Chapter VI: Cross Country


 – 1947-48 –

Cross-country, like soccer, is one of the sports that made a late appearance on the St. John’s campus. The fact is, however, that St. John’s was no slower than the other colleges in the conference, for the first cross-country championship ever awarded in the MIAC was in 1949, two years after the first public announcement appeared in the school paper, the Record.

Interest in cross-country as a fall intercollegiate sport involving distance running up and down hills and crossing meadows and streams of water, had been building up for some time on the campus. Basketball coaches favored it as a means of conditioning players for the winter season. Track coaches also encouraged it for the development of their distance runners, in preparation for spring training. A certain amount of propaganda had also taken place among distance runners in all the MIAC colleges, who were looking forward to the time when the conference would field competing teams in cross-country for its own sake. The student enthusiasts finally attained their objective officially in 1949 with the awarding of the first MIAC championship to the College of St. Thomas.

The first published announcement of St. John’s entry into cross country competition in the MIAC appeared in the October 23, 1947, issue of the Record with an article under the heading “Harriers prepare for Fall Meet at St. Paul.” The article goes on to say that Coach Donald Sheehan, “looking towards the State Cross Country meet at the State Fair Grounds in St. Paul, is running his cross-country squad through its daily paces. . . . The meet is a revived feature in the conference this year, having been voted in at the fall meeting of the conference coaches.” The fact that the sport received a somewhat cool welcome onto the campus was later evidenced by the first granting of monogram letters to the cross-country men (the harriers) in 1969, over twelve years later. There were doubtless well-founded reasons for the delay, for cross-country was not as yet a popular spectator sport and only the strongly dedicated were willing to undertake the grueling training regimen required for serious distance running. The first two coaches, Don Sheehan and Larry Schwietz, were volunteers who were motivated entirely by a whole-hearted enjoyment of running.

Because of the scanty information furnished by the Record concerning cross-country in its early years, there is little more to report for 1947, 1948 and 1949 than the name of the coach and his five or six team members. For example, Coach Donald Sheehan led a team of six members: Henry Ayd, Clement Beaulieu, Matthias Green, Arthur Hessburg, Werner Oehrlein, and Robert Seifert. In 1948, Coach Larry Schwietz of the track team fielded a team made up of Ray Muskat, Eugene Rausch, Robert Simons, Donald Wild and James Zylla. For this year the college MIAC standings in cross-country competition were published for the first time. The order is as follows: St. Thomas, Augsburg, St. Olaf, Hamline, St. John’s, and Gustavus. St. John’s finished the season in fifth place.

The 1949 team, coached by John Spalding, an energetic, active athlete, was stronger in that it had on its roster a genuine long distance runner of talent, Emmett “Tex” Mulcare, followed by Peter Rother, Robert Simons, and James Zylla. No report of the conference doings was made in the Record.

– 1950 –

With the fall issues of the Record, October 26, 1950, cross-country now began to come into its own under the coaching and direction of John Spalding, who extended the cross-country program by scheduling two meets to precede the MIAC tournament. In a dual meet with Macalester the Johnnies defeated the Macs by a score of 19-36-19 for St. John’s, 36 for Macalester. (It must be understood that in crosscountry, as in golf, the lowest number of points scored indicates the winner.)

In a second meet held at St. John’s during the halves of a homecoming game with Duluth, the Jays defeated the visiting Bulldogs by a score of 17-38. Actually, it was a publicity stunt thought up as a means of introducing cross-country to a school that knew little about the sport and was apathetic enough not to care. But John Spalding had no intention of allowing the St. John’s faculty and student body to undervalue cross-country. His 1950 season was successful. The principal factor that contributed most to the success of the 1950 season was the presence on the team of Emmett “Tex” Mulcare, an all-time holder of St. John’s Prep School records in track, and the fastest, most durable cross-country runner in the college up to this time. He easily measures up to the exploits of other St. John’s greats in their freshman years. Unfortunately, he did not return to complete his college work at St. John’s.

The MIAC 1950 tournament provided the St. John’s harriers the opportunity to demonstrate their rapid development under the driving of student-coach John Spalding. According to a November 9, 1950 resume of the tournament in the Record, the St. John’s distance runners finished in second place behind the crack St. Thomas team that had dominated the conference since 1949. St. Thomas took five of the first places. St. John’s ace, Tex Mulcare, took fifth place, followed by Jim Zylla, Ralph Brown, Kenneth Wald and Donald Rubertus. The vast superiority of St. Thomas over all the other MIAC colleges is seen in the scores: St. Thomas 16, St. John’s 65, St. Olaf 71, Hamline 102, Macalester 102, Duluth 109.

