CHAPTER VIII: Wrestling
Adapted in part from a study by David Grovum, '77, "The
Wrestling Program and Terry Haws at St. John's," 1977.
There is something about their sport that wrestlers are proud of. There are rules and regulations that are strictly observed. Holds that might injure an opponent are barred. The wrestler is always competing with an opponent of his own weight, and for this reason wrestlers are classified into ten different weight categories or divisions: 118 pounds, 126, 139, 142, 150, 158, 167, 177, 190, and heavyweight. And, since each wrestler has a weight within his class that is natural or best suited to him, he must be truly dedicated in order to maintain it. He may starve himself for days trying to reach that all-important weight limitation.
In the twenty-eight seasons that St. John's has had intercollegiate wrestling teams, St. John's has won fourteen Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and placed second twice. It has produced 72 individual MIAC champions. After each MIAC tournament the wrestler considered to be the most valuable is selected by a vote of all the coaches. St. John's has a record of three such awards. In short, after examining the record of St. John's in wrestling, one can recognize that the wrestling program has been one of the school's most honorable sporting activities.
It all started in the fall of 1941 when a freshman by the name of Daniel Rooney from Robbinsdale came to St. John's. He was a two-time Minnesota high school wrestling champion. Shortly after his arrival he learned for the first time that St. John's had no wrestling program.
His reaction was an astounded "What, no wrestling at St. John's!" After making this astonishing discovery he began to think things over and finally decided to establish a full-fledged wrestling program, with himself as the wrestling coach. With a small crowd of approximately thirty enthusiasts, including several students from the St. John's Prep School, he succeeded in obtaining the approval of the athletic director and commenced the task of molding a team.
The first wrestling match was held on February 16, 1942, following a St. John's basketball game. The event was received with enthusiasm by the faculty and student body. Although St. John's lost 19-8 to a veteran Macalester team, the expectations for further developments soared high. A second encounter with Macalester was set for later in February that St. John's lost after a toughly contested battle, 19-16. The Jays had improved and exhibited their progress with considerably more activity and a variety of holds. As for Rooney, he won his first match at 128 pounds in the first meeting. In the second, he was awarded a victory in his first match by a forfeiture, but earned a decision in the second. Two other St. John's men won matches that evening: Daniel "Bunny" Radakovich at 165 pounds and Richard Weber at heavyweight. The St. John's wrestling team engaged in two more dual meets that winter. They lost to the University of Minnesota Farm School 18-14, and to Carleton College 23-11. Although the 1942 Jays lost four meets that inception year, Dan Rooney himself went undefeated. In March of 1942 he bettered his undefeated record by capturing the 115 pound championship in the Northwest Amateur Athletic Union Tournament. The St. John's team took fourth place. Daniel Rooney was pleased with the team's progress.
Then the war intervened. Coach Rooney re-assembled a team of some twenty men in 1943 but was unable to schedule matches at St. John's with other schools. Then gas rationing made squad travel to other schools impossible. College enrollments dwindled, and finally in 1943 Rooney himself was drafted. College sports folded for the duration.
After the end of the war, in the 1946-47 winter sport season, wrestling was resumed at St. John's. Under student coach John Condon the first intercollegiate wrestling meet was held at Macalester in a five team conference get-together. John Condon was the only SJU wrestler to take first-place honors. It was an event that aroused little interest at St. John's, and indeed must have been a drab affair, to say the least.
The first official mat season at St. John's for which a championship was ever awarded took place in the 1947-48 season, namely, to Macalester. The irony of the situation was rather evident, for Macalester and St. John's were the only schools to enter teams. The enthusiasts, nevertheless, did not lose hope but went ahead campaigning among other conference schools for the development of wrestling as an MIAC monogram winning sport. The St. John's record for the year was three wins, one loss, and two ties: two wins over the University of Minnesota Farm School, and a victory over Gustavus, 19-6. At the MIAC tournament that year St. John's had one individual champion, John Weimerskirch from Litchfield, who was an outstanding star in the St. John's annals for all his four years at St. John's. Because of him St. John's took second place in the meet. The coach of the year, Norman McDonnell, admitted that the team was lacking in experience in tournament competition.
- 1948-49 -
The coaching duties were again taken over by Norman McDonnell (brother of Fr. Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B.). The team improved greatly over the mediocre showing of the past year, with a record of five victories and one defeat. In the MIAC tournament SJU again placed second to Macalester by a score of 40-45. The championship was in doubt, however, until the finals in the heavyweight division when George "Judd" Pribyl of St. John's was decisioned by a score of 1-0. St. John's won three individual championships: John Weimerskirch won at 145 pounds, Coach Norman McDonnell at 157 pounds, and Ted Burgraff at 175 pounds.
The Status of Wrestling in 1949
At this point, as we look in retrospect over the past few years, wrestling had finally taken hold on the St. John's campus. The period from 1942 until 1949 had been difficult years for the program. First, the war years when it had to be dropped completely, then the years of adjustment when veterans returning to college were unsettled about their futures, and anything new like a wrestling program was looked at askance as something new-fangled that would gradually die out when the few enthusiasts had either left St. John's, graduated, or had turned to the established major sports program. The student-coaches were persistent, however, and interest began to grow. The very popularity of successful wrestlers as campus citizens, men such as John Weimerskirch and George Pribyl, gave the sport a prestige value that soon became contagious. And not to be underestimated in this process of building up interest in wrestling was the role of the student-coach.
The student-coach was usually considered the best wrestler on the team. He was almost always a senior appointed by the athletic director and given some financial allowance for his work. The use of student coaches was very economical for the school, though this was not the basic reason for choosing students to serve as coaches. The basic reason was that there were very few wrestling coaches around, and students with some skill in the sport and leadership talents were the most convenient coaches available. Athletic Director George Durenberger said of them: "They had great enthusiasm for the sport and they were much closer to the students. They were natural and very successful.. There was no reason to make a switch in policy."
This policy of appointing student-coaches continued through the 1950's and into the 1960's. However, as the sport continued to grow and the necessity of doing some recruiting became more urgent, there was need of a permanent faculty coach. Besides, student-coaches had begun to complain that their coaching duties were interfering with their academic programs. A new system had to come eventually.
In the 1949-50 season, Jack Hyneman, a Litchfield product, was appointed student-coach, and Judd Pribyl was elected team captain. It was a year in which the general feeling among the wrestlers was that now was the time to move up. The most important move in this direction was a victory over Macalester. Macalester had been conference champion for the past three years and again was coming up with a strong team. By this time, however, the Jays were also beginning to feel their strength and accepted the challenge. They proved to be as good as their self-evaluation and defeated Macalester for the first time, 18-12. The Record for the year reported, "St. John's won four out of the eight matches, with three pins by the Johnnies deciding the match." The St. John's team went 3-3 on the season, which included victories over Macalester, 18-12, and two victories over the St. Cloud Teachers by scores of 18-12 and 19-13 respectively.
Although the state meet was scheduled to be held at St. John's, problems arose which forced the meet to be held at Gustavus-and again Macalester came up with a tremendous performance to take first-place honors. St. John's placed fourth in the tournament behind Macalester, St. Thomas and Gustavus. "The outstanding star of the day was John Weimerskirch," who successfully defended his 1947 title at 145 pounds. Captain Judd Pribyl and Fred Grant won the remaining St. John's points.
