run off" (May 28, 1936).
- 1937 -
Freak weather conditions and a late spring forced Fr. Damian to pass up the annual school tennis tournament for the selection of the 1937 team members. The best he could do under the circumstances was to name members chosen from the 1936 tennis squad, with Richard Schulte, the only returning letterman, appointed captain. Team members were Joseph Kirchner, Homer Hurd, Joseph Daly, and, in the background, the untried candidates Timothy Donahue, Edward Fleming, Harry Majerus, Frank Ellenbecker, and Theodore Feyder (Record, April 29, 1937).
Two tennis meets were arranged with St. Cloud T.C., with, however, only a few practice periods on the St. John's courts. No report was made of the meet beyond a vague reference to it in the May 20 issue of the Record, according to which the Jays had been decisively defeated. Captain Dick Schulte made the best showing by forcing his match to go to three sets.
The Jays did much better in their second match with St. Cloud, though they lost by a score of 6-2. In the singles Joe Kirchner and Homer Hurd were the only winners of their matches. Captain Schulte again forced Gerzin, the top St. Cloud singles man, to three stubbornly fought sets. In the doubles, Kirchner and Schulte lost to Gerzin and LeDoux of St. Cloud. The second doubles team tied with the oppositio in a 5-5 match before the game was called because of the late hour. The best report on the meet available was published in the August 19, 1937, issue of the Record, written by Timothy Donohue, a candid, objective writer: "The tennis team was weak again this year and at no time was a serious threat in the tennis tournament for the conference title, which was held at St. John's. Captain Schulte was bowled over in the first round. Kirchner advanced to the second round of the tournament, but Struble of St. Thomas conquered him in straight sets. Hurd and Fleming in the doubles lost their first match to Hamline; Lavic and Bjergen of St. Olaf successfully defended their doubles crown."
The 1938 tennis team differed radically from its predecessor of 1937. In 1937 Fr. Damian had only Dick Schulte as a veteran on whom to build his team; in 1938, however, he had four veterans: Homer Hurd, Joseph Kirchner, Dick Schulte, and Edward Fleming. Among the twelve of thirteen freshman candidates were George LePage, Arthur Thompson, John Ebnet, Thomas Eiden, Herman Wind, and John Ellenbecker- none of whom could offer a serious challenge to the reigning veterans. Moreover, the weather was too bad to offer the opportunity for an all-school tournament. The major part of April was spent indoors, practicing strokes, footwork, serves, and listening to lectures on game strategy by Fr. Damian.
The first meet-with Macalester-was interrupted by a violent rain storm that called the meet to an abrupt halt. There were some disappointments, however. Joe Kirchner, the number one man of the team, was dropped easily by Feinberg of Macalester by scores of 6-2 and 6-2. Hurd and Louie Stovik, the latter a freshman, each won his first round match 6-1, 6-2, and 6-4, 6-2 respectively. When the rain set in, Ellenbecker was behind 5-1 and Edward Fleming ahead 6-2 and 3-1. In a meet with St. Thomas held a little later, the Johnnies were defeated by a score of 7-1. They were only saved from a shut-out by Dick Schulte's convincing victory over Janni of St. Thomas, 6-1 and 6-2. The St. Thomas meet spelled disaster to the St. John's hopes for a winning season.
The story of the conference meet is quickly told. St. John's was admittedly mediocre, but it was a gallant team with breaks coming its way. Homer Hurd was pitted in his first match against Feinberg of Macalester, the reigning singles champion. Hurd won the first set 6-4, though he was eliminated in the two following sets 6-3 and 6-4. In the doubles, Hurd and Kirchner again met the toughest team in the conference. The first set of the doubles was drawn out to the count of 13-11, a veritable marathon, until finally the two Johnnies were defeated. They lost the second set 6-4, and the third 6-4, fighting to the end. St. Thomas was the 1938 tennis champion.
- 1939 -
The year 1939 was not a glory year for St. John's in tennis, though not because of any lack of enthusiasm or solid team effort. It was not a great year for the simple reason that during this whole period several of the schools were fortunate to come up annually with individual stars who managed to knock off one another alternately, meanwhile out-shining schools less blessed with stars of equal brightness.
The new coach, Fr. Emeric Lawrence, O.S.B., was greeted by some twenty candidates for the team, but since only three men were sent to the MIAC annual meet, a large proportion of them either quit of their own accord or were eliminated by the competition. Only one candidate, Glynn Riley, is named as a member of the threesome: Homer Hurd (captain), Mike Albury, a Bahamian, and Joe Kirchner (later Fr. Joseph Kirchner of the Diocese of St. Cloud). Riley made a good showing in a non-conference match with the Waseca Tennis Club, winning 6-0 and 6-2.
