Just hearing the names of Salem, Va., and Appleton, Wis., brings back sweet memories to many current and recent St. Thomas athletes and coaches.
Over the last 17 years, a dozen St. Thomas sports teams in five different sports have advanced either to Salem, Va., or Appleton, Wis., for elite national championships play.
Seven different Tommie teams traveled to Virginia, and three won Division III crowns.
- 2004 Softball under John Tschida beat seven other teams to claim the NCAA championship;
- 2011 and 2016 Men's Basketball under Steve Fritz and later John Tauer each went 2-0 to take the NCAA crowns;
- 2012 and 2015 Football under Glenn Caruso played in the Stagg Bowl title games and were NCAA runners-up;
- 2014 Men's Basketball under Tauer and 2016 Men's Soccer under Jon Lowery lost semifinal games to share third place in D-III.
Five Tommie Baseball teams traveled to Appleton for national tournaments from 2000-2014, and two won Division III titles.
- The 2001 and 2009 UST teams under Dennis Denning were national champs;
- The 2000 squad under Denning was NCAA runner-up;
- the 2012 and 2014 teams under Chris Olean each placed third.
But even if several St. Thomas' teams can continue to compete near the top of Division III, future trips to Salem will be reduced, especially on the men's side.
The NCAA announced Tuesday that its Division III football, men's basketball and baseball championships will move to other sites starting in 2018-19. Salem does remain in rotations for some softball and women's basketball championships.
For football, that will mark the end of a 25-year Stagg run. In men's basketball, it will be a 23-year Final Four streak ending at the Salem Civic Center. Salem officials say they're disappointed at Tuesday's news but didn't rule out future bids.
Appleton's 2018 baseball tournament, ably hosted by UW-Oshkosh and Lawrence University, will end an 19-year run. A D3Baseball.com story said the city decided not to bid for the 2019-22 cycle.
Football will stay in Salem for the 2017 Stagg Bowl; move to the Houston, Texas, area for 2018 and 2019 title games; then shift to Canton, Ohio, for the 2020 and 2021 title contests.
Men's Basketball remains in Salem for the March 2018 Final Four, then starts a four-year run in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The eight-team Division III Baseball tourney moves to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a four-year cycle starting in 2019.
Salem has distinguished itself for its hospitality, attention to detail and game management. Time will tell if the new sites can provide the same high-quality experience, although Minnesota fans likely will have better travel options.
Tommie fans who drove to Salem faced a 17-hour trip covering nearly 1,100 road miles. Unless you took a charter flight, there were several airports to choose in that region, although those fans still faced a two-plus hour drive to reach the competition site.
If you're fortunate enough to qualify, Houston would present a near 1,200-mile trip from St. Paul, although that city likely will have a better airline situation, as well as warmer game weather. The campus of last year's champion, Mary Hardin-Baylor, is within 150 miles. UMHB often makes a deep playoff run, so anyone facing them in 2018 or 2019 will find that location to be like a road game.
The Canton, Ohio stadium set to host in 2020 and 2021 is part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame complex, and its game-night weather could be even cooler than Salem. It's 665 miles from the Twin Cities to Canton, making driving an option, and that also would offer some good airport choices into Akron, Cleveland or Columbus. A potential challenge in traveling there is if perennial power Mount Union (19 Stagg Bowls) is your opponent, UMU's campus is 15 miles away, so it will be like playing a road game. It's 665 miles from the Twin Cities to Canton.
For men's basketball, the Fort Wayne arena is about 560 miles from the Twin Cities and a nine-hour direct car ride. Fort Wayne has a small airport, and three others within 75 miles are South Bend, Toledo and Kalamazoo. Chicago's airports are three hours away by car.
Today's Roanoke Times newspaper has a long story here on Salem's loss and some speculation on reasons why.
Women's Basketball will continue to play its national Final Four at a variety of sites. Next March, the D-III finals will be played in Rochester, Minn., at the Mayo Civic Center.
The Salem area will host the women's hoops championships in 2019 and 2021 on the Roanoke College campus. Columbus, Ohio, has 2020, while Pittsburgh will host the 2022 Final Four.
The eight-team Division III Softball tourney moves to Oklahoma City for 2017 and 2018; returns to Tyler, Texas, for a two-year run in 2019 and 2020; and heads back to Salem for the 2021 and 2022 tournaments.
In D-III volleyball, the next five national tournaments will be held in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Pittsburgh; Cedar Rapids; St. Louis; and Columbus.
Click on the link above to see the complete list of NCAA D-III championship sites covering a four-year span starting in 2018-19.
Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working in his 23rd season at St. Thomas and 29th overall in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.
If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org