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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Joe Welch, Gustavus Adolphus College

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Former president John Quincy Adams once remarked, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” While Adams was trying to define leadership, he could easily have been talking about Joe Welch. Joe has been a key part of the success of the football and hockey teams at Gustavus Adolphus College, and he has served as captain of both teams for two seasons. His involvement and leadership extends beyond the playing fields, as he is active in campus life and is president of his fraternity.

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floated left“From the day I stepped on campus, Joe Welch has demonstrated everything it means to be a leader and a great player,” stated Peter Haugen, who took over as GAC’s head football coach after the 2008 season. “The humility and concern he demonstrates are significant reasons that his coaches and peers have so much respect for him. Leaders also make those around them better. Joe is a great example of a player leader who encourages others and goes out of his way to coach those around him. His attention to detail and his willingness to step in and do the work necessary is noticeable each day.”

Joe is blessed with athletic genes. “My mom’s dad played football at Saint John’s and was an All-American,” Joe said. “My dad, who is the hockey coach at Hastings High School, played hockey at Michigan State. My brother Dan played hockey for Minnesota, where he won an NCAA championship. He has also played pro hockey in the CHL and AHL. My sister Katie played basketball, volleyball and softball in high school.”

Home for the Welches is Hastings, a city of 18,000 southeast of St. Paul. Joe and his siblings attended Hastings High, where Joe played football, hockey and baseball. Joe’s leadership was apparent then, as he was team captain in all three sports.

On the diamond, Joe played centerfield. He was on the freshman team as a ninth grader and on the JV the following season. As a junior, he started about half of the Raiders’ games and was their full-time centerfielder his senior year. “We lost the first game of Sections both years,” he recalled.

Hastings had better success on the ice. Joe played youth hockey and the Hastings Bantam team took second in the state in Joe’s freshman year of high school. He joined the varsity as a sophomore, and skated on the Raiders’ top two lines for three seasons. He was named All-Conference Honorable Mention as a junior and as a senior. Hastings lost in the middle rounds of Section play each of Joe’s three seasons.

After his senior year, Joe was presented the Hobey Baker Character Award, which is given annually by the Hobey Baker Foundation to the player who exemplifies the values and traits of Hobey Baker: character, teamwork, commitment, academic excellence and sportsmanship.

In football, Joe started at strong safety his junior and senior years and was the team’s runningback his senior year. He was named All-Conference for his defensive play his senior year, and was All-State First Team. He was also named to the St. Paul Pioneer Press All-Metro Team and was a finalist for that paper’s Player of the Year his senior season. The Raiders reached the state Class 5A championship game in Joe’s junior year, losing to Lakeville. “We lost to Woodbury in the Section final my senior year,” Joe said.

Away from sports, Joe was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes his sophomore, junior and senior years. In the summers, he played American Legion baseball.

Many of the Division II and III schools in the area recruited Joe for football, and many Division III schools recruited him for hockey as well. He also talked to some Division I hockey programs, “but nothing too serious,” Joe said.

He knew the best way to catch the eyes of Division I hockey coaches would be to play Juniors, and he signed with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, one of the top Juniors leagues in the US. “I played about half the season with them,” Joe recalled. “I missed playing football. As I thought about things, I came to realize that Division III was right for me. I could play both sports and get a good education.”

Before Joe left the Gamblers, he contacted a former teammate at Green Bay who was now playing for Owatonna in the NAHL. “He said ‘you will like it here’ and I contacted the Express and joined them midseason,” Joe said. “I was mainly looking to keep busy and in shape.”