Mike Albury proved to be the mainstay of the team. In meets that were reported, St. John's lost two matches to St. Cloud T.C., 5-1 and 5-4. In a meet with Macalester he did very well, losing 6-2 in hardfought sets to Mac's Feinberg, one of the power players of the conference. The May 25, 1939, issu~ of the Record announced the contestants for the MIAC tournament to be played at Hamline. St. John's was sending only three men: Captain Homer Hurd, Mike Albury and Joe Kirchner. In the meet itself, Hurd and Albury were eliminated in the first round. Homer had punched out an easy first set over Bob Holm of St. Olaf by 6-1. During the match the wind rose and with it went Homer's game. He lost the two remaining sets 6-2 and 6-3. Mike Albury had the misfortune to be matched against the Gusties' "Rube"
Waltman in the first round. As it turned out, Waltman conquered Feinberg and was the MIAC singles champion for 1939. The match was the best show of the entire meet. He won the title in a marathon match 1-6, 6-3, 15-13.
The doubles team of Kirchner and Albury had much better luck. They won both the first and second rounds and "carried the Collegeville colors into the semi-finals," only to be stopped by Holm and Peterson of St. Olaf by a score of 2-6, 6-1, and 6-3.
Gustavus was awarded the 1939 championship in singles. The doubles championship was left vacant.
- 1940 -
Tennis coach Fr. Emeric Lawrence was fully aware that his team had no one to match the stars of Macalester and Gustavus. For that reason he worked to develop his two top performers, Mike Albury and Homer Hurd, to perform to the peak of their potentiality. Nine hopeful candidates applied for positions on the team, among them Bill Goblirsch, Glynn Riley, Daniel O'Brien, Konnie Prem-and others not mentioned by name.
The first match of the 1940 season was against the University of North Dakota. The Johnnies had a bad day, the Record reported, but it enabled Fr. Emeric to evaluate his team more closely and select the ones who appeared to be his number one and two men. Mike Albury was easily the top singles man on the squad, closely followed by Homer Hurd, team captain. O'Brien was third man, Goblirsch or Halvorson fourth, and Shanahan number six. The doubles team was to be a pairing of Hurd and Albury.
Against St. Thomas, the Johnnies lost two meets, 4-3 and 6-1. Important in these meets was the victory of Hurd and Albury in the doubles over Gilden and Struble of St. Thomas, 5-4 and 6-3. In singles, however, Albury lost to Gilden 6-3 and Hurd to Struble, the Tommie ace, 0-6 and 1-3.
The one meet victory of the season was a 7-2 drubbing of Hamline on the St. John's courts. The only losers were the St. John's numbers two and three men, Hurd and O'Brien. Mike Albury played his usual smashing game and defeated Kelly of Hamline in two straight sets, 6-3 and 6-1. Halvorson and Shanahan, four and five on the team, had little trouble in winning their matches. Glynn Riley, making his first start of the year, did particularly well.
In the annual MIAC tournament the Jays did even better than expected. Both Albury and Hurd won their first round matches, Albury over Rod Hanson of Hamline and Hurd over Wrockage of St. Mary's.
In the second round Struble, the ace player of St. Thomas, dropped Albury in two sets, 6-3, 6-1. Hurd was unfortunate to be matched against the 1939 singles champion Waltman of Gustavus and lost by a very creditable score of 6-4 and 6-2.
In the doubles the Johnnies came into their own. They won their matches in the first and second rounds, but lost to St. Olaf in the semifinals. In the May 23, 1940, issue of the Record there appeared an appreciative encomium of Fr. Wendelin Luetmer, O.S.B., professor of biology who for a pastime made it a hobby to mend students' rackets free. They had their choice of strings: Australian gut, whale gut, or silk, and he applied a preservative to prolong their usefulness. Over the years, former tennis players stopped in to visit with their old friend, life-long lover of tennis and horseshoe matches. Shortly after he passed away in 1977 one of his beneficiaries, Tom Haeg, asked to see him. He died in his eighty-ninth year, calm and sharp to the end.
- 1941 -
The 1941 season calls for a descriptive rather than a statistical report, since most of the Record accounts of the season are more generalized reports with an almost complete lack of individual data on the performance of each St. John's contestant. Tennis in 1941 began with a meeting in late March between the three returning lettermen-Albury, Halvorson, and Shanahan-with twenty new candidates to plot out the training schedule for the coming season.
An improved policy change in the selection of contestants for the doubles is distinctly observable. In a meet with St. Cloud T.C., for example, St. Cloud started out strong and defeated the three leading St. John's singles players, Albury, Hub Miller and Ray Halvorson. But Austin Shanahan and Freeman, the number four and five men, respectively, swept the remaining singles and tightened up the score, following which the doubles teams won all the matches. The Johnnies won the meet by one single point.
