MSU-Mankato Overcomes Tragedy En Route to Another NCAA Appearance

MSU-Mankato Overcomes Tragedy En Route to Another NCAA Appearance Photo: Courtesy of MSU-Mankato Athletics

May 17, 2017 10:51 PM

As a Connecticut native playing college baseball in Minnesota, Minnesota State-Mankato infielder Luke Waldek has long leaned on his teammates as a second family.

And those family ties have only tightened with all the Mavericks have endured this season.


In late January, the program suffered a tragic loss when sophomore Adam Ellingson, a Rochester Lourdes graduate, died suddenly from what was reported as gastroenteritis (stomach flu) combined with respiratory arrest.

Then, not even two months later, Tiffany Rodning - the mother of junior pitcher Brody Rodning - passed away after a battle with colon cancer.

"What we've gone through this year as a team is hard to even describe," Waldek said. "I don't know how Brody has managed to hold up through it all. He's been a real trooper. But we've all dealt with tragedy this year and it's brought us closer together.

"We don't just say we're a family. We really are. We know everything about each other. Probably too much sometimes."

And that family has again been awfully successful on the field. Minnesota State-Mankato has gone 44-9 this season, winning the NSIC regular season and postseason titles en route to the school's 12th straight NCAA Division II playoff appearance.

It marks the school's 36th NCAA appearance overall, a number that ranks second only to Florida Southern's 41 at the Division II level.

The Mavericks are the No. 2 seed in the Central Regional and take on No. 7 seed Oklahoma Southern in the first round at 10 a.m. Thursday at Emporia (Kansas) State's Trusler Sports Complex.

Fellow NSIC member St. Cloud State is the No. 3 seed and will take on No. 6 seed Missouri Western at 7:45 p.m. Thursday.

"That was quite the 1-2 punch we had to go through," said Rodning, who threw a shutout in a 1-0 victory over Minnesota-Duluth on March 24 at U.S. Bank Stadium - the day after his mother's death.

"You don't really see too many teams who have to go through all of that. But we've all been playing this season for them (Ellingson and Rodning's mother). Because we know if they were here, they'd be supporting us and they'd want us to keep going."

Waldek came to Mankato from Trumbull, Connecticut on the advice of a family friend who had been a bat girl/student manager under former longtime Mavericks coach Dean Bowyer.

"She loved it when she was here and she spoke really highly of the program," said Waldek, who has 39 hits and nine doubles this season.

"I didn't know much about the school. But I looked into it and saw how successful they'd been."

And that success has continued, even in the face of this season's adversity. Now the Mavericks hope to keep things rolling all the way to the program's first Division II Championships appearance since 2014.

"That's our goal," Rodning said. "We know (Ellingson and his mother) are looking down on us, and we want to be dogpiling after winning a regional title."


Frank Rajkowski

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