Louie St. George: UMD men hope to bounce back from rugged 2009-10

University of Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Gary Holquist expected some adversity entering the 2009-10 season. The Bulldogs, who started three freshmen and a sophomore, were simply too young to think otherwise.

University of Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Gary Holquist expected some adversity entering the 2009-10 season. The Bulldogs, who started three freshmen and a sophomore, were simply too young to think otherwise.

Holquist never had the luxury of easing his youngsters into the lineup. Instead, it was a season of on-the-job training, with the knowledge that the struggles his team endured would pay off in the future.

"We took our lumps," Holquist said at the team's recent media day. "You don't want to say it was by design, but it was something that we knew had the potential to happen. We made a conscious decision to go young last year. When you start a 17-, 18-year-old kid that's going against 24- and 25-year-old men, you are going to struggle."

The result was a 7-20 record -- a rare down year for a program that has made a habit of churning out 20-win campaigns and challenging for conference crowns. The bright side, however, is that the Bulldogs have a much better understanding of what it takes to be successful. And the struggles of a year ago fueled intense off-season workouts, giving the Bulldogs a constant source of motivation.

Tired of being bullied, they're ready to fight back.


"I think it's going to help a lot because we got pushed around a lot, we got beat down [in 2009-10]," junior guard Ryan Rasmussen said. "Adversity-wise, we just didn't show up. If we got punched in the mouth, we backed down last year. This year, I think if we're going to get punched, we're gonna deliver a punch right back."

Though still relatively young, the Bulldogs return four starters: Rasmussen and sophomores Jake Hottenstine, Dylan Rodriguez and Erik Powers. Throw in senior Rhett McDonald, a potent long-distance shooter, sophomore Division I transfer Riley Walker (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and redshirts Sean Mayberry and Joe Paschka, and UMD appears poised to dramatically improve upon last season's win total.

In doing so, Holquist anticipates a return to the physical play that's become a program trademark. Spectators at Romano Gymnasium had become accustomed to thick bodies patrolling the paint for the Bulldogs. That's just the way it's always been: UMD dominates the glass, plays a relentless, bruising defense and benefits from open looks along the perimeter when opponents sag inside.

Holquist is itching to get back to the imposing style that has suited the Bulldogs so well over the years. It's not always sexy, but it sure has been effective.

"It's going to be a UMD mentality," said Holquist, who's entering his 14th season as the Bulldogs' head coach.

Holquist hopes the Bulldogs mirror another characteristic of past teams: unmistakable swagger. He saw encouraging signs throughout the off-season. For starters, UMD began working out together two weeks before school started, for up to five hours a day, four days a week. That commitment is something that can't be taught, and it's a sign the young Bulldogs are taking ownership in the program.

"I see what I saw in our other championship teams, our other benchmark teams," Holquist said. "When you look over our teams that were good, championship teams that knew how to compete, knew how to play with effort and intensity -- I see the same kind of makings in this team. And I thought that would come to fruition with this group, and I see it happening."

UMD opens Nov. 13 with an exhibition game at Green Bay, and starts the regular season Nov. 15 at home against Northland College.


In the meantime, there's work to be done.

"We just want to win games," said Rasmussen, who averaged 18 points a game last season. "That's sort of vague, but I think that we have the talent, we have the guys that want to be here and we've been working so hard all off-season. I feel like if we come together and we can practice hard through the first month before our games start, I think we'll win a lot of games this year."

Random rumblings

  • High school football playoffs start next week across Minnesota.
  • Matt Aro won last weekend's Wild Duluth 100K in a time of 11 hours and 35 minutes -- nearly an hour ahead of the second-place finisher. Jakob Wartman won the 50K in 4:26, while Doug Jannusch was the half-marathon winner in 1:47.
  • The women's basketball team at UMD returns three starters from last season, when the Bulldogs went 20-11 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
  • The Duluth Amateur Youth Basketball Association (DAYBA) continues to accept rec basketball registrations for boys and girls in grades 5-8. Visit for more information.
  • There was an intriguing idea put forth by Duluth News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers in a column earlier this week: He suggested the University of Minnesota Gophers football team take a hard look at UMD's Bob Nielson while searching for a replacement for ousted coach Tim Brewster. Why not? Nielson has won wherever he's been, and though the Gophers appear inclined to make a splashy hire that mobilizes their fans, winning is the ultimate cure-all. Nielson has proven he knows how to do just that.

Duluth sportswriter Louie St. George III can be reached via .

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