- 1950-51 -
Jack Hyneman again accepted the coaching duties of the St. John's team for the year 1950-51. As could be expected, the nucleus of the team centered around John Weimerskirch, who was undefeated in two years and had won two MIAC wrestling championships. Near the end of the season, however, John had his undefeated streak broken at fortyfour. He was beaten on a pin by a former Northwest A.A.U. champion who had enrolled at St. Cloud Teachers College.
Going into the 1950-51tournament, St. John's had another fantastic wrestler besides John on its squad-Jim McKeown, who carried an unbeaten record into,the conference. Both men lived up to expectations by winning the individual titles in their respective weights. There was also a third Johnnie that year to win an individual title, senior Judd Pribyl, who outpointed the defending champion Don Messegna of St. Thomas in the 177 pound class, 5-4. It was an exciting match, and when it was over a happy mob of Johnnie students carried the winner off the mat. It was a sure sign that finally wrestling had found a way into the Johnnie hearts. It was the happiest day of Judd Pribyl's life.
Although the Jays won four individual championships, they could muster only enough points for fourth place in the conference. St. Olaf won the MIAC championship. As for John Weimerskirch, after winning his third straight consecutive title and amassing a record of 59 wins and two losses, he was awarded the Carl Larson Memorial Trophy, an award given to the outstanding wrestler in an MIAC tournament.
- 1951-52 -
Entering the 1951-52 wrestling season Athletic Director George Durenberger appointed John Weimerskirch wrestling coach, with captain-elect Jim McKeown as his principal pal and adviser. Both men were previous MIAC champions and most certainly the best informed and most capable wrestlers on campus. There was a large turnout of candidates for the squad, among them only five veterans. To counteract the small number of veterans was the leadership ability of the two expert wrestlers. With luck they were bound to go far.
Under careful guidance and coaching the team managed to carry a 6-2 record for the season. Highlight of the season was the Jays' defeat of St. Cloud Teachers College by a score of 20-13 in their first match. It was a remarkable achievement, because St. Cloud had been the previous year's Northwest A.A.U. champion. Pins by John Weimerskirch and Leo Kemper led the way.
The 1952 wrestling team made history in March of that year by bringing home its first MIAC wrestling championship. It was the first outright St. John's championship in any sport in ten years. Four of the eight individual championships were won by St. John's: John Weimerskirch (145), Jim McKeown (157), Fred Grant (130) and Clem Schoenbauer at heavyweight. Beginning with this championship, St. John's was not to give up the title for the next seven years.1952 marks the end of John Weimerskirch's wrestling career at St. John's, one of the most remarkable in MIAC wrestling history. John was a brilliant wrestler. He began his wrestling career in Litchfield, Minnesota, where he won the state high school championship, first at 98 pounds in his junior year and at 133poundsin his senior year. As a . freshman at St. John's he won his first MIAC championship at 147 pounds, then repeated as champion in his sophomore, junior and senior years at the same weight. The team recognized his unusual ability and elected him to the captaincy in both his sophomore and junior years. He had qualities of leadership also, for when the athletic director appointed him as wrestling coach for the 1951-52season, he coached the Johnnies to the first championship in St. John's wrestling history.
John Weimerskirch's record is best seen in his won-loss record: 82 victories versus only two losses, and the all-conference award in each of his four years of competition. To top off all the long lists of first, he was the first MIAC wrestler to receive the Carl Larson Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the outstanding MIAC wrestler for the year.
After graduation, John Weimerskirch entered the Navy and retired in 1971 with the rank of commander. He continued his education since his retirement, and though presently engaged as an engineering technician, he has an advanced degree in education. He writes, "If ever you need a wrestling coach with an advanced degree in higher education administration, let me know."
- 1952-53 -
Jim McKeown took over the coaching duties of wrestling in the fall of 1952. It was reported: "The team has its largest turn-out in St. John's history with only one veteran missing from the last year's squad-John Weimerskirch." Fred Grant, a 1950 individual MIAC champion, was elected captain.
Early in the season the Johnnie matmen, including Captain Fred Grant, were plagued with various injuries, but Coach Jim McKeown was unworried, feeling that somehow he would field a full squad.
The coach's optimism was rewarded for, after overcoming the injuries, the team produced a 9-2 winning record which included a streak of six straight dual meets-the best performance of any wrestling team prior to this date.
Entering the MIAC wrestling tournament March 5, 1953, the Jays were the overwhelming favorite for the crown and, in fact, proved it conclusively by out-wrestling St. Thomas by twelve points. The Jays won five individual titles and three second-place finishes. Jim McKeown won his third straight title and was awarded the Carl Johnson Memorial Trophy as the tournament's outstanding wrestler. Fred Grant won his second straight title at 130 pounds. Other winners were Jerre Miller at 123 pounds, Leo Kemper at 177 pounds, and Robert Forster at heavyweight.
- 1953-54 -
In the fall of 1953 George Durenberger appointed Jerre Miller as wrestling coach for the year. With only five lettermen on which to build his first team, he had his work cut out for him. He had a successful season, however, with an 8-2-1 record, the team's one loss being to strong South Dakota State, 22-8. The team entered the MIAC meet a heavy favorite to capture the conference championship.
On March 6, 1953, St. John's won its third consecutive MIAC title with 50 points based on six first-place individual championships and two second-place wins. The 50 points garnered by St. John's doubled runner-up Gustavus's 24 points. Winning individual championships were Lou Adderley (130 pounds), Sy Weber (147)-now Fr. Otto, O.S.B., presently director and facilities manager at the Warner Palaestra- DeVaughn Nelson at 177 pounds, Tom Kempley at 157, Jim Tacheny at 177 pounds, and Leo Kemper, heavyweight.
- 1954-55 -
The job of defending the St. John's title for the 1954-55 season was given to Jim Tacheny, the new player-coach. With him were two veteran champions to assist him in winning the fourth championship.
The season again turned out to be a success, with the team winning six straight dual meets in an overall record of eight wins against three losses. The Jays defeated every MIAC opponent handily but lost to non-conference foes, St. Cloud twice and South Dakota State once. In a dual meet with St. Thomas, the two teams set the largest number of points registered in any previous meet in a score of 30-10. St. John's won 20 points by pins and 10 by forfeit; St. Thomas won 10 points by two falls.
In the MIAC meet held that year at St. John's, the Jays successfully defended their title for the fourth time. They squeezed by Macalester by a close score, 43-41. Player-coach Jim Tacheny at 167 pounds, DeVaughn Nelson at 157, and Donald Flynn at 137 pounds won divisional titles. Unlucky Lou Adderley suffered a back injury in his final match and had to forfeit his 123 pound title to Kerr of St. Thomas.
- 1955-56 -
Going into the 1955-56 season, player-coach DeVaughn Nelson had the problem of working an inexperienced team daily in order to get his new men prepared for the defense of the wrestling title. It was especially difficult this year because one champion of the previous year, one. runner up, and four other first-string men had either graduated or transferred to the University of Minnesota. The determination and rigorous training of the Jay matmen paid off, however, in a very satisfactory 8-4 season. Coach Nelson personally racked up seven straight wins in his 167 division.
