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Six Bulldogs Headed for the Athletics Hall of Fame

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Six Bulldogs Headed for the Athletics Hall of Fame

What do the late Gary Birkholz, Matt Christensen, Brett Hauer, Kendall Kelly, Trevor Lundgren and Pati Rolf have in common (other than Bulldog Country)? These five former All-Americans and long-time volleyball head coach will be paid a lasting tribute for their contributions to the University of Minnesota Duluth athletics on January 17, 2014, when they become the newest additions to the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame.

Gary Birkholz started three seasons on UMD’s offensive line for the football team, shifting between guard and center. During that time, he and his Bulldog mates complied a 26–3–0 overall record and captured one Northern Intercollegiate Conference championship (in 1980 when they finished a perfect 10–0–0 overall). As a senior in 1982, Birkholz was chosen to the Associated Press Little All-America first team (becoming only the fourth Bulldog at the time to be so honored) as well as the NAIA All-American second team. The Roscoe, Ill., native and two-time All-NIC selection (1981–82) received the Glen Johnson Award (UMD’s Most Valuable Lineman) as a junior and concluded his Bulldog athletic career by being voted the school’s Top Male Scholar-Athlete for 1982–83. The summer following his senior year, Birkholz received a tryout with the National Football League’s New York Jets. Sadly, Birkholz passed away after suffering a heart attack on Oct. 12,1985 at the age of 26.

Even though his playing days with the Bulldogs were tragically cut short by a pair of strokes he suffered in the final month of his farewell year, Matt Christensen still managed to accumulate the second-highest career scoring output in team history (219 points on 76 goals and 143 assists) and came up just three points shy of the all-time program record. He attained All-American second team recognition as a senior alternate team captain after being chosen to the All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association second team in each of the two previous seasons. Christiansen, a Hoyt Lakes, Minn. product, placed second on the team’s 1984–85 scoring charts with 77 points — the sixth highest single-season figure ever turned in by a Bulldog. He alaso helped lead UMD to its second straight WCHA regular season and playoff titles and a second consecutive NCAA Frozen Four berth. Prior to suffering the two strokes, Christensen skated a regular shift in 168 of 169 games. With him in the lineup, UMD was 118–44–7 — a .719 winning percentage. He anchored some of the most explosive lines in UMD history with the likes of Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Bill Watson and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull as his wingers. In 1985–86, Christensen manned the point at Bulldog power play unit that connected at a staggering (and school-record) 36.5 percent clip. Christensen, whose National Hockey League draft rights were owned by the St. Louis Blues (8th round, 1982), was among 21 players voted to the All-DECC Team by Bulldog alumni in 2010. (The DECC was UMD’s hockey home for 45 years from 1966 to 2010 before AMSOIL Arena.)

Brett Hauer, who like Christensen landed a spot on the All-DECC team, adeptly patrolled the UMD blue line for four seasons and attained NCAA I All-American first team status as a senior in 1992–93 after scoring more points than any other defenseman in the country (a career-high 56). That same winter, the Richfield, Minn., native played a key role in UMD’s conquest of the WCHA regular season title and its advancement to the NCAA playoff quarterfinals while also becoming the first UMD Bulldog to be bestowed with the WCHA’s Student-Athlete of the Year Award. A member of the 1992–93 All-WCHA first team and three-time WCHA All-Academic Team honoree, Hauer went on to compete in the inaugural East-West College Hockey Classic following his senior season. He was the recipient of UMD’s Top Male Scholar-Athlete Award for 1992–93 and currently ranks eighth among all UMD pointmen in lifetime scoring with 21 goals and 73 for 94 points in 140 games. Hauer launched a prolonged professional playing career in 1993 that included NHL stints with the Edmonton Oilers (eight points in 34 appearances during the 1995–96 and 1999–2000 seasons) and the Nashville Predators (three games in 2001–02). In all, he played 15 seasons professionally with 14 different clubs, the last of which was Basel in the Swiss A League in 2007–08. Additionally, Hauer received plenty of ice exposure on the world stage, skating for Team USA at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games as well as the 1993, 1995, 2003 and 2005 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships.

