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UMD softball to honor former teammate Matula

Minnesota Duluth will honor the late Mandy Matula with the 1Four Mandy Weekend today and Saturday at Malosky Stadium. Matula, a former pitcher and utility player, had a .304 career batting average and 11-9 pitching record for the Bulldogs. Submitted photo

Minnesota Duluth softball coach Jen Banford will never forget the day she received a phone call from Lisa Matula last October.

Banford was on the road shooting video for the UMD women’s hockey team, and when she looked at her cellphone and saw who called, a horrible feeling came over her.

Mandy Matula, Lisa’s daughter and a former UMD softball player, had been missing nearly six months, so Banford immediately called Lisa back.

“The first thing she said was, ‘They found Mandy. They found her UMD Bulldog sweatshirt with the No. 14. I know it’s her,’ ” Banford said. “That’s the moment I’ll never forget. That just symbolizes everything right there. Her teammates meant everything to Mandy, and Mandy meant everything to us.  That is what our team is like. We’re a family.”

Mandy Matula, of Eden Prairie, Minn., was confirmed dead after human remains were found in a shallow grave on Oct. 26 in Rice, Minn., just north of St. Cloud. She was 24. Matula died of a single gunshot wound to her head. The police’s only suspect, Matula’s ex-boyfriend David Roe, committed suicide on May 2, the day she was reported missing.

The UMD softball family plans on honoring Matula today and Saturday at Malosky Stadium with 1Four Mandy Weekend as part of the Bulldogs’ home opener.

Lisa Matula is expected to make both days while Mandy’s father, Wayne, and brother, Steven, age 22, are expected Saturday.

“Mandy loved it in Duluth,” Steven Matula said. “She loved the entire town, the team, the whole school. That’s why they’re doing this dedication. She was so loyal and dedicated. She loved being a Bulldog.”

UMD hopes to make the celebration of Mandy Matula’s life an annual event. The Bulldogs also plan on retiring Matula’s No. 14 at a future date, making her the first NCAA Division II athlete at UMD so honored.

“There are really no words to describe Mandy,” Steven Matula said. “She could be all dressed up one day, and the next day, in the mud. Always outgoing.”

UMD players all have the No. 14 stitched on the sleeve of their jerseys this season. They also wear No. 14 decals on their batting helmets and sent those same decals to every team in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference to wear, as well as Eden Prairie High School. This weekend the Bulldogs will use special jerseys with the No. 14, jerseys that will be worn at every future 1Four Mandy Weekend.

“Anyone who ever knew Mandy remembers her smile and that she was selfless,” Banford said. “Mandy was just full of energy. She always found a way to get things done. She just did everything for everybody, and this is just our little way of paying tribute to her. I can’t even imagine how honored she’d be.”

Matula, whose father also went to UMD, was a starting pitcher and utility player for the Bulldogs from 2007 to 2011. She finished her career with a .304 lifetime batting average and posted an 11-9 record in 31 career pitching appearances.

Matula continued to follow the Bulldogs after graduating and even attended games when the team was in Florida.

Current UMD senior pitcher and outfielder Megan Mullen of Hermantown was a freshman for the Bulldogs during Matula’s senior year.

“Mandy was always a player who was going to push you to be your best, because she was always pushing herself to be the best,” Mullen said. “She was constantly pushing everyone, knowing it’d make the team better. I was just a freshman, but she was one of those people who always included you. She didn’t want anyone to be left out.”

Matula graduated with a degree in accounting but couldn’t foresee herself “sitting at a desk all day,” according to her brother, who said he couldn’t keep up. She was constantly on the move and into just about anything outside, including horses, golfing, hiking, water skiing and fishing.

“Mandy was very goofy,” Mullen said, laughing. “She could find that happy medium between work and play.”

A hard worker, Matula often had as many as three or four jobs in the summer and was about to start her job with the Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation Department when she was reported missing.

 The focus immediately turned to Roe, who shot himself in the head outside the Eden Prairie police station before he could be questioned about Matula’s disappearance. He was pronounced dead the next day.

Steven Matula, who started the Minnesota United page on Facebook to help search for his sister and other missing people, never gave hope but realized his sister was likely dead.

“She was out there somewhere, it was just a matter of where,” he said. “But with all the evidence, I kind of knew she was gone. I accepted that fact right away, and that helped me move on. But with my mom, she held out hope she was still alive. Most moms do.”

The UMD softball team was in the middle of NSIC tournament play last May in Rochester, Minn., when they heard the news at the team hotel. Mullen was one of the last players to find out.

“I walked into the room and said, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And nobody said a word,” Mullen said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I was told, ‘Mandy’s missing.’ My heart just dropped. It’s something you never expect to hear in your entire life, so hearing that one of your good friends, one of your teammates, one of your Bulldog family members was missing, was a hard concept to grasp.”

Banford immediately went to Eden Prairie to support the Matulas while the team soldiered on.

UMD, which finished the season 41-13, didn’t win the conference tournament but certainly challenged for the title. Banford said the way the Bulldogs played made her as proud as she has ever been as a coach.

“There really are no words that can be said for what they had to deal with and how well they played,” Banford said.

Steven Matula helped organize searches looking for Mandy from the home base at Miller Park in Eden Prairie, where the Matula siblings grew up playing baseball and softball, to the Mississippi River County Park where she was eventually found.

Steven Matula said more than 2,000 people took part in the searches. The Mississippi River park was targeted after police tracked Roe’s cellphone pings to the St. Cloud area, where he went to school for law enforcement and his parents had a lake home.

Dogs picked up a scent and Matula’s search teams scoured the area but could never find it. Steven Matula said a Boy Scout troop leader eventually found the grave last fall after animals had disturbed it.

“We had about two to three months of no new leads or anywhere to go (and search), and that’s where it got the most frustrating,” Steven Matula said. “I searched that Mississippi park at least 10 times. You need lots and lots of patience.”

Matula said finding his sister helped start bringing some closure for family and friends, while Banford said the memories of what happened have certainly carried over to this season.

UMD will honor Matula’s memory while raising awareness about domestic violence. The statistics are staggering — more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the U.S., according to — but statistics certainly don’t tell the whole story.

“Mandy had a personality that I can’t even compare to anybody else,” Mullen said. “She was always having fun, always smiling, always laughing. It’s something I’ll never forget.

“We met as a team this week and talked about how important these games are, not only for our season, but in her honor. We’re playing for Mandy this weekend.”