– 1951-53 –

There is no record of the 1951 cross-country team in the Record. Some meager information is supplied in the 1952 Record, however, that merely names the coach and a few of the 1951 team members. In a preview of the 1952 season, the Record commentator, in a flashback, cites the qualifications of the 1951 veteran runners:

“This year’s squad will be bolstered by two outstanding veterans from Chuck Randall’s 1951 team, ‘Boots’ Wald and Peter Rother. Wald (now Fr. Kenneth Wald in the diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota), one of the best distance runners St. John’s has had for some time, proved his ability in the Marathon race last fall when he copped first place at Macalester, the Johnnies’ only meet of the season. Wald was also a consistent point winner in track last spring in the distances. The other veteran, Peter Rother, will add considerable power. to this team, as he has in the past three years of competition” (Record, October 3, 1952).

No record was kept of the 1952 cross-country season. The 1953 report was very meager, but it was enough to indicate that the club was still alive and active. In a tiny, twelve-line news item on the sports page (Record, October 23, 1953), the opening of the cross-country season was announced: “The Jay thin clads continue daily workouts in preparation for the annual cross-country meet at Minneapolis, Oct. 29. With a decisive victory over State Track Champions Macalester (sic), the cross-country cindermen show the spirit and potential for a successful season.” No report was made of the 1953 conference tournament, but in a preview of the 1954 season it is stated that the 1953 Jays were runners up to St. Thomas, the conference champions.

– 1954 –

In 1954 hopes ran high for a conference championship following a victory over St. Thomas in a dual meet by a score of 24-31. In this dual meet St. Thomas took first and third places. John Schlumpberger, the St. John’s ace, finished in second place behind the Tommie star Jim Deane. Don Mahowald, Mike O’Fallon, Bob Hunt and George Geray (in that order) took fourth. fifth and seventh places.

In a second dual meet with St. Olaf the Johnnies defeated the ales 22-33. Schlumpberger missed taking first place by a tenth of a second. Bob Hunt, Don Mahowald and George Geray won places four, five and six. Freshman Joseph Lechowicz took number nine.

The MIAC Tournament

Typical of the scant interest, or failure to understand the scoring system of cross-country at this time, the Record sportswriter gave only a short, unappreciative account of the meet and St. John’s victory over perennial champion St. Thomas, thereby annexing to SJU the title for 1954. Jim Deane of St. Thomas took first and Toby Mattern of Macalester second, but the combined efforts of the Johnnies’ John Schlumpberger, third, Don Mahowald, fifth, Bob Hunt, sixth, Mike O’Fallon, ninth and George Geray, twelfth, gave the Jays their winning margin and the championship.

– 1955 –

When the 1955 season rolled around, the situation called for a rapid reorganization of the team to defend the 1954 cross-country championship. Prospects were particularly good, for of the four returning lettermen from 1954 three were seniors and one a junior. The strategy was to use the three seniors-John Schlumpberger, Mike O’Fallon and Vincent Hunt-while they were still with the team. The difficulty was to choose the fifth team member from among five highly competent candidates-Joseph Lechowicz, Cyril Paul, Gary Sauer and Jerry Wolf. They settled by using the candidate who on different occasions proved suitable for the situation.

But bad luck hit the team early in the season before the Johnnies met St. Thomas and Macalester in a triangular meet, September 31, at Nokomis Park. Schlumpberger, the ace and highest point winner of the group, suffered a foot injury and was unable to run. The result was that St. John’s, with 40 points, took second place behind St. Thomas with its 37 points. Macalester was third with 43.

The results of the MIAC tournament held later were never published. The official MIAC list of championships credits Duluth with the title.

-1956 –

As was anticipated in 1955, graduation left the cross-country team with only one experienced runner in Captain Donald Mahowald, who also served as the coach. Coach Mahowald worked hard with the squad, but the lack of experience took its toll in the season outcome. The season record was the loss of two dual meets and third place in the conference standings.

In the first loss-to St. Olaf-Don Mahowald, Russ Banner and James Eddy finished in third, fourth and fifth places respectively. In the second, against Macalester, the Jays ran into a Tartar, definitely a contender for the championship, who defeated them by the score of 17-38. James Eddy, a returnee to St. John’s after completing his military obligation, was greatly improved over his dual meet performances and took fourth place. Donald Mahowald, John Mullally and James Donohue took the seventh, eighth and ninth places respectively. Macalester demonstrated its full power in the MIAC tournament by easily winning the championship with five of the first six places for 19 points. Duluth finished in second with 49 points, St. John’s (third place) with 55 and St. Thomas 83.

Individual Johnnie performers in the MIAC tournament were James Eddy, fourth place, Russ Banner, eleventh, Donald Mahowald, twelfth; James Donohue, John Mullally and Jack McHale also were point winners, though their records were not posted.

– 1957 –

In the September 27, 1957 issue of the Record there appears a heavy black headline: “CROSS COUNTRY GO-GO BOYS SEE GOOD YEAR!” The article goes on to say that cross-country is the newest and least known sport on campus and that “there has been no interest in the sport because none of the meets has been held at Collegeville.”