With Gustavus, a meet reported along with the match with St. Cloud, the Jays had an easy time of it. Albury, Shanahan, Freeman and Thuringer won all their singles matches. Halvorson lost his match, but the doubles teams, Albury and Miller, Halvorson and Freeman, Shanahan and Thuringer, swept the doubles.
Highlight of the MIAC meet was a finals battle between Albury of St. John's and St. Olaf's brilliant Weeg, the 1940 champion. Albury had been looking forward to meeting Weeg, confident of his ability to unseat him. He survived the first two rounds and the semi-finals and finally found himself meeting head-on with Weeg. It was a spirited battle, but the crafty Weeg was able to fight off Mike's smashing game and defeated him 6-3 and 7-5. St. John's likewise reached the finals in the doubles, only to lose to the brilliant Weeg and Peterson once more. The final Record report, May 29, 1941,is a tribute to the comeback of the Johnnies in the tennis picture of the MIAC: "The tennis squad, with Mike Albury at the helm, has closed out the book on one of the most successful seasons to hit the SJU courts in a long time. Mike was up to his usual good form this year, and took on some of the best in the state. Hub Miller and Joe Freeman, both first-year men, also did very well.
"Mike, who all this year had been waiting for a chance to meet Weeg, dropped a heart-breaker to him in the singles finals 6-3 and 7-5. This makes the second year that Weeg has walked off with this title. "Earlier in the day, Mike Albury and Hub Miller combined to defeat the St. Thomas doubles team in the semi-finals 6-1 and 6-4, only to fall to St. Olaf in the finals."
In a euphoric article that opened the 1942 tennis season, the Record sportswriter of the year predicted great things for the Johnnies, basing his predictions mainly on the brilliant work of Mike Albury, the Bahamian star who for six years had demonstrated his ability on the St. John's tennis courts. Albury came to St. John's as a Prep School freshman. He dominated Prep School tennis, was elected captain, and in his final high school year was the Minnesota state high school tennis champion. It was a surprise to no one when he joined the college team and immediately became the star player on the varsity. He had a brilliant career in college and except for the presence on the St. Olaf tennis team of another brilliant star named Weeg, he would have dominated the MIAC for the next two years.
In the first pre-tournament meet of the season the Johnnies drubbed Macalester unmercifully 8-1, with St. John's losing only one match of the meet. Albury, Freeman and Drahmann won all their singles encounters, John Hughes being the only loser by scores of 6-1, 6-1. The Johnnies swept the doubles without a loss. The second meet of the year was equally successful, the Johnnies sweeping to an easy victory over Augsburg, 5-2.
The good luck of the Jays ended in their next meeting with champion St. Olaf. St. John's bowed 5-1 to the accomplished ales, led by their practically unbeatable star Weeg, both in the singles and doubles. In the St. Olaf meet only St. John's Freeman managed to win over Larson in a hard-fought match 9-7, 3-6, and 6-4. Mike lost to his twoyear nemesis Weeg 0-6 and 2-6. In the doubles Albury and Freeman lost to Weeg and Larson 6-4 and 6-1.
In the conference tournament St. Olaf won the championship outright, both singles and doubles. In the final doubles Albury and Freeman lost to Weeg and Larson 6-4 and 6-1. Mike Albury lost to Coughlin of St. Thomas in the singles.
Thus ended the career of Mike Albury at St. John's. It was also the temporary end of tennis itself, for with the draft and World War II to compete with, tennis was suspended until 1946.
In the spring of 1946, a few months after the end of World War II, Fr. Bernardo Martinez, O.S.B., was appointed coach of the tennis team. It was already late, but the new coach hastily gathered together all the known tennis players on campus for practice indoors until the weather permitted their going out on the tennis courts. He picked the best among all the candidates who took part in the indoor practice: Kenneth Schoener, Bill Henry and Robert Fleming, all from St. Cloud, Richard Endres from Faribault, Joseph McCarthy from Detroit Lakes, Charles Kohnke, Wahpeton, North Dakota, and James Griffin, Iowa. In two early spring matches with St. Cloud T.C. the Jays easily won both meets, 5-1 and 6-0. The good luck of the team did not last, however. In the conference matches the Jays suffered three severe setbacks: straight losses to Augsburg, 5-1, to Gustavus, 6-1, and to St. Thomas, 5-2.
In the annual MIAC tournament held at Augsburg May 23-24, St. John's failed to place, as would be expected under the circumstances. Gustavus was awarded the conference championship by sweeping both the singles and doubles.
Fr. Bernardo was not discouraged, however. He was determined, as he said, "to put St. John's on the tennis map." He arranged both summer and fall elimination tournaments, the latter to run through September and October, and to end in a final tournament from which would emerge "the finest of the St. John's tennis players."
