Take Me Back Tuesday from Bernick: Swimming started to wander 50 years ago

By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Video Writer / Producer

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – The 1971-1972 Saint John’s University Swim and Diving team may have finished last in this season’s MIAC Championship competition.

But the Johnnies – in their first season of intercollegiate competition in the sport – have already accomplished their given mission by simply getting in the water in the first place.

“The Warner Palaestra had not yet been built,” recalls Jim smith, the legendary former SJU basketball coach who was just starting his first stint as the school’s athletic director 50 years ago – in the fall of 1971 – when the team’s organizing work has begun.

“But we knew it was coming and the plans for it included a swimming pool. So we wanted to start setting the stage for that. But the other play was the (MIAC) All-Sports Trophy. We had lost to schools like Macalester and Gustavus by a point or two. And we weren’t getting any points in swimming because we didn’t have a team. I thought if we could make a team, even if they went to the meeting. conference and finished last we would still get a point.

“And that might be enough to put us over the top.”

While the MIAC All-Sports male champion was about to start receiving the George Durenberger Trophy (first awarded in 1972-73 and named after the longtime SJU athletic director who had just taken his retirement), winning the competition has become an even bigger affair around Collegeville.

So Smith started looking for any student who could have had a swim training background and had the skills to organize a short-term team.

This research led him to David Van Landschoot, who was finishing his last credits at SJU in the fall of 1971.

Van Landschoot was a leader on campus at the time. He had been elected first-year class president in his freshman year at Collegeville, and he was subsequently elected both vice-president and then president of the undergraduate government (the youngest student ever to be elected to either position), as well as serving on the school board of directors. He was also a member of the rugby team and had represented SJU at various alumni reunions.

But, perhaps even more important, he had been a high school diver in Rock Island, Ill., Before his family moved to Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, before his final year of high school, forcing him to drop out. the sport.

“I got a message from (Smith) asking me to come to his office,” said Van Landschoot, one of the many former SJU swimmers over the years who plans to attend a meeting to be held in as part of the Homecoming on October 9. “I went over there and he introduced himself to me. He got right to the point. He talked about the All-Sports Trophy and how we haven’t been able to get past the top for the past two years. me if I knew that only five schools in a conference of 10 had a swim team.

“He said he knew I had a background in swimming. I told him it was true, but I had given up on the sport and hadn’t been in it for a long time. But he got me. said he thought I could do it, and he convinced me to take up the challenge. “

Van Landschoot said Smith was able to provide around $ 500 in seed money to pay for travel and other expenses. So he started posting notices on campus to try to generate interest. About 30 students responded and 15 were on site when the team started training – only two of whom had any actual competitive experience.

Although Van Landschoot was the organizer and manager of the team, he did not participate. The second student at the time, Steve Smith, became the team’s first captain in December 1971.

“The Osseo (Minn.) High school swim team started in my senior year, so I was on the first swim team there,” recalls Tim Phenow, a freshman at that school. first team SJU who spent the first two years of their college career in Collegeville before moving to the University of Minnesota to continue their engineering studies.

“Then I went to Saint John’s and there was an interest in starting a program there as well. So I thought, what is it. our morale is high and has kept us together as a group. “

“I went to a Catholic high school in Owatonna that no longer exists and we didn’t have a swim team,” said Steve Smith. “The public school at the time didn’t have a team either. But I liked swimming and had taken Red Cross courses. So when I saw that they were starting a team ( at SJU), I decided to give it a go.

“When I became captain I went for a book by Doc Counsilman (who had coached legendary American Olympian Mark Spitz). He wrote the bible about swimming training at the time and we took a lot of ‘workouts from there. “

Van Landschoot was able to schedule a total of four intercollegiate meetings leading up to the MIAC Championship, the first of which was a double-duel against St. Cloud State and Hamline at SCSU’s Halenbeck Hall on January 15, 1972.

Of course, the biggest problem the team faced was finding a pool to train in, as there was none on campus at the time. That meant turning to area high schools or occasionally sharing a space at Halenbeck Hall with St. Cloud State.