It was a situation that Coach Jim Smith in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s tried to remedy by exposing the St. John’s public to demonstrations of a cross-country race during the halves of football games.

The writer of the article attempted something of this kind by acquainting Record readers with the scoring system of cross-country: “In cross country the course is usually laid out over open ground in the shape of a figure eight. The members of the five-man teams run the 2.1-3 miles and are awarded according to the place in which they finish (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.). The points of the five runners of each team are then added up and the team with the lowest number of points is the winner.” The writer spent no more time on cross-country after writing the first announcement of the season opening. We learn through the MIAC championship records that Macalester won the 1957 cross-country title. Members of the St. John’s team were James Eddy, Russ Banner, James Donohue, Jerome “Jerry” Schoenecker (one of St. John’s most famous trackmen in his freshman year), John Mullally and freshmen Michael Cain and William Berg.

1957 marks the end of the first period in the history of cross-country at St. John’s. The college ceased to put out a team for the next nine seasons, only to have the sport revived under Coach James Smith in 1966.

– 1965-66 –

After an interval of nine years, 1957-66, cross-country again came into its own. When Jim Smith, the new basketball coach, was assigned track as his springtime duty, he immediately decided to revive cross country for the development of endurance in his basketball players, and also as an early training period for distance runners on his track team.

Success did not come immediately to Jim Smith and the six distance runners who survived the early autumn training exercises. Jim handled the men with a sort of low-geared drive, however, that was productive of progress and enthusiasm in athletes who were not yet accustomed to the demands of a sport that in many aspects was a grueling test of courage and perseverance. To add to the problem of establishing a new sport was the domination of Macalester and St. Thomas over MIAC track meets that gave each of them a mathematical monopoly over championships. On the other hand, seven teams would be represented in the MIAC championship meet, and the six St. John’s runners were eager to match their endurance in competition with the lower category teams, if not with the two front runners.

The first competition of the 1965 season was a dual meet with the strong St. Cloud State team on the Albany golf course (three miles) from which the Jays emerged defeated by a score of 17-43 points. Team members were Donald Garceau, Gregory Motl, David Thein, Hubert Dufner and James Flick.

The second meet was a quadrangular affair on the Como Park grounds (3.8 miles). St. John’s took third place behind Winona State and Bethel, 63-13. St. John’s garnered 64 points. Augsburg did not finish the race and was disqualified.

In the MIAC championship meet held at the University of Minnesota golf course (three miles) St. John’s took third place with 53 points, behind Macalester with its score of 27 points and Augsburg with 47. St. Thomas was fourth with an unusual 89 points.

Roster: Hubert Dufner, Leo Fourre, Donald Garceau, Douglas Johnson, David Thein, William Thibedeau Conference standing: (1) Macalester, 27; (2) Augsburg, 47; (3) St. John’s, 53; (4) St. Thomas, 89

– 1966-67 –

In the second year of its revival, cross-country was still far from being one of the strong sports of the St. John’s athletic department. An encouraging addition to the squad was freshman Paul Muckerheide from Seattle, Washington, who demonstrated his interest and staying qualities by traveling the entire distance from Seattle to St. John’s by bicycle. The team finished the season in fourth place behind front running Macalester, Concordia, and St. Thomas in that order.

Interest in the sport had begun to pick up, however, partly through the novel experiment of holding a dual meet between the halves of football games. During half-time of the 1966 homecoming game with St. Thomas, St. John’s lost to the Tommies by one point, 28-29. A week later the Jays defeated Hamline in the half-time of a football game by a score of 20-40 on the Hamline campus. The season results are as follows: at Concordia, 2.2 miles, lost 39-19; St. Thomas at St. John’s, 2.9 miles, lost 28-29; at Augsburg, second place-Augsburg 35, SJU 37, Hamline 56.

Conference standing: (1) Macalester, 17; (2) Concordia, 92; (3) St. Thomas, 92; (4) St. John’s 102; (5) Augsburg, 109; (6) Hamline, 140; (7) Gustavus, 170

Roster: Patrick Billion, William Byrne, Donald Garceau, David Glesener, John Garceau, Daniel Klenow, Paul Muckerheide, David Thein, James Urick, Warren Vollmar

– 1967-68-

1967 can rightfully be called Coach Jim Smith’s first bonanza year. His squads heretofore had among their members several dedicated runners whom he welcomed and considered the finest and most deserving athletes on campus. But never before had any new additions caused the same instant uplift of spirits and hopes as the enrollment of freshmen John Cragg and Jeffrey Brain, two top stars from the Catholic prep school ranks. Pat Sweeney’s article in the September 29, 1967 issue of the Record gives some idea of the elation that swept over the cross-country runners when they saw the newcomers in action:

“Cross-country at SJU has passed its infancy and is ready to take its place as a major sport. Previously, cross-country runners were not awarded letters and the main purpose of their travels was to get in shape for track. But now, with such outstanding runners as John Cragg and Jeff Brain, the Johnny runners are ready to go all out in MIAC competition. . . . Looking into the future is pleasant for Coach Smith. His squad, top heavy with sophomores and freshmen, provides a strong nucleus to build around” (Record, September 29, 1967).


