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UMD softball team honors missing ex-teammate

Minnesota Duluth softball captains Tyra Kerr, Michaela Goris and Kierra Jeffers were in their hotel room in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday afternoon when they received a text saying that former teammate Mandy Matula had gone missing.

UMD softball team
University of Minnesota Duluth women's softball players wrote the number 14 and a heart on their forearms at their hotel this morning in support of Mandy Matula. Seven of the Bulldogs team members played with Matula when she was at the school. A couple of them went to high school with her as well. The team played Concordia-St. Paul in a tournament in Rochester, Minn., on Friday. (Photo by Dean Riggott Photography)

Minnesota Duluth softball captains Tyra Kerr, Michaela Goris and Kierra Jeffers were in their hotel room in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday afternoon when they received a text saying that former teammate Mandy Matula had gone missing.

They were shocked, and at first didn't want to believe it. It had to be a different Mandy, they thought -- but then they went online and received confirmation of what they feared. Matula was the one reported missing in the Twin Cities.

"We looked online and saw her picture, and instantly, the emotions just flooded," Goris said. "We all immediately just started bawling. It was really emotional trying to wrap our heads around what was happening. All we knew was what was online and that was very little.

"We consider the Bulldogs like a family, so once you play on the team together, you're sisters. It honestly felt like what they said happened to my sister. There is nothing more horrifying than not knowing. It's just awful."

The UMD softball team is in Rochester for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament. Matula pitched and played in the outfield for the Bulldogs from 2008-11.

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Eden Prairie, Minn., police said they were notified about 8:30 a.m. Thursday that Matula, 24, was missing. She failed to show up for work that day. She was last seen by her family about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Police said they believe Matula was at Miller Park in Eden Prairie about 1:30 a.m. Thursday with David Marshall Roe, 24, of Victoria. Eden Prairie Police Lt. Bill Wyffels said the two had a romantic relationship but were no longer dating.

Police identified Roe as a person of interest and asked him to come to the police station to speak with an investigator. Roe agreed, but when he arrived at the station about 1:30 p.m., he shot himself in his vehicle in the Eden Prairie City Center parking lot. He was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center; his condition wasn't available Friday.

Authorities have searched Miller Park and Roe's home. Police said Friday they were following up on tips, but had no new information on Matula's whereabouts.

Matula's former teammates are holding out hope for her safe return.

"I have a really strong faith, and I know God would not give us anything we can't handle," Goris said. "You couldn't ask for a better teammate than Mandy. No matter who it was, she just wanted to be your friend. She was always making people laugh. You can ask anyone who played for her, and she's just Mandy. That's the best way to describe her. Just Mandy."

Upon hearing the news that Matula was missing, UMD coach Jen Banford immediately left Rochester for Eden Prairie on Thursday night to be with the Matula family, including parents Lisa and Wayne Matula. About 10 UMD softball alumni were there.

"It was just surreal," Banford said. "It hasn't sunk in. I just can't even believe it. Everyone was hopeful and just wanting to do something but couldn't. Every time we thought there was hope when the police would come to the door, but then it would just be a letdown -- the highs and lows. It was really frustrating because there are no answers.

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"Mandy is caring, honest and hard-working. Her personality is contagious."

Banford didn't get back to Rochester until about 2 a.m. Friday morning. The Bulldogs opened NSIC tournament play Friday afternoon, beating Concordia-St. Paul 2-1 in 12 innings. Kerr scoring the winning run on a wild pitch in 12th inning.

"We're playing with heavy hearts," Banford said. "There is just a lot of anxiety in some kids and exhaustion, mentally and emotionally. It was hard to come by, but they still played great. I'm proud of them. We have tried to put ourselves in a bubble and are playing for Mandy."

The UMD softball team has dedicated the rest of its season to Matula. On Friday, players had Matula's No. 14 with a heart written on their wrists and the No. 14, a heart and her initials on their helmets.

"In all honesty I don't think anyone could find a bad thing to say about Mandy Matula," Jeffers tweeted.

Matula started each year for the Bulldogs before graduating in 2011. She batted .283 as a senior while going 5-2 with a 3.53 ERA on the mound.

Jeffers, Goris and Kerr each played two seasons with her, and UMD juniors Brooke Neuroth and Maddie Bilse both hail from Matula's hometown of Eden Prairie.

"Mandy played her heart and soul out. She loved the game and she loved this program," Goris said. "We all made a pact before the game that we were going to play for her."

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  • Matula and Roe are believed to have been traveling in a 2013 black Ford Escape with Minnesota license plate number 802-KNA when they were last seen. Eden Prairie police are asking anyone with information about Matula's whereabouts, or who may have seen her and Roe, or the vehicle, to call (952) 949-6200. News Tribune staff writer Mark Stodghill contributed to this report.

  • Mandy Matula
    Mandy Matula, who graduated from UMD in 2011, played softball for the Bulldogs.

    Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

    After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

    Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

    Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

    Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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