In the March 3 MIAC meet, St. John's retained its conference championship for an unprecedented fifth straight time. Four Johnnies acquired individual titles: Coach Nelson his third title at 167 pounds, Donald Flynn his second at 137, Mike Gibbs at 147, and Larry Betzler at 157. Al Eisele, a later Record sportswriter, in a study of the five years 1952-56, found that the Jays by now had totaled twenty-three individual championships in all, with championships in each weight classification.
- 1956-57 -
Sophomore Larry Betzler was appointed coach for the 1956-57 season, the only returning wrestler with an MIAC title. As was expected, the shortage of experienced wrestlers made the work of coaching doubly difficult, but Betzler was a hustler and an enthusiast who insisted on hard work and dedication. The record of the Jays prior to the conference meet was mediocre, five wins in the conference meets and two losses, but a good record overall that made the possibility of retaining the championship at least worth anticipating.
Despite misgivings, some of them justifiable, St. John's won its sixth straight championship by the slender margin of 59-58, a one-point advantage over powerful Concordia. Concordia won three individual championships against two for St. John's (Betzler in the 147 class and John O'Fallon in the 167). The St. John's depth proved just a point too much for the Cobbers. Gary Sauer and Pat Walrath were runners up in the tournament.
It was what were called "the shock troops" that pulled out the victory: namely, Jerry Dalseth, Arnie Mages, Roger Ludwig, and Dean Hall. Of these men, Dean Hall was the only one who would be missing in the following year. Once more things were looking good for the future!
On the opening day of wrestling practice in November, 1957, the squad was greeted by the new coach Mike O'Fallon, a member of the faculty and a former MIAC champion, the first non-student coach in St. John's wrestling history. The new coach had reason to be optimistic since on the team were two MIAC champions, Larry Betzler and John O'Fallon, and two runners up, Gary Sauer and Pat Walrath.
It was an eminently successful season. The Johnnies piled up a record number of nine meet victories versus only one defeat at the hands of St. Thomas by a score of 18-14. It was an off-day meet in which unusual things happened, for Larry Betzler, the three-year standby of the Johnnies, suffered his first defeat in fourteen encounters.
The string of St. John's victories and their scores was impressive. The Johnnies defeated Macalester 30-5, St. Thomas, in a return match, 25-8, and Gustavus 35-5. In non-conference meets St. John's also defeated Marquette 19-9 and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 23-9.
The St. John's grapplers again showed their power in the MIAC tournament by taking the conference title by a margin of 16 points over its nearest competitor, Macalester, 72-56. Individual titlists were Gary Sauer, 123 pounds; Larry Betzler, 147 pounds; and James Kuelbs, who wrestled at 157. MIAC team standings for the season were St. John's first, 72 points; Macalester second, 56; Gustavus third, 42; St. Thomas fourth, 35 points; Concordia fifth, 29 points; Augsburg sixth,27 points.
The 1958 champions took part in the first NAIA wrestling tournament at Mankato the week following the MIAC meet. The Johnnies tied for seventh place in the tournament, Gary Sauer taking third place in the 123 pound classification. Larry Betzler advanced to the consolation finals but was decisioned by Tom Tessler of Northern Illinois University, the eventual winner of the national championship.
- 1958-59 -
In 1958-59 the athletic department reverted to the former policy of using student-coaches in the training of its wrestling team. The new student-coach, Jim Kuelbs, a talented athlete and wrestler, found himself in charge of one of the top teams in the MIAC of his time. Prospects of a winning season were excellent and the successful defense of the 1958 championship seemed assured.
The season opened with a 29-3 defeat of North Dakota State, followed by a third-place finish in the Carleton Invitational. St. John's pace-setters in the field of fourteen teams were Bob Dumonceaux, heavyweight, Gary Sauer at 123 pounds, John O'Fallon, 177 pounds, and Jim Kuelbs at 157. In an early-season match with Marquette University, St. John's came up with a 29-9 victory, followed closely by a defeat of St. Thomas 21-4. Coach Jim Kuelbs pinned his man in one minute, thirty-six seconds.
In a quadrangular meet hosted by Carleton, young Tom Brudos, Gary Sauer, freshmen Jerry O'Rourke and Bob Dumonceaux led the way to a first-place finish. But it was not easy sailing in every encounter. In a meet held at South Dakota State, the Johnnies dropped again to third place behind powerful University of Minnesota with its 96 points and South Dakota's 55 points. St. John's garnered 48 points. In dual meets the Johnnies continued to have their ups and downs, defeating Macalester 20-9 but losing to Bemidji 24-8 (they had red faces over this one).
Meanwhile the youthful freshmen were making their way upward, winning matches and displacing their less talented elders. They were Bob Randall, John Fritz, Jerry O'Rourke, Fred Philipson, and Bob Mariana, all talented wrestlers following the examples of the standbys Gary Sauer, Tom Brudos, Larry Betzler, John O'Fallon, Jim Kuelbs and Bob Dumonceaux. Except for possible accidents and unforeseen circumstances, the way looked clear for a repetition of the MIAC crown.
St. John's entered the 1958-59 MIAC tourney with a very respectable 8-3-1 won-loss-tie record for the season. The Johnnies did very well in the meet. Individual champions were Gary Sauer at 123 pounds, Tom Brudos at 130, freshman Jerry Dalseth at 137, Larry Betzler at 147 (his fourth in succession), and Jim Kuelbs at 157 (his second consecutive title). Bob Dumonceaux took third place in the 191 category and Bob Mariana third place in the heavyweight division. But Macalester tied the Johnnies with 76 points.
This tie score with Macalester furnishes one of those ironies that takes place when a strong wrestling team with an abundance of firstplace winners can be defeated or tied by a weaker one which, though unable to win first places, manages to win enough second, third, even fourth and fifth places to defeat the stronger team. This happened in the 1959 MIAC meet. St. John's won five first places in individual championships, three more than Macalester. The Macs, however, placed seven men in the final rounds, five of them finishing second and two of them fourth-enough in points to tie the stronger St. John's. Leading the St. John's pack were Larry Betzler who won his fourth straight 147-pound title and Jim Kuelbs at 157 pounds. The three remaining 1959 champions were Gary Sauer, Tom Brudos and Jerry Dalseth at 123, 130 and 137 pounds respectively.
- 1959-60 -
The young St. John's wrestling team failed by a single point in their quest for a ninth straight MIAC championship in the meet held on the Collegeville campus, March 5, 1960. The Macalester "Scotsmen," who had tied the Jays in 1959, won the 1960 title with a total of 64 points to the 63 of St. John's.
There was considerable chagrin in the Johnnie camp when the realization sank in that, after a period of eight years of victories, St. John's found itself in second place by the hairline margin of one measly point. On the other hand, the teams had tied the year before, and by the law of averages (if there is such a thing) some one of the Minnesota colleges was bound to catch up sometime. The bad luck simply took place in 1960, a year the Jays expected to win the title for the ninth time.
Student-coach Jim Kuelbs had a good day of it, however. He not only won the championship in the 167 class for the third time, but he was also awarded the Carl Larson Trophy, granted annually to the outstanding wrestler of the conference meet. But the real surprise of the meet was that St. John's second personal championship was won by Pat Murtaugh, a freshman, in the 157 class.