The regular season was star-studded with four victories and one loss. Victories were over Bethel (18-42), St. Thomas (18-45), Augsburg (17-44)and Hamline (19-41).A dual meet was lost to Macalester, 35-20, on” a dark, wet day and a confusing course.” The greatness of John  Cragg even as a freshman was made manifest this year by his first place  victories in each of these five meets. Jeff Brain was not far behind,  with three second places, one tie with Cragg for first place, and an eighth against Macalester, his one bad day of the season.

On being invited to the St. Cloud Invitational at the country club, in which the Jays met the top cross-country teams in the state, SJU finished in third place. Again Cragg took first place honors. Already warned by their dual meet loss to Macalester, the Jays nevertheless made a gallant try to win the MIAC title. Once more the Macs out-ran St. John’s despite the first and second place finishes of Cragg and Brain. Both broke the Lake Nokomis record by times of 20:40 and 21:30, a record set by Macalester only the year before. Three other Jays who finished high were George Diehl, Thomas Goebel and Roy Glover. The Jays finished in second place.

The outcome of the NAIA District 13 meet, for which the Jays were eligible, was a satisfying surprise for Coach Smith, who saw his harriers finish ahead of the highly touted St. Cloud State team and take second place behind the winner, Macalester. Besides Cragg, who again took first place, were runners Brain (eighth), Timothy Kehoe (15th), Dan Klenow (20th) and Jon Kallman (25th).

Said Jim Smith with a broad smile, “Yes, we might just be tougher next year. Tough enough to take over the top spot among the harriers.”

Roster: Patrick Billion, Jeffrey Brain, Gregory Cook, John Cragg, George Diehl, Roy Glover, Thomas Goebel, Jon Kallman, Timothy Kehoe, David Lukenow, Brian Martin, Patrick McKee, Paul Muckerheide, John Rieder Conference standing: (1) Macalester, 29; (2) St. John’s, 56; (3) Augsburg, 83; (4) Hamline, 88; (5) Gustavus, 142; (6) St. Thomas, 145; (7) Concordia, 199

– 1968-69 –

When school opened in the fall of 1968, Coach Jim Smith was confident that St. John’s finally had the power in cross-country to dethrone Macalester from its lofty position as champions of the MIAC. The year before, freshmen John Cragg and Jeff Brain were able to lift St. John’s to second place behind the Scots, but the team as yet was unable to match Macalester’s power and experience.

The 1968 season opened with the Cragg-Brain duo intact, together with the improving Daniel Klenow, Jon Kallman and others. The great difference on which Jim Smith relied was the presence of two new crosscountry stars, Chuck Ceronsky, a 1967 sophomore transfer from Nazareth Hall minor seminary in St. Paul, and Joseph Skaja (pronounced Sky-ya), an intense, dedicated freshman cross-country star from Technical High School in St. Cloud-“Tiger” Skaja, as he was soon nicknamed. The foursome-Cragg-Brain-Ceronsky-Skaja-could match Macalester’s best.

In the first cross-country encounter of the season, a triangular meet with Gustavus and St. Cloud State, St. John’s almost literally ran away with the field, winning the match with a score of 22, Mankato 44 and Gustavus 66. Ceronsky and Cragg tied for first place in the three-mile race, “holding hands as they broke the finishing tape together.” Jeff Brain was third, Skaja seventh and Jon Kallman ninth.

Shortly thereafter the Jays entered the Bemidji Invitational, in which the Jays were pitted against the top teams of the state. St. John’s finished in second place behind St. Cloud State with a score of 62 points versus the 32 of St. Cloud (this was one of the best years of the great St. Cloud distance runners). In the three-mile race the Jays had three runners who finished among the first ten: Cragg, Ceronsky and Brain.

In the St. Cloud Invitational, in which eight teams competed, St. John’s again took second place behind NIT champion St. Cloud State. Following this, St. John’s took fifth place in the Notre Dame Invitational.

The high point of the entire season was, for St. John’s, the MIAC championship meet held on the St. John’s campus. It was a big day for the St. John’s harriers. Chuck Ceronsky took first place in the fivemile run in a time of 25 minutes, 42.4 seconds (25:42.4). Jeff Brain was third, Cragg fourth, Skaja tenth and Michael Feneis thirteenth. It was a happy day for relieved Jim Smith. He was worried throughout the race about the condition of the team, for there had been many injuries shortly before the meet, especially a knee injury to John Cragg. It was the only MIAC race in his four years of competition that Cragg came in other than in first place. As Jim Smith said, “He was happy even to finish.”

