Tradition of Excellence: Women’s Tennis Wins 1990 National Championship

Posted on May 4th, 2020 by

Left: Amy McCrea eyes a shot against UC-San Diego in the national championship. Right: Heidi Rostberg and Molly McCormick

In the absence of sports for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, Gustavus sports information will provide a series of stories to take a look back at great moments in Golden Gustie athletics history, celebrating its proud tradition of excellence.

May 17, 1990

Gustavus Adolphus wins Division III title

By Jerry Price, Staff Writer at The Times (Trenton, N.J.)

This was to be one day, five hours, that would stay alive forever.

Molly McCormick could be retired. Heidi Rostberg could be a grandmother. They’ll both remember. Vividly.

They’ll remember that day – yesterday – when they were college freshmen and a national tennis championship was left squarely on their shoulders. They’ll remember how they had to battle and fight their way to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) victory over Kristen Diels and Amanda Lynch at third doubles that gave their Gustavus Adolphus team a 5-4 triumph over the University of California at San Diego for the NCAA’s Division III national title at Trenton State College’s Rec Center. This came after UC-SD had defeated the Golden Gusties 8-1 during spring break.

And always, no matter how many times they tell the story, it will start the same exact way:

“I never, ever dreamed we would win this way,” McCormick said.

And that will be the way the story begins. It will then unfold to tell the whole tale, how top-seeded UC-SD won three quick singles matches, how second-seeded Gustavus Adolphus of St. Peter, Minnesota won the other three singles matches to tie it, and how the first two doubles matches split to leave it 4-4 as they headed to their final set.

As for the third set, well, it went to 4-5 and then they were just two points away from losing. But back they came to salvage that game, send it to a tiebreaker, and then nail down GA’s first national championship.

“People think third doubles and don’t think it’s very good,” Rostberg said. “But every point is important. Every point counts. I’m glad it came down to us. I’d much rather be playing than watching.”

But there is more to this story than just one doubles match. Rostberg and McCormick, in fact, had grown up together in Hutchinson, Minn. They had been playing together since the seventh grade.

They were high school teammates a year ago, and they had scored the decisive point the day before the final when the Golden Gusties edged Pomona-Pitzer in the semifinals in similar fashion.

“I think that helped us,” McCormick said. “We had pulled through once and we had the confidence that we could do it again. We’ve gone through a million matches together. I remember once in the eighth grade, we were down 0-5, 0-4 in the second set and came back to win.”

Gustavus Adolphus had to come from behind yesterday and the comeback actually began in one of the losses. The six singles matches began on the outdoor courts at TSC, but they were forced inside the Rec Center by the rain. TSC, which defeated St. Olaf of Minnesota 5-2 for seventh place, has only four indoor courts, so the match had to be conducted in stages.

UC-SD won the first three, but GA’s Amy McCrea battled Christine Behrens through three tough sets at first singles. That match set the tone for the first doubles match, where McCrea and Mary Sutherland outlasted Behrens and Susan Carney 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.

“I knew we were going to get her back,” McCrea said. “I knew she couldn’t win both. We beat them in doubles during spring break, and we knew it was a key point.”

They all proved to be key points, especially when Robyn Inaba and Janet Whelan evened the match at 4-4 with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 win at second doubles. That left it up to McCormick and Rostberg, who had both won their singles matches.

“I can’t say enough about how they raised their level of play,” GA coach Jon Carlson said. “If we played this team again, it might be different. They wanted it pretty badly. After we played them the first time, I was hoping we’d see them again. They were awesome, but we wanted another shot at them.”

They got it, and they made the most of it. It made for a story not soon to be forgotten – and a national championship.

Unusual approach by Gusties coach

While the Gustavus Adolphus College women’s tennis team danced and screamed and generally went nuts over its Division III national title yesterday, an oblivious young man carried some rackets across the courts at the Trenton State College Rec Center.

He looked more like he belonged with the University of California-San Diego team whom Gustavus Adolphus had just squeaked past 5-4 to win the crown. With his messed up hair, unshaven stubble, green shorts, and docksiders, he looked like he had just awaken on one of the Southern California’s beaches.

But he was definitely from Minnesota as part of the Gustavus Adolphus contingent. In fact, he was Jon Carlson, the head coach of the Golden Gusties.

He hardly looked the part.

“I try to look like a boyfriend or something like that,” the 23-year-old Carlson said. “That way people don’t expect me to know anything. I’m young enough to get away with it. It worked for a little while, anyway.”

Yet Carlson must know some at least, since he turned a team that was supposed to be rebuilding into a national champ. He also did this in his first experience as a head coach.

“I love him,” GA first singles player Amy McCrea said. “I don’t think we could have won it without him. Part of the reason we wanted it so much was for him.”

Carlson graduated from Gustavus Adolphus last year and he had been a middle-of-the-road player at the school. He was all set to take a job at Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy in Florida, but he took the Golden Gusties’ coaching position at the last minute.

“Our coach is the best,” said third doubles player Heidi Rostberg, who teamed with Molly McCormick to give GA the deciding point. “We have a lot of fun with him and that’s important. He works us hard, but he’s like a friend. He’s young.”

As he gets older, he’ll probably become a little more traditional. For now, he’s staying with his look.

“The no-shave was an accident,” he said. “The clothes are lucky. I’m very, very superstitious. It just doesn’t feel right to me. There are a lot of coaches who coach a long time and don’t get here. I’m pretty fortunate to walk right into a team like this.”

It’s a team led by a different breed.

It’s also a team that’s a national champion.

• • • • •

Previous “Tradition of Excellence” stories:

1987 Men’s Basketball Wins MIAC Playoffs

1985 Gymnastics Wins Division III National Championship

2009 Men’s Hockey Advances to NCAA Title Game

2015 Volleyball Wins 27 Straight

1971 Men’s Tennis Marks Coach Wilkinson’s First MIAC Title

Harren Captures 2005 NCAA Cross Country Title

1927 Baseball Claims First MIAC Championship

Women’s Hoops Upsets Host, Advances to 2018 NCAA Sweet 16

2005 Men’s Soccer Reaches NCAA Title Match

2009 Softball Makes Run at College World Series

Men’s Golf Wins 2004 National Championship

Women’s Hockey Takes Third at 2017 NCAA Tourney

War Vets Lead Football to 1946 MIAC Title

2007 Women’s Swim & Dive Cruises to MIAC Championship

Hensch Captures Grand Slam of Throws at 2019 MIAC Outdoor

1984 Women’s Soccer Wins First MIAC Title

1990 Men’s Cross Country Qualifies for First NCAA Meet

 

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