While enumerating the strokes of good fortune, it may be well to mention the hard luck of freshman Thomas Frank, who, after winning his first two matches, in the third suffered the excruciating pain of a dislocated elbow and hence was forced to forfeit his match. An enterprising calculator might assume that if Frank had not suffered his accident the one-point advantage of Macalester would have vanished into thin air and St. John's would then have won its ninth successive championship.
Quality performers on the St. John's squad mentioned in the final report are the following: Douglas Svihel, third, 123 pound class; Ben Pulkrabek, second, 177 class; Bob Dumonceaux, second, heavyweight; Jerry O'Rourke, third, heavyweight; Steve Dalseth, third, 137 class; John Fritz, third, 147 class.
The MIAC standings for 1960 are the following: Macalester (1), 64 points; St. John's (2),63; St. Thomas (3), 53; Augsburg (4),42; Gustavus (5), 26; Concordia (6),22.
- 1960-61 -
Following the graduation of Jim Kuelbs, senior Robert Dumonceaux was appointed wrestling coach for the year 1960-61. During his first season the Jays posted an overall record of six wins and three losses. In competition with the MIAC colleges, the record was five meet wins and one loss.
In the MIAC meet held in March, 1961,St. John's dropped to third place, despite four St. John's wrestlers reaching the finals. Sophomore Ben Pulkrabek in the 191 class was the only St. John's division champion of the meet; in fact, he was beginning to show signs of becoming the outstanding wrestler of the entire period. To date he had won 17 individual matches with only one defeat. Bob Dumonceaux's record was 15 wins and three losses.
But Augsburg, gradually improving its MIACstatus over a period of years, finally came to the front by winning the 1961 title, 58 points to Macalester's 51 and St. John's 49.
- 1961-62 -
From a large squad there were twelve to carryon St. John's wrestling fortunes into 1962: five freshmen-James Aust, Gerry Faust, Mike Lane, Tony Leifeld; three sophomores-Steve Dalseth, Ben Pulkrabek and Douglas Svihel; three juniors-John Fritz, Donald Noltimier and Jerry O'Rourke.
1962 was a championship year. Former student-coach Robert Dumonceaux, who entered the mathematics department as an instructor, was re-appointed by Athletic Director George Durenberger to take over the wrestling team. Bob Dumonceaux was the second non-student coach to undertake the leadership in wrestling. He was capable, for the team enjoyed a 10-3 record through the regular season and at the MIAC annual tournament brought to St. John's its ninth conference championship in a period of eleven years. With a total score of 70 points, St. John's defeated runner-up Concordia 70-57 and dropped Augsburg to third place 70-52.
In the MIAC meet St. John's wrestlers won four first place individual championships: Tony Leifeld in the 123 pound classification, John Fruth (a freshman) at 130 pounds, John Fritz, 147 pounds, and Ben Pulkrabek, heavyweight. Other point winners were John Kuelbs third in the 157 division, Dick Steidler, Glenn Rother, Don Schreifels,
Gerry Faust and Dave Schaefer winning points in different classifications.
- 1962-63 -
In 1962-63 St. John's reverted to its traditional policy of appointing a student-coach to handle the wrestling team, the honor in this case being bestowed on Ben Pulkrabek, the outstanding wrestler of the past two years. Spirits were again high, and the Johnnies were confident of their ability to defend their 1962 conference title.
With a successful early season behind them (five wins, two losses and one tie), they entered the meet, poised and certain that they would emerge as victors. Their self-confidence was justified, for they won their tenth championship in a period of twelve years, though in a way they had not anticipated. The Johnnies won no first places. Five of their top wrestlers entered the finals, but had to settle for five corresponding second places. It was balance and depth, those precious qualities that all teams desire, which won for them. From the beginning of the season they had worked under a handicap by not having a sure-fire first-place member on their team when Ben Pulkrabek, their standby for the two preceding years, had to withdraw from competition because of academic problems.
St. John's won five second places in the following classifications: freshman Rick Spano, 130 pounds, John Faust 137, James Brum 157, Don Schreifels 165, Gerry Faust 191 pounds. Jim Keul (165) and Don Hinz (177) each won third places. Douglas Svihel took fourth place.
Ironically, it was through St. Thomas that St. John's won the championship. While the Jays were having their troubles winning their five second places, strong Concordia was gradually creeping up on them. But, luckily, St. Thomas defeated the upcoming Cobbers, thereby depriving them of the chance to close in on the 57-54 advantage of St. John's.
The outstanding wrestler for the Johnnies was Jim Brum, but he was upset in the finals and, like the rest of the top performers, had to settle for second place. The MIAC meet scores for the 1963 season were the following: St. John's 57, Concordia 54, Gustavus 50, Augsburg 43, St. Thomas 32, Macalester 28.
John Kuelbs succeeded Bob Dumonceaux as wrestling coach for 1963-64. Lack of perfect balance was apparent from the beginning of the conference meets when the Johnnies suffered a 23-11 trouncing by Concordia on the St. John's floor. It was the first St. John's loss of the season, since the team had defeated the University of North Dakota State earlier. St. John's lost the first three matches to the Cobbers' lightweight performers. In the fourth match John Faust was decisioned 4-0. Jim Keul, Jim Brum and Don Schreifels then picked up three wins that were followed by a tie. Stan Suchta, heavyweight, won his match.
The next reported dual meet ended in a decisive victory over St. Thomas, 28-8, with a revamped line-up that gave promise of better things to come. But that was not to be. The MIAC colleges had all tightened up their wrestling teams and the Johnnies left the conference tournament at Gustavus Adolphus in third place, overcome by what the reporter called the "tremendous balance" of Concordia that had made the Cobbers the pre-season favorites for the conference crown.
The wrestling standings of the conference at the end of the tournament were as follows: Concordia, first place and champions, 69 points, Gustavus 58 points, St. John's 56, Macalester 49, Augsburg 35, St. Thomas 23, Hamline 3. As for individual scoring by the Johnnies, Don Schreifels (177 pounds) was the lone St. John's champion. John Faust was runnerup in his weight (137). Jim Keul, also in the 137 pound class, almost came up with the surprise of the meet but was decisioned 1-0. Jim Brum was third in the 157 pound class. Stan Suchta and Mike Arens took fourth place in the heavyweight and 177 pound divisions respectively.
- 1964-65 -
When the 1965 wrestling season rolled around, a change in the coaching policy was immediately apparent. Wrestling had begun to decline in quality, though not because of lack of student interest. Interest was as lively as before-so much so that the student-coaches were being overburdened by the large number of candidates aspiring for fame on the wrestling mat. The student-coaches were paying the price of sports popularity by losing valuable time for their studies. Hence it was that in the fall of 1964 Robert Dumonceaux, a member of the faculty, was appointed wrestling coach.
The season opened with a resounding defeat by powerful St. Cloud State to the tune of 35-6. A defeat by Gustavus followed. In the Carleton Invitational, however, St. John's placed third in a large field, but behind Concordia and Gustavus. Emerging from these early contests were a few dependable point winners such as the senior star wrestler Donald Schreifels, and a powerful freshman from Iowa named Maury Neifeld, and Dave Carroll, heavyweight.