The 1968-69 conference tournament was a happy and memorable occasion for Coach Smith. It was not merely that his team won the championship title, though that was the crowning point of the day, but also that it was the first time the faculty and student body were able to witness a full-fledged cross-country meet, and they were won over. He was especially well pleased with the support of the students and faculty: “Having so many supporters out there really encourages the runners, especially during the last mile” (Record, November 8, 1968). The coaches of the other MIAC teams agreed that the field at St. John’s was much more diversified than that of Lake Nokomis, the traditional site of the cross-country meets.

Winners of all-conference honors were Chuck Ceronsky, John Cragg and Jeff Brain. Smith took his top seven runners to the NAIA national meet held in Oklahoma City, where the Johnnies placed eighth.

Roster: Jeff Brain, Chuck Ceronsky, John Cragg, George Diehl, Michael Feneis, Jon Kallman, Joseph Skaja

Conference standing: (1) St. John’s, 31; (2) Macalester, 43; (3) Augsburg, 83; (4) Gustavus, 103; (5) Duluth, 112; (6) St. Thomas, 151; (7) Hamline, 155

– 1969-70 –

The 1969 cross-country team was basically the same as that of 1968, a well-balanced group that won the MIAC championship for the following two years. There was a solid reason for their success, namely, the running of the most powerful foursome the MIAC had ever seen before: John Cragg, Chuck Ceronsky, Jeff Brain and Joe Skaja. The group was so closely knit together that their only danger in the MIAC was the possibility of injuries that could disrupt their racing strategy. Coach Smith said that Cragg in particular was a very smart runner, though Cragg himself insisted that his only strategy was to get ahead and stay there.

The 1969 Jays won the MIAC championship easily by taking the first four places. Cragg was the individual champion of the meet, coming in ahead of Ceronsky who had taken first place the year before. The team, in fact, so dominated the meet that it placed four runners on the all-conference team-Cragg, Ceronsky, Brain and Skaja. Following the MIAC meet, Coach Smith took the team to Wheaton, Illinois, to compete in the NCAA Division III national championships.

The team did not fare well, however, though Cragg continued to run well and placed second in the 350-man field. The rest of the team failed to run according to their potential, and St. John’s as a team took ninth place.

Cragg was awarded the title All-American and eligibility to participate in the next meet in a higher division. His private triumph was coming in ahead of Dirkes, his special nemesis from St. Cloud State, who finished the race in fourth place.

Roster: Jeff Brain, Chuck Ceronsky (co-captain), John Cragg, Jon Kallman, Edward Kosiba, Michael Kremer, Paul Muckerheide (co-captain), Norbert Schneider, Joseph Skaja

Conference standing: (1) St. John’s, 31; (2) Macalester, 47; (3) Augsburg, 64; (4) St. Thomas, 132; (5) Hamline, 132; (6) Duluth, 147; (7) Gustavus, 170

– 1970-71 –

Chuck Ceronsky graduated in the spring of 1970 but remained at St. John’s to work for the master’s degree in theology. As an additional activity to keep in shape and help St. John’s retain the conference title he assisted Jim Smith in both cross-country and track. Ceronsky was the only member of the famous St. John’s foursome in cross-country who was missing for the 1970 campaign, but the vacated place was quickly filled by a new cross-country star in the person of Dave Lyndgaard, and prospects immediately brightened. To the top performers of the last few years were also added Norbert Schneider and Mike Kremer, both promising competitors for entrance into the charmed circle. In the offing were James Boehlke, Kurt Wegleitner and David Arch, also good prospects.

Coach Smith scheduled three of the big invitational’s that had become popular in the hope that the team might jell early for the MIAC conference meet to be held at the St. Cloud Country Club, with St. John’s as the host school. An effort was made to schedule some dual meets also. Information about the outcome of the meets is scanty, however. About all the information available is that St. John’s took first place in the St. Cloud Invitational, with John Cragg winning first place, followed by Joe Skaja (third), Jeff Brain (fourth), Dave Lyndgaard (twelfth) and Jon Kallman (nineteenth).

In 1970, for the second year in a row, St. John’s won the MIAC championship, with Macalester taking second place. John Cragg and Jeff Brain finished their races in first and second places, respectively. Winners of all-conference honors were five of the St. John’s runners: John Cragg, Jeff Brain, Joe Skaja, Dave Lyndgaard and, Norbert Schneider.