His next move was to organize a St. John's Tennis Club for winter practice. He secured the use of the lower gymnasium for stated periods each week and delivered talks on tennis techniques and strategy. The Tennis Club was affiliated with "The United States Lawn Tennis Association" to develop a lively zeal for the game and a life-long interest in tennis. Fr. Bernardo was what is called a big operator and quickly became one of the most picturesque figures on campus.
The fiery Spaniard, Fr. Bernardo Martinez, who launched forth on the troubled sea of tennis coaching in 1946, began his preparations for the 1947 season shortly after the first snowfall in December. A natural, born athlete himself, he had picked up the game of tennis after his arrival at St. John's and within a year had become one of the top players of the faculty-student community. Throughout the winter 1946-47 he worked with a small group of tennis enthusiasts, both in the upper and in the lower gymnasiums, firmly convinced that any well coordinated athlete, like himself, could become a star within a short period of regulated practices. With profound conviction in his theory, he said that to win the MIAC championship he needed only one or two super-stars backed up by four or five good average players who would provide the opposition for their training.
But Fr. Bernardo learned that a star tennis player is not easily created. However, an optimist of his happy disposition was not easily discouraged. He scheduled twelve tennis meets with St. Cloud T.C. and all the member conference colleges who would accept an invitation. Some of the meets had to be cancelled or postponed for various reasons, mainly bad weather. By April 30 the team had defeated St. Cloud 6-2, only to be white-washed by Augsburg 7-0 a few days later.
When May 15 came around and the conference meet was only eight days distant, St. John's had posted four wins and three losses and still had four. meets to be played, one with Augsburg, one with Gustavus, and two with St. Thomas. As the Record expressed it, the last week before the MIAC tournament was filled with troubles for the Jays: "St. Thomas clipped the Johnnies twice, 7-0 and 6-1; they lost to Augsburg, and were edged by Gustavus 4-3" (Record, May 29, 1947).
In the conference, Captain Marcus Sirrs and Howie Kullen were eliminated in the first round of the singles. In the doubles, Norman McDonnell and Howie Kullen were also eliminated in the first round. Bill Henry, on whom Fr. Bernardo had relied for points, was sidelined because of an ankle injury sustained in the Gustavus meet and hence was unable to compete.
The reason for St. John's poor showing in tennis in 1947 was not Fr. Bernardo's coaching or his theory. It was the first year after the end of World War II and most of the tennis "super-stars" had enrolled in Twin Cities' schools. In addition, the MIAC colleges had already installed concrete tennis courts which gave their players the opportunity to practice regularly, despite adverse weather conditions that kept the Jays idle.
Had their tennis coach remained at St. John's, there is little doubt that he would indeed have put the college "on the tennis map," as h had promised. His request for the concrete tennis courts that he felt were necessary for any good showing in the sport was ignored, and every coach who succeeded him was handicapped in the same way as he was for several years. Fr. Bernardo remains to this day one of the most enthusiastic and colorful coaches in St. John's athletic history.
Members of the team were Marcus Sirrs, Howie Kullen, Bill Henry, Norman McDonnell, Jerry Weier, Dick Endres, Chuck Kohnke, and Joe McCarthy.
Fr. Arno Gustin, O.S.B., then college registrar, replaced Fr. Bernardo as tennis coach in 1948. The new style of coaching differed little from that of the exuberant Spaniard, but there was a different situation facing Fr. Arno, especially when he found himself confronted by a schedule of ten conference meets to be played between April 24 and May 23, the date of the conference tournament.
A new regulation had radically changed the tennis championship picture in 1948. The 1948 Sagatagan states the new ruling as follows: "Beginning with the' 48 season, conference tennis is played on the same basis as other sports; championships are now awarded as a result of seasonal matches rather than of the State Conference Tournament." In other words, the season record had suddenly become more important than the tournament itself. The 1964 constitution gives a more concrete example of the change, as follows: "Winners of the singles and doubles in the State Meet are declared the individual champions of the Conference. The team title is determined by the season matches and State Meet" (idem).
The new regulation worked to the disadvantage of the St. John's team because of its clay courts that could hold up practices for days at a time in rainy weather and make St. John's vulnerable, whereas schools with concrete courts on which to play would rarely miss a practice for more than a day or a few hours. The need of concrete courts, as requested by Fr. Bernardo, became more pressing than ever.
As for Fr. Arno's team, the historian has nothing to write. The closest to any definite report regarding the outcome of meets was an article written in the Record, May 20, 1948, to the effect that St. John's had won its first meet against Gustavus by a score of 5-2. In fact, the Record practically ignored the tennis team of 1948.
Members of the team were Ray Raetz, Bob Lillistrand, John Broeren, Howie Kullen, Charles Kohnke, John Wagner, Captain Norman McDonnell and Dick Endres.