By the time the MIAC tournament came up, St. John's had a somewhat mediocre record of four wins, six losses, and one tie. Complete statistics of the meet were not published, though the final result squeaked through the silence that St. John's had placed third behind Concordia and Gustavus, as had been predicted. The one star of the meet was senior Donald Schreifels who, besides his two consecutive MIAC individual championships, ended his wrestling career with an overall record of 36 victories, 12 losses, and one tie. Freshman Maury Neifeld won his first championship at 191 pounds.
The lack of a complete listing of all the St. John's contestants who took part in the meet makes it impossible to mention who the other performers were. Among them were certain to have been Jim Brum, Dave Carroll, James Keul, Rick Spano, Roger Trobec, John Schaubach and Larry Anthony.
- 1965-66 -
Bob Dumonceaux coached his 1965-66 wrestling team to a very respectable 6-3 season with six dual meet victories and three losses. In the MIAC tournament the Jays took third place in a tough field of seasoned athletes. He started the season with eleven lettermen from 1965, but only one individual champion, Maury Neifeld, the powerful Iowan who was the lone winner of first place in the heavyweight division. Neifeld returned to Iowa to enter the state university at the beginning of the second semester, however, leaving the coach without a single champion for the remainder of the 1965-66 season. His absence was particularly felt because Gustavus and Concordia so dominated the field that the other colleges were completely out-classed-St. John's included.
Nevertheless, the pre-MIAC tournament record was impressive. The Jays took third place in the tough Carleton Invitational, and in dual meets won five straight victories over the following schools: Minnesota-Morris 25-10, St. Thomas 25-6, Carleton 36-10, Bethel 21-5, and the University of North Dakota 26-16. Impressive as were the scores of these meets, the losses were horrendous: 11-27 to Gustavus, 8-25 to Augsburg, 11-30 to Concordia. Outstanding performers for the year were Brad Haycraft, Tom Beyers, Phil Hartle, John Schaubach, Mike Oehler and Jim Keul.
The statistics of the 1966 MIAC tournament were not published. As a result, the following list of returning lettermen with their weights from the preview for the 1966-67 season is all the information available for the'1966 team: Tom Scanlan (123), Tom Beyers (137), Larry Anthony (161), Frank Schwab (152), Tom Edmond (160), Brad Hay craft (130), Phil Hartle (177), James Bisek (177), Bill Formen (177), Don Generous (177), Mike Haider (191), Michael Oehler (191), James Keul (177).
- 1966-67 -
It was an optimistic Coach Dumonceaux who opened up the 1966- 67 wrestling season. He realized that his squad was inexperienced for the most part, but he was also convinced that the individual wrestlers had the most potential of any squad he had coached prior to this time. Injuries set the team back early, however. His team captain, Mike Oehler, suffered a torn knee cartilage and was supposedly out for the season. Thomas Wollmering, an ex-Prep wrestler of great promise, also damaged a knee and had to undergo surgery that definitely sidelined him for the remainder of the season. These major injuries, plus the current slight injuries that always hold up a team's progress, were discouraging without, however, changing the coach's feeling that better things were ahead.
The result of the injuries and delays, so the Record reported, was a dreary seasonal start, highlighted by three straight losses to St. Cloud State, the University of North Dakota, and Gustavus. Nevertheless, progress was made, for Captain Mike Oehler's knee mended without surgery and he was able to return to the squad after the Christmas holidays.
It was a happy event; the Record reported a resurgence in power despite the lackluster start. St. John's hopes climbed upward as the squad took first honors in two dual victories in Northfield, the defeat of St. Olaf 32-3, and of Carleton 25-15, thereby raising the season's record to three wins and three losses. Moreover, the weight department was improved by the addition of three big men: Dave Tripp, Tom Schutta and Phil Ledermann.
The outcome of the MIAC meet justified Coach Dumonceaux's optimism. The March 6, 1967, issue of the Record carried the headline: "Westby and Beyer Grasp Trophies as St. John's U. Matmen Regain Old Prowess." In holding third place, Dumonceaux felt that the team looked like the Johnnies of old. Haycraft at 130, Denny Scherer at 160, Phil Hartle at 177 and Captain Mike Oehler at 191, all took third places. Brad Haycraft defeated the 130 pound defending champion. Bob Dumonceaux deserved the coach of the year award for a magnificent job in bringing up youngsters-freshmen and sophomores-to a challenging position against experience-hardened MIAC wrestlers. The third place finish in this particular year, as reporter Woodie Woodward observed, "resulted from the efforts of three freshmen, five sophomores, one junior and one senior." It was a young team and, given the continued influx of talented freshmen, St. John's was set for a great future in wrestling, a new beginning for the sport at St. John's.
Terry Haws took over as wrestling coach in the fall of 1967 at a time when the fortunes of the St. John's wrestling program had been on a decline for several years. An experienced coach, first at St. James, Minnesota, and then at St. Cloud Cathedral, he had enjoyed a fantastically successful coaching career in football and wrestling. He was fully aware of the weaknesses of the team he was taking over, but was resolved to make the most of what he had as the nucleus for a new start. He set as goal for his first year a second place, if not first place, finish in the MIAC.
Captain Philip Hartle was unable to compete with the team before Christmas because of an injury, but Terry had, among others, heavyweights Dave Tripp and Dave Carroll, Bob Sullivan (135), and Tom Goebel (123) to take up the slack.
After a good record in the regular schedule of dual meets, the team was still no better than a darkhorse for the title and lacked depth. But the wrestlers were well trained and prepared. In the MIAC meet, held on February 24, the Jays took fourth place behind strong Augsburg, Concordia and Gustavus. Coach Haws was disappointed but was satisfied that the team would be a contender for the championship in 1969.
- 1968-69 -
Following the end of the 1968 season Terry had been busy recruiting, though it could hardly have been called that, it was so casual. He was well-known as a wrestling coach of superior ability, especially in Catholic high school circles, and after his first season succeeded in attracting five Catholic high school champions to St. John's. He had his own system. It was simply a matter of writing a note to wrestlers here and there, a note of congratulations for a victory, or good wishes for an upcoming meet, and the promise of a cheery welcome if and when they came to St. John's. His policy was not to contact the first-place winners in the state; the ones he preferred above all were the second and third place winners, the ones whose abilities he knew to be excellent but who would be passed over in silence by the big schools. Terry's system was recruiting on a high level!
Among his first five recruits from Catholic high schools were Tom O'Neil, James Kavanaugh, David Johnson and Leo Dehler, all of whom played prominent roles in the success of S,t. John's wrestling program. Most prominent among a few others was Gary Svendsen, a freshman from Coon Rapids who had taken second place in the state high school wrestling meet in his senior year.
The new freshmen quickly gave proof of their superior training in high school. St. John's finished as a strong second-place contender in the 1969 wrestling meet-the runner-up to Augsburg. Terry was disappointed but not discouraged and predicted good things to come if the team would improve as rapidly as it had in the past season. Captain Dave Tripp would be the only loss to the team, and the talented freshmen would then be stronger, experienced sophomores. A sign of things to come was Gary Svendsen's capture of first place in the 118 weight classification, the beginning of an illustrious career. Eight of the eleven men competing were freshmen.
