The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Fans of University of Saint Thomas sports teams are still getting used to the idea that the Tommies’ opponents are now from institutions that are relatively unknown in these parts. Accordingly, 90-minute trips to Saint Peter or Collegeville, or even much shorter jaunts up and down Snelling Avenue, are no longer part of the itinerary as they were when UST competed in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Life at the Division I level also requires playing in fancier facilities than those of the Tommies’ Division III days in the MIAC.  

However, for at least a few more years UST will still be inducting folks into its Athletic Hall of Fame who played key roles for the university in MIAC competition. During the upcoming ceremony on October 28, the 2022 inductees will include six individuals, the 2012 volleyball team and a pair of coaches who led formerly struggling sports programs to considerable success.

One of the latter is Denzil Lue, who coached the UST men’s soccer team from 1978-2001. During that time, he amassed 242 wins, four conference championships and four trips to the NCAA Division III tournament. That was harder than it sounds. For much of Lue’s tenure, the team had to play wherever it could find an available field. That included playing games in the Saint Paul Seminary’s backyard at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and occasionally on chilly midweek nights at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.

Shortly after Lue began coaching men’s soccer, Tom Hodgson was tapped to take over as coach of the women’s swimming program for the Tommies. Hodgson was a swimming stalwart at Rochester Mayo High School before attending the University of Minnesota, where he excelled in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 individual medley.

UST athletic director Frank Mach tasked Hodgson with building a swimming program in a pool that had been constructed in 1940 and had just five lanes. “Frank and I didn’t have an extensive conversation,” Hodgson recalled, “but they weren’t expecting excellence right away.”

Before Hodgson came on board, UST and other teams in the conference competed in a 17-school, year-end meet that included Saint Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Winona State and the U of M’s junior varsity team. The Tommies didn’t fare well in those meets.

 

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UST athletic director Frank Mach tasked Hodgson with building a swimming program in a pool that had been constructed in 1940 and had just five lanes. “Frank and I didn’t have an extensive conversation,” Hodgson recalled, “but they weren’t expecting excellence right away.”

In Hodgson’s first season with UST, the MIAC was competing on its own at meet time. Hodgson’s patchwork crew leapfrogged past Saint Benedict and Macalester to finish in fifth place. Two years later, Hodgson added the UST men’s team to his duties and was on campus full time as an instructor to boot.

“Despite the pool limitations, I knew we had the potential to be very good,” he said. “I never thought of myself as a great recruiter. We’d just promote the notion of swimming being a family.”

It took a while, but the Tommies eventually began to achieve individual and team success. “It was one kid at a time,” Hodgson said. “For example, when Maureen Olson (who won six MIAC freestyle titles in the early ’90s) came, others began to follow.”

Still, there were limits to what you can do in a five-lane pool. The school was growing and the old pool in O’Shaughnessy Hall was simply inadequate. In 2010, the Anderson Athletic & Recreation Center opened. Included in the building was an up-to-date swimming and diving facility. Although the Tommies were consistently among the MIAC’s best teams, the new pool brought in even more talent.

Hodgson retired in 2014 after 35 years on the job. His contemporaries thought enough of him that he was named MIAC Coach of the Year seven times.

The foundation he laid for the swimming program was so solid that the elevation from DIII to DI was relatively easy. Both UST swim teams finished a credible fifth in their first year at the Summit League championships.

In retirement, Hodgson is keeping his head in the water as a competitor. Earlier this year, at age 72, he won the 500 free and was fifth in the 100 free at the Minnesota Masters meet.

Wildcats have golf, tennis success 

Sophomore Kyra Venne earned a spot in Saint Catherine University’s history books when she became the first Wildcat golfer to win the MIAC individual championship at the recent conference meet. Venne played the 54 holes at the tough Bunker Hills course in 222 strokes, just 2 over par. Sydney Brandt, a fifth-year senior, tied for fifth place overall to earn her third all-conference honors. Both players were part of an SCU team that played in the NCAA DIII meet earlier this year.

Senior Kelsey Dorr became the first SCU tennis player to advance to the finals of the ITA Regional Championships recently held in Saint Peter. She entered as the second seed and breezed to straight-set victories in her first three matches. It took three sets to claim a semifinal win. In the finals, she gave top seed Sabrina Tang a run for her money, splitting two tight sets before dropping the third one. It was another milestone for Dorr, who has also represented the Wildcats in two NCAA tournaments.

Dave Wright is at dwright53@msn.com.

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