UMD Hockey Reaches Climactic Weekend

John Gilbert

   The battle lines are clearly drawn for both the UYMD men’s and women’s hockey teams this weekend, and both teams are playing at AMSOIL Arena Friday and Saturday in doubleheaders.
The men  face Miami of Ohio in their final home series of the regular season, and a glance at the standings shows the Bulldogs in second place and Miami languishing in the lower reaches. However, Miami stung Denver last weekend for a split, which helped UMD regain second place by splitting at North Dakota.

   The NCHC is structured so that the playoffs involve all eight teams in a highly competitive first round, so finishing first gives St. Cloud State home ice to face the last-place team, while 7th goes to 2nd, 6th to 3rd and 5th to 4th. Home ice is huge, because those series are best-of-three, and only the four survivors advance to Xcel Center in Saint Paul for the semifinals and final, where an automatic berth in the NCAA is on the line. After facing Miami, UMD finishes at St. Cloud State, meaning that a couple victories can secure second place.

   And once the four finalists reach Saint Paul, being first is good, but being second or third isn’t bad, because those teams play each other, while the fourth seed must face St. Cloud State in the semifinals. The NCHC is so strong, the national rankings show St. Cloud State No. 1, UMD No. 3, Denver No. 6, Western Michigan No. 10, and North Dakota No. 20. It is realistic to assume that four NCHC teams will wind up among the top dozen teams and make the NCAA’s 16-team field. But a stumble this weekend could jeopardize all that, and the Bulldogs want to go into playoffs at a peak.

   On the women’s front, the Bulldogs eagerly talked about polishing off MSU-Mankato twice to assure themselves of home ice for the first playoff round in the WCHA. Instead, they struggled to ties both games, and were indeed fortunate to gain the extra single point both nights in shootouts. Still, Wisconsin lost a game to Ohio State while the Gophers swept at Bemidji State, meaning the Gophers end up as league champ with Wisconsin sescond. Because tube women only have seven teams, winning the title is enormous, because it gives the winner a bye, while everybody else must survive best-of-3 match-ups to reach Ridder Arena for the league semifinals.

   That means UMD finished fourth, behind Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State and face Bemidji State, the fifth-place team, at AMSOIL. Both games Friday and Saturday are at 2 p.m., as is Sunday’s third game, if necessary. By being in the 4 vs. 5 game, the winner will face top-seeded Minnesota at Ridder in the league semifinal, where nothing less than winning the playoff title can assure UMD of reaching the NCAA field.

St. Scholastica's Maria West led her favored teammate Aria Plewa to a 1-2 finish in the UMAC indoor track meet's mile run in 5:14.94. Photo credit: John Gilbert
St. Scholastica's Maria West led her favored teammate Aria Plewa to a 1-2 finish in the UMAC indoor track meet's mile run in 5:14.94. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Easton Foss ran away from the pack to win the men's 5,000-meters, one of three first-places the St. Scholastica senior attained.
Easton Foss ran away from the pack to win the men's 5,000-meters, one of three first-places the St. Scholastica senior attained.
The Saints Lexi Erickson cleared 5-feet to win the UMAC high jump, then ran her season's best to win the 3,000-meter run.
The Saints Lexi Erickson cleared 5-feet to win the UMAC high jump, then ran her season's best to win the 3,000-meter run.
St. Scholastica won the UMAC women's title behind performances like Liz Poskie's 19:41.40 time to win the 5,000.
St. Scholastica won the UMAC women's title behind performances like Liz Poskie's 19:41.40 time to win the 5,000.

Saints shine in UMAC Track

   With so much sectional high school hockey last weekend, it was worth the trip to St. Scholastica’s Burns Wellness Commons, the spacious facility attached to Reif Gym, and the site of the UMAC conference indoor track and field championships. And the host Saints and the Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets both took care of business impressively in the two-day event.

   St. Scholastica won the women’s title with 219.5 points, to runner-up UWS, with had 161.5. On the men’s side, UWS won with 221 points, to runner-up St. Scholastica’s 160. But some of the specific events were captivating.
One was the women’s mile run. Escaping the pack late, Maria West won to lead a 1-2 Saints finish, with Aria Plewa second. But here’s the storybook twist: Plewa was favored and top-seeded, but West ran smoothy and easily and finished with a 5:14.94 time — an astounding 26 seconds under her seed time.
Not lost in the chase for drama, St. Scholastica senior Easton Foss from Pine City was No. 1 seed in the men’s mile and Ryan Anderson of Minnesota-Morris was second, but Anderson led a cluster of runners, with Foss moving into position and passing for the lead. Anderson, however, stayed close, and on the final lap he put on a surprising burst and repassed Foss to win it in one of the more exciting finishes of the day.

   Foss, however, wasn’t done. After a short rest, he came back to run the 5,000-meter event. That also was a battle, but Foss moved into first place and pulled away to win with a time of 15:49.92 for St. Scholastica. Then he joined the distance medley relay unit, which also won, in 11:05.07. If that wasn’t enough, Foss came back on Saturday and won the 3,000-meter run at 8:58.57.

   The Saints women were the story of the weekend, starting with Friday’s first events. Elizabeth Poskie was in third place for much of the women’s 5,000 meters, but when she moved into the lead, she steadily pulled away and won with a time of 19:41.40.
Lexi Erickson, from International Falls, started the meet by winning the women’s high jump, clearing 5-feet, one-quarter inch, then she came back and won the women’s 3,000-meter run with a 10:53.10, which was her best time of the indoor season.
   UWS was just as dominant in the men’s competition as the Saints women, and the competitive level of the top track athletes in the UMAC was doubly impressive to show the spirit and teamwork of Division III athletes. The Saints and Yellowjackets had less success in basketball and hockey.
The UWS women’s basketball team had won everything in sight since joining the UMAC four years ago, but this year they suffered their first league defeat against Bethany Lutheran, the team they faced for the UMAC playoff final and an automatic regional NCAA berth. Bethany’s Hanna Gersfeld made a free throw with five seconds remaining to break a 54-all tie and give Bethany a 55-54 victory that ended Superior’s season at 24-3.

   UMD’s men and women swept basketball games from Minnesota-Crookston, the women winning 77-49 and the men 76-67 in a game UMD could claim scoring balance, with five players in double figures. That was the good news; the bad news was that nobody scored more than 13, which was attained by  both Ngom Mamadou and Logan Rohrscheib, while Sean Burns, Jake Paper and Brandon Myer each had 10. It was a weird game for Myer, who was called for several fouls in congestion and fouled out of the game. Harrison Cleary scored 23 for Crookston.

   The men came back to whip Bemidji State 74-62 with Myer scoring 25 with 13 rebounds in their season finale, giving the Bulldogs third place in the North Division and the right to play host to Winona State Wednesday in a first-round playoff game. The women beat Bemidji State 68-47 behind Sarah Grow’s 18 points, giving the UMD women a home playoff opener Wednesday against Southwest Minnesota State.