- 1969-70 -
The 1969 wrestlers had one of the best starts in St. John's athletic history. After the team had streaked through dual meet after dual meet with twelve victories, they accepted a bid to the Pillsbury Invitational. St. John's won first place in the eight-team tournament and followed up the victory with two more dual meet wins, bringing their number of undefeated meets to fourteen for the year.
Balance was the key to the victories, with Terry Elfering, Gary Svendsen, Bob Sullivan, Dave Johnson, Captain Henry Wollmering, Denny Legatt, Tom Miller, Larry Ackerman and Gary Eustice shouldering most of the load. The resurgence of wrestling on the St. John's campus was obviously due to the competence of the coach and his recruits.
In the February 21,1970 MIAC meet, the Johnnies were competing successfully for the championship when two bad breaks spoiled their chances and they had to be satisfied with second place in the conference. First, Dave Johnson (130) suffered a neck injury and had to forfeit his match. Then followed a questionable call in overtime that cost freshman Gary Eustice his heavyweight crown. Outstanding performers were Gary Svendsen (134), Gordon Molitor (150), Dennis Legatt (158), Larry Ackerman (167), Henry Wollmering (177) and Tom Miller (heavyweight).
The National Catholic Invitational Tournament
Terry Haws, for all his quiet ways, was not content with merely local fame. He was certain that his wrestlers stood a good chance of performing well against any college in the country, and hence he accepted with alacrity an invitation to the National Catholic Invitational Tournament to be hosted by John Carroll College in Cleveland, Ohio. It offered a new opportunity to compete in a national tournament that was better known than the Minnesota MIAC, and Terry was elated to receive the invitation.
The competition, he afterwards reported, was the strongest St. John's had ever confronted-Notre Dame, Marquette, John Carroll, Dayton University, St. Vincent, Duquesne and other Eastern colleges. But the Johnnies responded to the challenge with their best performance of the season, capturing three individual titles and ending in second place behind John Carroll. Finalist winners of championships were Gary Svendsen, Tom Miller and Henry "Hank" Wollmering, the last named being chosen as the outstanding wrestler of the tournament.
- 1970-71 -
To tell the whole story of wrestling 1970-71 as reported by wrestler Tom Miller in the pages of the Record, would require more space than this history affords. It is the story of a team of fiery, championship hungry young wrestlers directed by a calm middle-aged coach who possessed interiorly all the fire of his protégés, plus the ambition to make St. John's known nationally in wrestling as well as in football.
The St. John's "grapplers," as they were popularly called in the school paper, had a great year. In the preliminary part of the season the Jays won the Augsburg Invitational by a score of 27-11 (Record, January 22, 1971, p. 4). Prior to this, however, on November 21, St. John's had twelve place-winners in the Bemidji Invitational, in competition with twelve other Minnesota colleges (Record, January 22, 1971): Tom and Gary Svendsen (126 and 134 pounds), heavyweight Gary Eustice, Terry Elfering, Jim Cudi, Tony Schoenecker, Joel Hagen, Dennis Leggatt, Kurt Wachtler, Tony Fike and Jerry Workman.
Then followed a setback in the Carleton Invitational in which Augsburg edged St. John's for first place-a setback St. John's redeemed by a first place victory in the Pillsbury Invitational.
The MIAC conference championship meet was one of those close contests that are won only in the last match, a masterpiece by Jerry Workman. With the score 93-90 in favor of St. John's, Workman pinned his two-time Augsburg champion opponent in a match that put St. John's ahead 96-93. Then, with the outcome still in doubt, Tom Miller pinned his Gustavus opponent and the meet ended with St. John's the winner 100-97, the 1970-71 champions.
The Jays were jubilant. But there was little time for mere rejoicing. The following week came the National Catholic Invitational Tournament at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.
With a ten-man team Coach Haws engineered the Jays into an early lead in the NCIT that they never relinquished. All ten men survived into the semi-finals. In the finals St. John's won six first place individual championships and two third places for the Catholic title-the second championship for St. John's in eight days.
John Elwell, a Record reporter, wrote that "The St. John's University wrestling squad is the best Catholic university squad in the nation. Only a few years ago, when football stole the limelight, wrestling was just one of the 'off season' sports here at St. John's. . . . The man responsible for the recent success is Head Wrestling Coach, Terry Haws" (Record, October 14, 1971).
Actually, Terry Haws was only in the middle point of an illustrious career that would have established a dynasty of wrestlers, such as the state of Minnesota had never seen before, had he maintained his good health. He was the master recruiter and the master coach, the man who with only a note of congratulations or a word of encouragement to a high school wrestler attracted him to St. John's.
But Terry had a heart problem, and on February 2, 1972, following a dual meet with Ausgburg that ended in a 15-15 tie, he suffered a massive heart attack that left him bedridden for two months. He was unable to take care of his team on the following February 19 for the MIAC championship title, but under the supervision of Fr. Otto Weber, O.S.B., and Larry Haws, the coach's brother, the team came through with a victory, the second MIAC championship in Terry's four years at St. John's.
It was a tough meet. Augsburg was strong with several top drawer individual performers, but balance prevailed and the Jays won by a score of 95.5 by St. John's, 89.5 by Augsburg, and 61 by Concordia. Terry Elfering and freshman Joe Hayes were the only St. John's wrestlers who won championship titles. Depth counted, however, and the needed points were scored by the tried and experienced Tom and Gary Svendsen (126 and 134 pounds), Tony Fike (150), Dennis Legatt (158), Larry Osterhaus (167), Jerry Workman (177), and Gary Eustice (heavyweight).
Since Coach Terry Haws was unable to accompany the team to Cleveland for the National Catholic Invitational Tournament, the team was under the direction of Larry Haws. The team did well and won the Catholic tournament handily. Terry Haws, though absent, received the honor of being named "Catholic Coach of the Year." As had become the usual thing, St. John's sent representatives to take part in the NAIA national tournament held that year at Klamath Falls, Oregon. The Jays placed seventh in a field of 98 colleges. Gary Svendsen won first place in the 134pound division and was named All-American, the first St. John's wrestler up to this time to win that title in the NAIA.
Terry Haws, though still unwell after his heart attack, again took over his wrestling duties for the academic year 1972-73. Despite the illness of the coach, the team showed all its former power, and new additions to the squad were manifesting his uncanny ability to recognize wrestling talent and then mold it into his teams.
The 1973 season opened auspiciously. The Johnnies streaked through a series of four dual meets with victories over St. Thomas35-6, St. Mary's 38-6, Augsburg 20-17, University of Minnesota-Morris 20-8. There was no doubt in the conference that St. John's was the favorite for the 1973 title.
Early in February Terry accompanied his team to Cleveland for the National Catholic Invitational Tournament, although he had been urged not to go because of his health. Arriving in Cleveland, he had another massive heart attack while dining with the team and died before they could get him to a hospital.
There was consternation in the St. John's camp, but since the team was already in Cleveland it was decided to go ahead with the tournament. Under the care of Fr. Otto Weber, a former SJU wrestler, and Larry Haws, the team did well but had to settle for a third place finish. Host John Carroll University took first place, Marquette second, only one point ahead of the storming Johnnies. While the older members of the team performed up to their abilities, the younger element, possibly disturbed by the death of their coach, did not do as well as was expected.
