Chapter XIII: Swimming

Swimming is the most recent sport to come of age on the St. John’s campus. The reason for this tardiness is obvious. Although beautiful Lake Sagatagan provided opportunities for spring and fall swimming, St. John’s lacked the facilities for the long winter months during which the other MIAC colleges for years had been competing with one another in swimming and diving. It was the completion of the Warner Palaestra pool in 1973 that finally made intercollegiate swimming possible. It opened up the sport for the student body, and-as in all other sports when the students were given the facilities-the students of the early 1970’s virtually swept St. John’s into intercollegiate competition.

– 1971 –

The Swimming Club

It was a courageous group of students, therefore, who, even before the Palaestra, undertook to develop a swimming team which could compete with other Minnesota colleges, all of which enjoyed the advantage of regulation swimming pools. This crusade was led by David Van Landschoot, ’72, and Steve Smith, ’74, who cooperated as coaches and coordinators of the newly organized club. The immediate reason for promoting a swim team was to earn points toward the All Sports Award, which allows no points for the sport in which a school has no entry.

Lacking a pool on campus, the twelve mermen, led by Tim Phenow, Kevin Murphy, Mike White, Pete Petrini, and the coaches, travelled to surrounding communities-especially Cold Spring, Albany, and St. Cloud State “to get wet.” Although this was their first year of intercollegiate competition, the team was able to compete in four dual meets. They lost all four, but finished in sixth place in the MIAC with 85 points, thus contributing six points to the All Sports Award total. They also gained valuable experience.

– 1972-73 –

This season was much the same, although there was a significant increase in the number of candidates and in raw talent. Peter Johnson, a St. Cloud broker, worked with the club as coach and manager for part of the season and got them off to a good start. Records show that the club competed in six dual meets, again losing all six but coming very close to beating both Gustavus and Duluth. The team’s performance in the MIAC final meet resulted in another sixth place finish in the conference with a total of 108 points. The top place winners were the following: fourth place in the 800 free-style relay composed of Jeremy and Tim Raths (sons of Phil, ’40), Clancy McCarthy, and Pat Strothers; fifth place in the 200 backstroke by Gary Gerst.

– 1973-74-

The year 1973 saw the completion of the Warner Palaestra and its “fast” swimming pool. This magnificent new facility revolutionized the swimming program both recreationally and for intercollegiate competition. The club officially became a team under its first full-time coach, Pat Haws, who still holds that position. The swim team this year included an ex-track man, an injured hockey player, an ex-wrestler/ weight-lifter, and a sprinkling of experienced swimmers. The Palaestra pool was properly inaugurated with a 68-45 victory over Gustavus, which was not only the first home meet, but also the first swimming victory for the Johnnie club.

The MIAC championship meet saw the Johnnies with a 1-9 dual rating for the season, finishing in third place, a mere 7Yzpoints out of second. This meet, which was held in the new Palaestra, was acclaimed by the other colleges as the best MIAC meet in recent years. The Johnnies finished with four third-place winners: Bill Flynn, John Maguire, Tom Dwyer, and Jeremy and Tim Raths in the 400 and 800 free-style relays; John Maguire in the 400 individual medley; and Clancy Mc- Carthy in the 1650 free-style. Overall, the Johnnies had 17 finishes in the top six events. The team’s production of 304 ½ points was its best up to that time.

The 1974-75 team had its first “big-time” recruits in Bobby Greelis, Paul Cleeremans, Joe Tucker, Mark Tracy, Don Olson and Jim Mc- Gough. The team made its first Christmas trip to Florida for accelerated training and returned to put together a dual meet record of 5-1 in the MIAC, and 6-6 overall. They then took third place in the MIAC championship meet, with a new point total record of 344. The highlights of the meet were 18 top six-place winners with team records in all 18 events; and St. John’s first NAIA qualifiers-Tom Dwyer (100 free-style), and the 400 free-style relay executed by Dwyer, Jeremy Raths, Dave Scanlan, and Bobby Greelis.