“I remember going to places like Rocori High School (in Cold Spring), which had a pool.” said Van Landschoot. “But it was always at odd times, like 8 pm, when the high school team was already cordoned off. So we were going to truck over there in the dark in the dead of winter and jump in the water at 8 pm.

“We were done around 9:30 am or so, then we had to dry off, get back into the cold, and drive to campus. It must have been a real chore.”

But the Johnnies held on and performed well in competition. Their last meeting before the conference was a duel with Gustavus in Saint-Pierre at the end of February 1972.

The Gusties won 57-45, but there have been a number of SJU highlights.

“Brad Pazandak won first place for SJU in two one-meter diving events,” reported The Record in its February 29, 1972 edition.

“Bob Stoy in the 60-yard freestyle, Pete Petrini in the individual IM, Tim Phenow in the 100-yard free and Mike White in the 200 backstroke. Murphy caught up with them in the distances. St. John’s also had three third places.

The article continued to chronicle the nomadic nature of the team.

The St. John’s team, after roaming the St. Cloud Apollo and South Junior High pools to train with the St. Cloud State team at Halenbeck Hall, now has a temporary ‘home’ at the pool. from Albany High School, “he added. read. “All training is done by team members and swimmers provide their own transportation to get to practice.

“The future of the team, however, depends on a swimming pool on the St. John’s campus. Only then can team members get the necessary training time without being tied to the schedule for a pool owned by someone else. “

While they waited for that day, however, there was still the question of competing in the MIAC competition from March 2-4, 1972 at Hamline University in St. Paul. There, the Johnnies finished sixth in the six-team field with 85 points.

But it still stood out in all-sport competition, leading Saint John’s to the top spot for the 1971-72 school year – making it the first time since 1968-69 that the Johnnies won the award. and only the second time in total.

“I’m just proud that we’ve been successful this season,” said Steve Smith. “I remember for the competition at Gustavus, there were five of us in my Volkswagen and we went there. It was our team. But we continued to compete.”

Swimming returned to Collegeville the following year with St. Cloud broker Peter Johnson (a former swimmer at Hamline) managing the team part-time.

During the 1973-74 season, Warner Palaestra had opened with a pool (Steve Smith was on the committee that helped design it) and Pat Haws had been hired as the program’s first real coach – although he did not. no previous competitive swimming experience.

Haws, however, made SJU a contender in the conference, remaining at the helm until 1998. And during that time, his teams placed in the top three at the MIAC Championships in 23 of 25 seasons, including 15 second.

There were also 11 top-25 finishes at the National Division III competition. And his swimmers have won All-America honors 40 times and won a national diving championship.

Another swimmer Haws recruited and coached for part of his career, Matt Zelen, won a national title in the 50 freestyle when he was a senior in 1999.

But he said the foundation that had already been laid had helped make it happen.

“You don’t know how much that helped,” Haws said. “I came in like a blank slate. And these guys that were here that had swimming training were so willing to train me. Guys like Steve Smith, Jeremy Raths and so many others. They were all so open to it. help me and patiently let me put my feet under me.

“It meant a lot to me and to the program.

3 years ago (2018) – Saint John’s University senior forward Guy Mohs (Long Lake, Minn./Orono) second goal of the season, 1:21 into second overtime, saw the Johnnies win 1-0 over St. Olaf on September 22 in Haws. Field.

5 years ago (2016) – So no. 8 SJU recorded a 44-0 shutout of St. Olaf in front of an announced crowd of 10,347 fans on September 17. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann ’19 finished the day 9 of 14 passing for 158 yards and four touchdowns in a quarter-and-a-half of play. The Johnnies forced five turnovers, edged the Oles by a 406-88 margin and limited the visitors to 14 of 28 passes for 61 yards and three interceptions. St. Olaf entered the game with MIAC’s best passing offense at just over 354 yards per game.

8 years ago (2013) – Saint John’s forced five turnovers and St. Thomas missed a 32-yard field goal on the final play of the game as the Johnnies knocked out the second-placed Tommies 20-18 on September 21 in St. Paul. The victory ended three consecutive winning streaks at the UST: 18 consecutive home games, 36 regular season games and 27 MIAC regular season games, preserving the Johnnies’ conference record of 28 consecutive MIAC wins of 2001. to 2004.


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