Coach Jim Smith entered the St. John’s harriers in both the NAIA and NCAA national championships. In the NCAA Division II group St. John’s took eighth place: Cragg won second place and was awarded the All-American title for the second time

Roster: David Arch, James Boehlke, Jeff Brain, John Cragg, Jon Kallman, Michael Kremer, David Lyndgaard, Norbert Schneider, Joseph Skaja, Kurt Wegleitner Conference standing: (1) St. John’s, 26; (2) Macalester, 56; (3) St. Thomas, 93; (4) Augsburg, 113; (5) Duluth, 118; (6) Hamline, 131; (7) Gustavus, 181

– 1971-72 –

In a long article that appeared in the Record (November 2, 1971), sportswriter Jim Boehlke, who was also a cross-country runner, wrote a preview of the 1971 cross-country season. Apparently exhausted by the effort, he left to some future writer the task of reporting on the meet. Fortunately, a one-page summary of cross-country history was located, entitled “St. John’s Cross-Country Highlights 1967-75,” which reveals that the 1971 meet really was held, that St. John’s won the championship, that Joe Skaja was the individual champion and that three St. John’s runners were awarded all-conference honors: Joe Skaja, Mike Kremer and Dave Lyndgaard. In other words, the 1971 cross-country team was a memorable success.

But Jim Boehlke’s article was enlightening. Starting with the theory that distance runners are not born but made, and “that any group of harriers is only as good as the runners themselves make it,” he analyzes the qualities of mind and body that are needed: “The physical attributes, the competitive spirit, and the love of sport are all requirements for distance running, but the name of the game is discipline. . . . The quest of this discipline makes cross-country the most mentally stringent sport of all” (Record, November 2, 1971).

Boehlke pointed out that, although John Cragg and Jeff Brain had graduated and the quality of the team was less than it was in 1970-71, the basic quality of the team suffered little loss because of compensation made by the fabulous increase in the dedication of the entire squad. If it is true that dedication and hard work make the distance runner, then the 1971 team was sure to be a success.

Joe Skaja set the pace by his rigorous training program. Six days of the week he ran a distance of twelve miles a day, running seven miles every morning and five, six or seven in the afternoon. His example was contagious. “Two years ago only the top five ran regularly each morning,” wrote Boehlke. “Now, however, no less than twelve run twice a day. Competition is stiffer and no one can let himself slip, or even let anyone catch up.” He warned them, “You are your own coach, and you’d better not ease up on your one-man team” (Record, November 2, 1971, p. 3).

The analysis and advice must have been observed, for the 1971 Jays again were the MIAC champions. But it was not an easy title to win. Dave Lyndgaard, who along with Joe Skaja was a leading figure in the development of the team, wrote of the problems that arose during the MIAC meet and how the hard work and self-discipline had paid off:

“The team suffered a considerable blow when Norb Schneider (allconference ’70) fell during the MIAC meet and sustained a leg injury that prevented him from completing the race. The meet was held in a driving rain storm; Dave Lyndgaard fell twice during the race but avoided injury and finished eighth.

“Mike Kremer’s fifth place finish, coupled with Mike Fahey’s twelfth place, helped considerably to offset Schneider’s loss. The real hero of the meet was Kevin Gallagher, who rose to the occasion and came up with a very creditable race to assure SJU’s continued domination over the MIAC. Joe Skaja established himself as the MIAC’s premier distance runner that year when he arrived all alone at the finish line, well ahead of second place finisher Urho Rahkola of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.”

Roster: James Boehlke, Kevin Carlson, Michael Fahey, Kevin Gallagher, David Kayser, Michael Kremer, Nicholas Overby, Andrew Riehl, Chris Rose, Norbert Schneider, Joseph Skaja, Kurt Wegleitner

Joe Skaja

The year 1971-72 marks the end of Joe Skaja’s career as a cross country and track man at St. John’s. He was a fierce competitor, colorful and ambitious to reach the top as a runner. In an interview at the close of his college years he named two highlights of his running career: first, his winning of second place in the 26-mile marathon held at Drake University in 1968, when he was only in his freshman year in college; second, his defeat in 1970 of John Cragg in the three-mile MIAC race when he came in ahead of John Cragg, whom he considered the best runner in St. John’s history. Skaja’s exit from running was spectacular. In the MIAC track meet of 1972 he won all the distance races, the one-mile, the three-mile and six-mile. He was a three-time all-conference winner in cross-country and track-1969, ’70, ’71. He won the All-American award in track in 1972.

Joe’s choice of a profession was to teach in high school and coach. He is now living in Exeter, New Hampshire, however, and, of all things, is the designer for NIKE, the world’s number one manufacturer of running shoes.

