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Howie Hanson: UMD joins D-2 big leagues

Community and alumni support is strong and building for Minnesota Duluth's move to the North Central Conference (NCC) in 2004-05, Bulldogs athletic director Bob Corran said earlier this week.

Community and alumni support is strong and building for Minnesota Duluth's move to the North Central Conference (NCC) in 2004-05, Bulldogs athletic director Bob Corran said earlier this week.

"Our Bulldog Club and national advisory board, a group of about 50 people, sensed that people would step up to support the move and judging from the calls and e-mails that I've received, so far so good," Corran said Thursday.

The move to the NCC is long overdue, said advisory board member and former Bulldogs basketball star Roger Hanson.

"Our biggest issue as an advisory board was to determine if we can raise the money needed to compete in the NCC, and we're confident that we can," Hanson said. "We believe the money will partially come from increased attendance and deeper giving to the Bulldog Club, which is already happening. The exciting part for fans is the competition in the NCC is excellent, and as good as it gets at the D-2 level."

"It's an outstanding move to the NCC," former Bulldogs football great and local businessman Nick Patronas said. "We have a big-time football program at UMD with Bob Nielson, and now we're moving it to a big-time conference where the Bulldogs can really shine and use their talents. It's great for the town, the university and everybody."

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Indeed, the NCC is one of the best NCAA Division II conferences in the country, and all Bulldogs men's and women's teams will be forced to play at even higher levels in order to be competitive.

"This is where our program needs to be to provide the best competitive opportunity for our student-athletes," Corran said.

But stepping up will also come at a higher price: about $300,000 on top of the school's already expanded $5 million annual athletic department budget, Corran said. The budget increase will be primarily driven by additional scholarships for football and, like Hanson, Corran is banking on increased attendance at all Bulldogs sporting events and an increase in fund raising to make up the difference.

Football scholarships will increase to 30 from 21 currently, and likely to a league and NCAA maximum of 36 in the near future, Corran said.

No cuts will be made in athletics to balance the budget, Corran said.

"While we will have to make some adjustments in our budgeting, we really do feel that the increase is modest enough that we can handle it through increased fund raising and other measures," he said.

UMD men and women teams, through successful recruiting and hard work, have outgrown the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, where they continue to dominate most sports.

"Our teams have certainly proven themselves in the NSIC, having won the last 10 all-NSIC sports titles," said UMD sports information director Bob Nygaard.

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Quote City

Gophers coach Dan Monson on Rick Rickert: "Rick is progressing very well. He has taken more of a leadership role this season, and has improved his defense and rebounding. I think his experience from last year will enable him to have a more consistent season this year, and also a more well-rounded game."

John Gilbert, who is freelancing automotive and sports features in the Twin Cities, Chicago and nationally, and just finished a book about the 2001-02 Gopher men's hockey team and its rise to the NCAA championship, on the 2002-03 Bulldogs men's and women's hockey teams: "UMD (men) played hard, battling superior foes on equal terms, but had a terrible struggle scoring goals the last two years. But as well as UMD played at the end of last year, they only won six games all season in the WCHA, and after accounting for about one-third of UMD's scoring, Judd Medak, Tommy Nelson and Andy Reierson all graduated. It's Scott Sandelin's third year as coach, and his recruits need to prove his confidence in their scoring ability. I think the 'Dawgs can move up this season, but it's a tall order to expect them to contend with the likes of Denver, Minnesota, St. Cloud State and Colorado College for the top four spots. That means all they have to do is beat out North Dakota, Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and Mankato State to get home-ice for the playoffs.

"UMD women's hockey coach Shannon Miller is a superb coach, bold and daring in her approach and style of play. With Jenny Potter back in uniform from the Olympics, and Maria Rooth, Erika Holst and Hanne Sikio leading a strong crop of returnees, plus some outstanding freshmen -- particularly Caroline Ouellette from the Canadian Olympic team -- the Bulldogs are loaded. Minnesota is loaded, too, however, and those two should battle hammer and tongs for the WCHA title. Both also should wind up among the final foursome at the NCAA tournament at the DECC in March."

Roger Hanson on his recent right hip replacement surgery, seven years after having his left hip replaced: "The cartilage basically deteriorated down to bone to bone after all the basketball and running I did into my 50s. I will be able to walk, play golf, swim and bike, but now without pain. But I no longer play basketball or run marathons. I recommend the surgery highly."

Duluth City Council President Donny Ness on the prospect of watching Northwoods League college-aged players competing at Wade Stadium next summer: "What could be better than baseball at the Wade on a warm summer night? From what I understand of the Northwoods League, it will be a great match for our community. Minor league baseball represents the soul of heartland America. I am so thankful that Duluth will still have baseball."

Minor league baseball guru Jon Winter on Duluth getting a team in the college wooden bat league: "I'm looking forward to seeing young players on the way up to professional baseball. The Northwoods League players will be more representative of future major league players than the Northern League was here. It may take four or five years after a player is here to make it up to the major leagues, but it will be exciting to watch them go though the minor leagues. It's said that one of six major leaguers played in the Cap Cod League (similar level to the Northwoods League). Currently there are a half dozen or so former NWL players in the majors, and I would expect that number to grow more rapidly now that the league itself is maturing."

UMD assistant women's basketball coach Sue Fiero on the Bulldogs: "The strength of our team is the strong work ethic of the players. They're dedicated and have a ton of spirit, and have worked their tails off in the preseason. Our defense and intensity are key."

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Arrowhead Youth Soccer Association (AYSA) board member Sue Hanson on the program: "AYSA soccer is the best thing that could happen for our youth. It gives them something to put their energy in and take time off their hands. I feel that the AYSA youth soccer program helps the kids become the best soccer players in the Northland."

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