The St. John's wrestling team pulled itself together shortly after the tragic death of their coach. As the Record put it, "It took the trio of Fr. Otto Weber, Tony Fike and Gary Svendsen to compensate for the loss of Terry Haws" (Record, March 2, 1973). Augsburg was still the arch-rival of St. John's, but the Johnnies met them head-on and won the MIAC championship by a score of 93-90, the third championship in four years. The power of SJU was manifested by their taking half of the individual titles. Primarily responsible for winning the title were Fr. Otto Weber, Tony Fike (temporary coach), Al Bielat by his 3-2 clinching win, freshman Dave Pulkrabek's win in the 158 pound class, Tom Svendsen's and Joe Hayes' wins in the 134 and 142 pound classes, Terry Elfering at 118 pounds, and others not mentioned in the March 2, 1973, Record. In fact, it was a team effort that was inspired by the memory of their coach Terry Haws.
It would be a gross oversight to omit a word in praise of Terry Haws. We cannot tell the whole story, for his success in coaching was only one aspect of a full Christian life, both as a teacher and a public citizen. But the thousand people who packed the St. Cloud Cathedral at his funeral tell that story-men from all walks of life, students, twenty-six priest concelebrants (sixteen from St. John's, ten from St. Cloud parishes)-testify to the universal esteem he was held at St. John's and the Diocese of St. Cloud. What attracted people to him was his capacity to understand-he was a good listener and for those in trouble he found an answer, and if he did not have it at first, he would work at it until he found it.
In many ways his teams were an outward expression of himself. The key to his success as a coach, said one of his protégés, was his "contagious confidence." The week before a crucial meet he devoted to the development of self-confidence in his wrestlers. He called attention to their good points, their strengths and chances to win. He told them that any capable wrestler, given good luck, could defeat a national champion. They all knew of his confidence in them, and by listening to him it became theirs. Tom Svendsen said of him: "He instilled confidence. He made you think the opponent's first mistake was stepping on the mat with you. And when you believed, it became true" (Record, March 2, 1973). His wrestlers were grateful to him for more things than wrestling. He taught them to stand on their own feet, whether on the mat or in life, and to fear no duty.
In the funeral sermon Fr. Ray Schultzetenberg read a paraphrase of St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter nine, vv. 24-27, that Terry had made a guide for his life work: "In a race everyone runs but only one gets the prize. So, run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourself many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes through all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a gold medal or silver cup. But we also do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I am not shadow boxing or playing around. Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that, after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit, or ineligible, and ordered to stand aside." Terry's teaching covered the whole of life, student life and life after college, and he exemplified it in everything he said or did.
- 1973-74 -
For the 1973-74 season new Athletic Director Jim Smith secured the services of Roger Ludwig to take the place of Terry Haws. Roger, an outstanding St. John's football player and wrestler who graduated in 1959, was an inspiring and vigorous leader. When he took over the head coaching position, the Johnnies were riding high on a string of 58 undefeated dual meets. But always strong Augsburg during these years was determined to break it. All-American Tom Svendsen (brother of Gary), who had not returned for the first semester, was out of shape and fell victim to a 6-1 decision. Dave Kalkman also lost his match, Dave Riley tied his, and Brad Eustice lost his heavyweight match. It was enough to break the four-year string of MIAC championships.
The loss to Augsburg awakened the Jays. In the MIAC meet, held at Hamline in late February, the Jays made a decisive comeback and won their fourth straight title, out-wrestling Augsburg by a total of104 points to 75.5. Conference championships were won by Jay Huffman at 118 pounds, Tom Svendsen (134), Larry Osterhaus (150), Jerry Workman (177) and Greg Miller (heavyweight).
There are no reports to indicate that St. John's took part in the National Catholic Invitational for this year, but they did attend the NAIA national meet held at River Falls, Wisconsin. Co-captain Tom Svendsen captured All-American honors for the third time in two years when he placed third in the NAIA national championship meet. He lost only one match, that to the eventual 134 pound champion of the University of Wisconsin, but clinched third place by a 3-0 victory in the consolation finals.
The 1974 wrestling tourney marks the last season, from 1969-74, that the name of a Svendsen brother ever failed to find a prominent place in the St. John's wrestling annals. Gary, the older brother, left behind him a record of 105 victories versus only nine losses. Except for his freshman year when he wrestled at 118 pounds, he competed for the following three years at 134 pounds. In his career he was awarded three all-conference titles (1969-72), losing out only in his senior year when, just at the end of a heart-breaker match, he was decisioned by an Augsburg College friend. For once the "Haws' luck" failed him.
In his four years, Gary won the All-American award twice-in fact, he was the first St. John's wrestler to win this award for his coach, Terry Haws. He was also a National Catholic champion twice.
Tom Svendsen was not less famous than his older brother Gary. He graduated in 1974 with an almost identical record of 96 victories versus twelve losses. Like his brother, he was a three-time recipient of all-conference honors, beginning with his sophomore year. He was awarded All-American honors three times, twice in one year, and was a champion place-winner in the National Catholic Invitational Tourney in 1971, '73 and '74. He once placed second in the NCAA national tournament and contemplated competing for a place on the Olympics team.
The Record thus describes him: "When one thinks about a wrestler, a stocky, brawny type comes to mind. Tom Svendsen, at 6 feet, 140 pounds, hardly fits this mold. His leanness is an asset. On the mat his arms and legs drape like vines. His opponent might have bigger biceps, but he is helpless in a tangle of limbs. . . . One teammate remarked, 'in practice Svendsen makes me feel like a pretzel' " (Record, April 13, 1973).
- 1974-75 -
The 1975 National Catholic Invitational Tournament was held early in January at St. John's and found the Jays unprepared for the powerful matmen of Notre Dame, Marquette and the Eastern schools. The Johnnies performed well under the circumstances, but were dropped to third place for the year 1975. David Kalkman (150 pounds) was the only St. John's wrestler to win first place honors. Joseph Wentzell and Tom Skudlarek made it to the finals but were defeated in their attempt to win championship titles. The team was disappointed by its showing.
But Coach Ludwig was an able, optimistic coach; instead of permitting the Jays to bemoan their fate, he made use of the weeks following the NCIT tourney to bolster them up for the conference meet to be held in mid-February at St. Olaf. But the opening day of the MIAC meet was a sorry one for St. John's. Carl Neuburger and Jay Huffman, both normally high-point winners, suffered knee injuries in the finals and had to forfeit their matches to their Augsburg opponents. On the other hand, forfeitures were not the only reason for disappointments. Augsburg was at the peak of its power and was truly a formidable opponent. Dave Kalkman (150 pounds), a St. John's All-American, was decisioned by Augsburg's Bill Schmidt, also an All-American.
St. John's heavyweight Greg Miller easily defended his second championship title and was the only St. John's MIAC titlist for 1975. Other St. John's place winners were Tom Skudlarek (third place at 158), Tom Matlon (fourth at 177), and Joe Wentzell (third at 190).