A dynamic point guard from Milwaukee, Wis., Kendall Kelly exited the UMD basketball program in the spring of 1986 with a NSIC Most Valuable Player award and an NAIA All-American Team honorable mention citation in tow. At the time, he ranked first among Bulldogs in career assists (496), second in steals (1980) and 11th in scoring (1,162 points in 113 outings for a 10.3 points per outing average). Kelly started three years in the UMD backcourt, including in 1984–85 and 1985–86 when UMD qualified for two NAIA National Tournaments. Kelly captained the Bulldogs to the 1985–86 NIC championship as a senior. He also established a program single-season record for 201 assists en route to being bestowed with All-NIC and NAIA All-District 13 recognition for the second year in a row. His record for single-season assists still stands. Kelly was selected to the 15-member UMD All-75th Anniversary Team in 2006 by Bulldog basketball alumni, paced UMD in assists three times (1983–86) and in scoring once (1984–85).

After transferring to UMD from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1986–87, Trevor Lundgren made an immediate impact with wrestling Bulldogs and proceeded to put up some prodigious numbers over the next three seasons. For starters, the Staples, Minn., native amassed a 95–10–0 career record and won all 22 of his dual matches during his UMD tenure. In his final collegiate go-around, Lundgren went 40–6–0, posted a team-high 20 pins, captured his second straight NIC 142-pound title, placed third at the NAIA National Championships and was accorded the Gorrian Trophy for registering the most falls in the least amount of time at the NAIA event. The two-time NAIA All-American (he finished third in 1988) captained the team as a senior — one season after he contributed significantly to the Bulldogs’ NSIC championship efforts. Voted UMD’s 1988–89 Outstanding Senior Male Athlete, Lundgren was part of the NAIA-USA Cultural Exchange Team that took on international wrestlers in West Germany in the late spring of his senior year. He remained at UMD the following season to serve as a student assistant coach.

Pati Rolf was the driving force behind UMD volleyball from 1988 to 2001. Over the course of those 14 seasons, she shepherded the Bulldogs to 11 NSIC volleyball championships, three NCAA II North Central Region appearances (1991, 1994 and 1998) and a 310–169 overall record. Those 310 victories stood as a UMD program high until being eclipsed by Jim Boos just last year. A five-time NSIC Coach of the Year honoree, Rolf also helped produce 10 American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Region selections and the school’s first AVCA All-American in outside hitter Jodi Jost (1996). She resigned from UMD in the spring of 2002 to take over the head coaching duties at Marquette University where she went 103–102 in seven years with the NCAA Division I Golden Eagles. Under Rolf’s watch, Marquette reeled off three straight winning seasons (2004–06) for the first time in program history in addition to making it to Conference USA Tournament finals in 2004 and the Big East Tournament semifinals two years later. Her 2004 Warriors finished with 22 victories (against just seven losses) which was a then-school record for Division I. Rolf, who spent four seasons as East Carolina University’s head coach (2009–12) and is 425–339 in 25 years of collegiate coaching, also has been a registered national volleyball official since 1990. She worked as a line judge in both the men’s and women’s volleyball competitions (including the women’s gold medal match) at the 1996 Summer Olympics and served as an official at the 2006 World Championships Qualifying Tournament and the 2007 Pan American Games. In 2003, Rolf received her Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) International Officiating Certificate making her (at the time) just one of 15 female international officials in the world. She’s a member of the North Dakota State University Hall of Fame, the Hopkins High School Hall of Fame and the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO) Hall of Fame.

The 17th UMD Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will be held at the Holiday Inn and Suite’s Lake Superior Ballroom in downtown Duluth. The event kicks off with a 11:30 a.m. brunch followed by a 12:30 p.m. induction program. Jim Rich, a native of Duluth who is now the sports director at KMSP Fox 9 TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul, will serve as the Master of Ceremonies. Rich was the television voice of UMD hockey during the better part of the 1980s with KBJR-TV, where he also served as sports director. These six inductees will also be recognized during the first period break of the UMD-Western Michigan University men’s hockey clash that evening.

The addition of this distinguished group will bring the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame membership to 121 individuals representing 21 different sports.