– 1975-76 –

The 1975-76 team finished for the first time above the .500 mark in the dual meets, with a 5-1 MIAC record and 8-5 overall. In the MIAC championship meet the team improved its standing by advancing to second place with a total of 438 points. The Big Red enthusiasm on campus brought St. John’s its first MIAC swimming champions: Jon Habben in the 50 and 100 free-style; Habben, Dwyer, Mark Tracy, and Joe Ehlert in the 400 free-style relay, and Joe Tucker in the 200 breaststroke. Joe also established the M~AC record by breaking a nine-year-old mark. The team had 28 top six-place winners, broke 16 of 18 team records, and qualified ten people in ten events for the NAIA championship meet, as also six people in four events for the NCAA Division III national championships.

– 1976-77-

In 1976-77 the team came up with a 3-2 MIAC record in the duals and 9-5 overall. The team held its own invitational, squeaking by the crack Grinnell team 362-356. “Skosh” Wenner defeated an NCAA III champion diver on the three meter board by seven-tenths of a point to produce the winning margin.

The conference meet ended with St. John’s again in second place with 483 points, only 27 points behind the new champions, St. Olaf. The Johnnies’ Jon Habben increased his stature in the sprints by setting new MIAC records in the 50 free-style (21.86) and the 100 freestyle (48.44). The 400 free-style relay team, composed of Habben, Dwyer, Ehlert, and Mike Salchert, also retained its title. Thirty-three Johnnies finished in the top six. The diving squad of Jeff Eastman, “Skosh” Wenner, and Steve Remole established itself by finishing 2-3-4 on both the one meter and three meter boards. Ten swimmers qualified in sixteen events for the NAIA national meet, and nine in eight events for the NCAA Division III nationals.


The 1977-78 season had its ups and downs. The early season record was fair-4-1 in the MIAC duals and 7-5 overall. The ups also included the first win over Hamline in dual competition-the first Hamline loss in six years-and a convincing victory over Grinnell in the St. John’s Invitational by a margin of 155 points. The downs were injuries to Jeff Eastman the day after qualifying for the nationals in the NAIA and NCAA Division III, as also to Skosh Wenner, who suffered a punctured eardrum. In addition, almost the entire team was wracked with illness as the time for the MIAC championship meet rolled around. Only three of the 18 entrants had been in good health in the preceding week, and the top diver, Skosh Wenner, had had only three days of practice prior to the meet. Eastman was still in a cast and Steve Remole, the Johnnies’ three-meter specialist, grimaced with pain from a badly sprained ankle every time he left the board.

However, the team swam well enough to capture second place for the third straight year, with a total of 432 points (150 points behind defending champion St. Olaf). Eleven swimmers qualified in all 18 events for the NAIA championships, and nine qualified in seven events for the NCAA III nationals. St. John’s had previously participated in the NAIA national championship meets, but for various reasons, chose to compete in the NCAA Division III meet in 1978. The change proved to be a brilliant move. St. John’s swimmers won their first All-American awards in the national NCAA Division III meet. Jon Habben won individual honors in the 500 free-style (tenth) and in the 100 free-style (eleventh). The healthy Steve Remole finished fifth in the three meter board dive; the 400 free-style relay team of Habben, Tracy, Schwietz, Greg Krenik, and Mike Salchert captured twelfth place. In all, St. John’s had six All-Americans and placed twenty-second with 17 points, finishing higher than any other MIAC team.

Summary of Swimming Records, 1973-78

MIAC Duals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18-9

Overall Duals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31-30

MIAC Individual Championships. . . . . . . . . .10

MIAC Relay Champs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 3

MIAC Records . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 3

NCAA National Championship Qualifiers. . . .35

NCAA III Championship Qualifiers. . . . . . . .24

NCAA III All-Americans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 6