– 1972-73 –

Jim Boehlke in his preview of the 1972 cross-country season (Record, September 15, 1972) predicted good things for the Johnnies. It was almost an unqualified prediction, for though the team would miss the “indestructible Joe Skaja,” the core of the team was made up of well established runners such as the talented Dave Lyndgaard, Kevin Carlson, Mike Fahey and Nicholas Overby. There was also an impressive array of freshman runners coming up that included some of the ten best runners in the public and Catholic schools of the state, among them Pat Feehan, Timothy Heisel, Timothy Miles and Al Van Landschoot from Catholic high schools, and Bill Martell from Wisconsin. Coaches Smith and Ceronsky were assured of the depth that sometimes wins track and cross-country meets despite the lack of star performers. As for the other schools in the conference, this was, they felt, the year for beating the Johnnies, now four-time champions of the MIAC.

The schedule for 1972 was heavy with invitational’s: Iowa State, Luther, Bemidji, Manitoba, St. Cloud, Notre Dame and St. Olaf. After the meet at Bemidji, from which St. John’s emerged in fifth place, it became evident that the Tommies were beginning to overshadow the Jays andante element of disquiet began to make itself felt on the squad. Chuck Ceronsky, however, after watching the team practice, observed signs that encouraged him. He remarked, “Don’t tell the boys I said it, but Lyndgaard is going to take the conference” (Record, November 3, 1972, p. 4). He was correct; St. John’s again won the MIAC championship. Lyndgaard blazed his way to the front for first place and the individual championship of the conference. He showed himself to be a complete leader, one who thrived under competition, as was demonstrated again in 1973 when he won the NCAA All-American award in cross-co un try.

In a subsequent report Dave Lyndgaard gave his own account of what took place in the 1972-73 conference meet: “In one of my fondest memories of sports, St. John’s responded to the challenge with an outstanding team effort. My knee by this time had grown strong enough for me to win the race and to continue the string of SJU runners who won the individual title. Then a flu-ridden Tim Heisel managed to finish sixth. Almost unbelievably, Kevin Carlson completed the race in fifth place, a totally unexpected surprise. Nick Overby, running the race of the season, slipped to twelfth place. The real surprise was Pat Feehan. A spring knee injury had kept Pat from training all summer and limited his training that fall. Spurred on by the knowledge that his teammate and friend Mike Fahey was still too weak from the flu to help the Jays, Pat clinched the title for SJU with a thirteenth place finish. Bothered afterwards by the knee injury, this was to be the last race in which Feehan was able to compete at, or even near to, full strength.”

In the NAIA district play-offs at Como Park, St. John’s came out in first place with a score of 45 points, St. Thomas had 53 and Hamline 89. Dave Lyndgaard led the Johnnies with a first place finish in the meet and taking the 1972 individual title.

– 1973 –

The 1973 cross-country season lacked much of the drama of 1972, probably by the fact that this year St. John’s relinquished its five-year reign over the MIAC. The Jays finished the season in second place behind Hamline, which had been coming up fast with a strong team. As the season developed it gradually became evident that, however strong St. John’s might be, Hamline was just a shade stronger. The final MIAC meet score of the two contending colleges was 38-50, a matter of only twelve points difference. In the MIAC meet Dave Lyndgaard ended in fourth place, Jerry Faletti fifth, Tim Heisel eighth, Kevin Carlson ninth and Nick Overby eleventh.

In the absence of cross-country information in the Record, Captain Lyndgaard wrote a summary of the season, as follows:

“Prospects for the 1973 season appeared bright as the St. John’s harriers began preparing for the defense of the MIAC cross-country title. After all, last year’s entire varsity had returned and included as special features Captain Dave Lyndgaard, the holder of the MIAC 1972 cross-country title. There were also on the team two champions from the track team: namely, Tim Heisel in the steeplechase and Kevin Carlson in the three-mile run. Early successes were even more encouraging. The 1972 conference runner up, St. Thomas, was an even stronger team than in 1972, and yet St. John’s handled the Tommies easily in early meets. The only worry and obstacle to a repetition of the championship was the young and rapidly developing Hamline team.

“Hamline avoided St. John’s during the regular season by not scheduling the invitational’s traditionally attended by both schools and set the showdown for the MIAC meet in St. Paul. A veteran but apprehensive St. John’s squad confronted the Pipers at the MIAC  meet. Their fears were realized when Hamline defeated the Johnnies, despite a strong effort by the Jays. The following week, on the same field, the two teams took aim at each other again. St. John’s improved on its efforts at the MIAC, but so likewise did Hamline, with the results being the same-Hamline first and St. John’s second.

“The loss was a bitter disappointment to St. John’s, but the team resolved to run well at the NCAA national tournament-and well they did. A difference of a few seconds in the races separated Hamline and St. John’s, but the Pipers once again came out ahead.”