Final standings of the conference teams and their points scored are the following: Augsburg first (156.5), St. John's second (128), Concordia third (86), Duluth fourth (59), St. Thomas fifth (48), Hamline sixth (30), St. Olaf seventh (19), St. Mary's eighth (11), and Gustavus ninth (2.5). The Augsburg victory ended a five-year championship streak for St. John's.
- 1975-76 -
Roger Ludwig resigned his coaching position at the end of the 1975 school year and was succeeded by Greg Miller, heavyweight wrestler and football star who had just graduated. As a first-time coach, Greg had his problems, one of which was overwhelming-what to do about Augsburg that blocked the way to any possibility of taking the championship in the MIAC-Augsburg with six All-Americans on its team, a national second-place NAIA rating, and the 1975 coach-of-the-year mentor. Faced by the impossible, Coach Miller decided to do all he could with what he had and then see what would happen.
The early season dual meet record was not particularly auspicious with a middling 5-5 record, five wins and five losses. To complicate matters, the Johnnies were committed shortly after the Christmas holidays to the National Catholic Invitational Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, a meeting that would require a long exhausting trip by car without much chance for a rest before the opening of the tournament. The results were disappointing, for the team took fifth place behind Seton Hall University, Marquette, Notre Dame, and the defending champion John Carroll University. Point' winners were John Shimshock, third place at 167 pounds, Tom Matlon fourth at 177, and Don Butzen at 142 pounds. Tom Skudlarek (167) and Jay Huffman (118), on whom Coach Miller was depending for points, both lost their matches in the semi-finals through injuries. It was a severe setback for the team, but Coach Miller still looked forward for improvement and a better showing in the MIAC tourney to be held at the College of St. Thomas in mid -February.
Greg Miller worked hard with his young wrestlers in the time remaining before the MIAC meet, and it paid off. The team ended the season with a highly commendable third place finish behind Augsburg (99 points) and Concordia (80.5), with St. John's at 43.5. Freshman Lon Feia (118) and Mike Bobick (134), sophomore Tom Matlon (177) and junior Tom Skudlarek (167) took home third place honors. Junior Steve Bechtold took fourth place to be St. John's sixth winner, but he was forced to forfeit his match in the semi-finals because of a rib injury.
St. John's took part in the national NAIA tournament held at Edinborough, Pennsylvania, but made a disappointing showing. John Shims hock and Tom Skudlarek were the only two St. John's participants to get by the first round.
Members of the 1976 squad and their weights are the following: Peter Baumann, James Bard (150); Steve Bechtold, Mike Bobick (134); Don Butzen (142); Terry Clark (150); Jim Countryman (heavyweight); Mike Davis (150); Lon Feia (118); Lee Fitzke (190); Gregory Hiemenz (134); Jay Huffman (118, co-captain); Kurt Kalland (177); Allan Keller (142); Eric Koslowski (heavyweight); Paul Loaney (158); Thomas Matlon (177); Carl Neuburger (118, co-captain); John Shimshock (142); Rick Saindon (134); Tom Skudlarek (177); Robin Tacheny (134); John Wachtler (177); Joe Wentzell (190); and Jim Zrust (heavyweight).
- 1976-77 -
The 1976-77 wrestling season opened in a cheerful mood. Coach Miller proclaimed that this year's freshman crop represented "the best recruiting job ever done for the wrestling program." Ten of the freshmen had wrestled in the state high school tournaments the year before. The addition of Pat Sherry, a well-rounded-out, 190-pound transfer, was by no means a handicap.
The results of the improved material with which to mold a new wrestling team were not immediately apparent. Competition in the MIAC was strong as usual and the new men had to struggle in collaboration with the efforts of their coach before they were ready to meet their opponents in dual meets. The Johnnies did well in the invitational tournaments, however. St. John's won first place in the St. John's Takedown Tournament and the St. Thomas Invitational, with the five returnees from 1976, co-captains John Shimshock and Tom Skudlarek, Mike Bobick, Tom Matlon and Lon Feia showing up well. The Johnnies did not do so well in the St. Cloud Invitational, however, coming up with a fourth place finish in a field of 16 contesting colleges.
The Johnnies failed to improve on their conference standing. Again they placed third with no individual championships to embellish their record. Lon Feia at 118 pounds and Tom Matlon at 177 were runners up in each of their weight divisions. Co-captains John Shimshock and Tom Skudlarek, at 142 and 167 pounds respectively, Paul Loaney at 158 pounds and Pat Sherry at 190, all placed third. Champion of the year was Augsburg, with St. Thomas in second place much to the chagrin of the Johnnies who had been looking forward to a second place finish themselves.
Since funds were not available to send the entire ten-man squad to the NAIA nationals in Spokane, Washington, only four men took part in the NAIA tourney-co-captains Skudlarek and Shimshock, Paul Loaney and Tom Matlon. The Johnnies were assigned as opening opponents several of the top-seeded contestants and hence were eliminated early in the tournament.
The 1977 team roster included co-captains Tom Skudlarek and John Shimshock, Mike Bobick, Dennis Clark, John Elton, Lon Feia, Paul Hyland, Melvin Koenig, Peter Kranz, Paul Loaney, Tom Matlon, Pat Sherry, William Wall, Donald Burns, Greg Feldmeier, William Harrison and Donald Quinn.
Coach Greg Miller started the 1977-78 wrestling season under the burden of an almost unsupportable handicap, a team made up of sophomores and freshmen with only one senior, Captain Tom Matlon. In the first meet of the season, January 17, St. Cloud State enjoyed a romp over the young Johnnies by a score of 42-0. Coach John Oxton of St. Cloud acknowledged that St. John's had "a very young team" and added an explanation of his lopsided victory: "We put three experienced seniors against three of their freshmen at the start of the match, and any time you're able to do that you can expect to come out pretty well" (St. Cloud Times, January 18, 1978).
In the invitational's that preceded the MIAC tournament, St. John's regularly took fourth place with the exception of the St. Cloud Invitational, when the Johnnies took fifth: fourth place in the National Catholic Tournament, the St. John's Takedown, the Pillsbury, and the North Country Invitational. On the other hand, they did better than fair in the dual meets: six wins versus four losses overall, and six wins versus two losses in the conference.
In the early part of the season the team was plagued with injuries, but when the MIAC meet came around Captain Matlon expressed his conviction that the wrestlers were at full strength, with the toughest competition to be furnished by St. Thomas and Augsburg, both of whom had defeated the Johnnies earlier. Unfortunately, the Johnnies made their poorest showing of the season with a sixth place finish. Captain Matlon lamented the finale: "It was a dismal finish for our team and an equally dismal day for many of our fine athletes" (Record, March 3, 1978).
One bright stand-out of the season was sophomore Greg Feldmeier, who was elected winner of the Most Improved Wrestler Award. He was second place finisher in the National Catholic Invitational, and first in the North Country Invitational. An entrant in the NAIA national tournament, he lost his final match by only one point, the point that would have made him an All-American. Another award winner was Tom Matlon (Most Valuable, third in the National Catholic, first in the St. John's Takedown). Freshman Joe Cavanaugh was champion in his weight in the North Country Invitational, fourth in the MIAC and was given the Outstanding Freshman Award. Freshman Shawn McDonald took first place in the St. John's Takedown.