-1976 –

St. John’s harriers, beginning with 1973, never lost sight of their glory days in cross-country history, 1968-72, when for five straight years the C-C teams won the MIAC championship. Each fall the distance runners set their sights on being the team to begin another championship tradition, only to be disappointed again. In 1975 injuries were their stumbling block; in 1976 it was injuries and study abroad. Coach Lyndgaard was dismayed when he learned that two of his stars, Dale Gross and Joe Perske, were spending the year in a study abroad program. It was not because there was a great lack of talent on his squad that the coach was disappointed. He considered his freshman crop perhaps the best group of beginners ever assembled at St. John’s. There were among them Joseph Sokolowski, the two-mile Minnesota high school champion; Loren Ehrmantraut; Joe Metzger, an excellent prospect; Michael O’Brien; Timothy Hendricks and Chris Napp. But again the old injury nemesis cropped up: Joe Sokolowski missed most of the season because of the recurrence of a summer leg injury and Joe Metzger suffered an ankle injury that reduced his effectiveness.

The 1976 cross-country team qualified for the NAIA District 13 play-offs in St. Paul, and from there drove to Cleveland “to leg out 8,000 meters in the NCAA Division III meet.” Steve Gathje again led the way, finishing number 101 in a field of 400 runners. Freshman Tim McKenna was number 108 and Andy Cragg 133 (Record, November 19, 1976).

– 1977 –

The 1977 cross-country team, again coached by Dave Lyndgaard, was led by co-captains Andy Cragg and Dan McGuinn. The team was made up largely of juniors and sophomores that included some of the best distance runners that had come to St. John’s over the previous three years: juniors Pete Gathje, Joe Perske and Dean Ward, sophomores Loren Ehrmantraut, Joe Metzgerand Joe Sokolowski. AndyCragg was generally considered the number one man, at least the most experienced, and Pete Gathje, who was a qualified national meet runner in the NAIA track meet in 1977, was number two; sophomore Joe Sokolowski was particularly well talented.

Nevertheless, it was a strong team that lined up at the starting posts and posed an attainable challenge to St. Thomas for the 1976 title: Captain Steve Gathje was a talented, experienced runner, one of the outstanding MIAC harriers of the 1970’s. Others were seniors Kevin Riley, Chris Lee and Dan Carroll; juniors Andy Cragg and D2n Mc- Guinn; sophomores Peter Gathje, Norton Hatlie, Tim McKenna and Dean Ward; freshmen Loren Ehrmantraut, Joe Metzger, Joe Sokolowski, Tim Hendricks and Chris Napp.

The St. John’s harriers ended their regular season with a fourth place finish in the MIAC meet. Captain Steve Gathje led the Johnnies with an eleventh place finish. Coach Lyndgaard wrote about the meet: “Excellent performances from Andy Cragg and freshman Loren Ehrmantraut allowed the Johnnies to finish a respectable fourth in the MIAC.”

As the Record commentator reported: “The effort was the culmination of an autumn full of eleven-mile runs and long hours of roadwork under the clickety stopwatch of Dave Lyndgaard, sometimes aided by his wife Barb.” Steve Gathje, in assessing the somewhat disappointing finish, said: “Inconsistency and inexperience were the two main reasons why we weren’t able to put it all together this year” (Record, November 5, 1976).

The team had one failing: the tendency to show up brilliantly as individuals sporadically but failing to put all their talents together in a concerted effort from meet to meet, thereby working more as individuals than as a team intent on winning despite the opposition. In spite of the shaky early season, Coach Lyndgaard remained optimistic. His patience paid off for, finally, at Carleton, the last invitational before the MIAC meet, the St. John’s harriers put all their talents together and demonstrated that they could run with the best colleges in the country.

St. John’s took third place in the Carleton Invitational’s, a step ahead of St. Thomas. Coach Lyndgaard was confident that his team had the stuff to out-run even the Hamline Pipers, whose power, it was reported, was awesome. “If we run the race we’re capable of,” he said, “we should be able to run with anyone in the conference. Barring injuries and sickness, by conference meet time we should be able to field a very tough twelve-man squad” (Record, October 7, 1977).

Coach Lyndgaard summed up the results of the MIAC meet succinctly: “St. John’s finished fourth, despite a very strong race from Sokolowski. The Johnnies by a narrow margin missed qualifying for  the NAIA national meet, but managed to finish in the middle of the field at the NCAA national meet in Cleveland” (summary notes by Dave Lyndgaard).

All the MIAC teams were beaten to the finish line by the Pipers of Hamline. St. Olaf and St. Thomas were next in line, with the Johnnies coming in fourth. Joe Sokolowski placed sixth, Andy Cragg 21st, Pete Gathje 24th, Joe Perske 25th, Joe Metzger 28th and Loren Ehrmantraut 33rd.

Roster: Andrew Cragg, Loren Ehrmantraut, Tom Gasperlin, Peter Gathje, Norton Hatlie, Tim Hendricks, Dan McGuinn, Joseph Metzger, Jim Moodie, Tom Novak, Mike O’Brien, Joseph Perske, Joseph Sokolowski, Tim Thornton, Dean Wood