He began searching for a college. Joe looked at Saint John’s because his grandfather had played there and he looked at Hamline and St. Thomas, which were fairly close to home. He also looked at Gustavus. “In my senior year of high school, coach [Jay] Schoenebeck visited my school. After talking to our coach, he met with three or four of us, and talked about Gustavus. That was my first exposure to the school. I visited Gustavus that spring. After I made my decision to leave Juniors, I got in touch with Coach Schoenebeck and talked to Coach [Brett] Petersen. In talking to them, I came to the conclusion that Gustavus would be the best opportunity for me to play both sports, and I liked what the school offered, academically.”

floated rightAs a freshman, Joe saw action in eight games with the Gusties football team. He played on the kick and punt return teams, and saw limited action in the defensive backfield. GAC posted a 4-4 record, taking fifth place in the MIAC. Overall, they were 6-4.

His sophomore year, Joe took over as one of the starting safeties, and played on the kick and punt return squads. He finished second on the team with 76 tackles. He also had a pair of interceptions as Gustavus ended the season 5-5. They were 3-5 in conference play, in fifth place. Joe ranked fifth in the MIAC in tackles (71) and tackles per game (8.9).

Before the start of the season last year, Coach Schoenebeck announced it would be his final year at the helm. The team posted a 6-4 record. Joe led the team with five interceptions and 98 tackles, including 51 solo tackles. In one of the wildest seasons the MIAC has seen in years, the Gusties finished two games off the pace, 4-4. Joe was named All-MIAC First Team, as he was third in the league in tackles (89) and tackles per game (10.1). His 38 solo tackles ranked second in the conference. Joe was further honored by d3football.com, which named him to its All-West Region First Team and to its All-American Third Team.

Prior to this season, Joe was named Preseason All-American by both d3footall.com and Lindys. Joe currently is second on the team with seven kick returns and his 29 tackles are fourth on the squad. He also has one interception. Halfway through the season, the Gusties are 1-2 in league play and 2-3 overall.

“Great players, like Joe, are consistent and reliable,” said Coach Haugen, who took over for Schoenebeck. “How Joe approaches the game is special. He does the ordinary things better than others do. Joe’s play speaks for itself, but what makes his play special is his love for the game and his interest in getting better each day. It is players of character that really make a difference. Joe demonstrates this character daily and is committed to being a problem solver and a player who seeks to rally players around a common goal.”

Joe’s leadership is manifested in the fact that his peers chose him to be a team captain both his junior and senior years. He is only the eighth junior in the more than 100-year history of Gustavus football to be so honored.

floated leftOn the ice, Joe has been a mainstay for the Gusties. As a freshman, he saw action in 22 games, and was the team’s sixth leading scorer with seven goals and 10 assists. Gustavus posted a 9-6-1 record in MIAC play, taking fourth place. They lost to St. Olaf, 3-1, in the opening round of the MIAC Playoffs to close the year 11-13-2. Joe ranked sixth among MIAC freshmen in scoring with 12 points and was tied for sixth in the league in short-handed goals.

The following year, the Gusties improved to 10-6-0 in league play and a fourth place finish. They lost 5-3 to Saint John’s in the opening game of the MIAC Playoffs and ended the season 13-12-1. Joe notched three goals and eight assists in MIAC play and had seven goals and eight assists on the full season.

Last year, Joe and his teammates put together one of the finest seasons in the illustrious history of Gustavus men’s hockey. They finished tied for second in the MIAC at 10-6-0 and were seeded second in the MIAC Playoffs. In the semifinals, they downed St. Thomas 3-1 and then beat Hamline 5-2 for the MIAC Playoff title and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. It was GAC’s first MIAC Playoff title since 1992. In the NCAA playoffs, they defeated UW-Superior 2-0 for the school’s first trip to the Frozen Four since 1982. The Gusties defeated UW-Stout 3-2 to advance to the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history. They lost to Neumann College 4-1 to end their season 19-11-0. Joe tallied three goals and eight assists on the season.

Joe was the team’s captain last season and is captain again in 2009-10.

Away from sports, Joe has been a member of Tau Psi Omega (the “Reds”), the oldest fraternity on campus, since his sophomore year. He is the group’s president this year. The “Reds,” made up of primarily football players and other athletes, has weekly social events and is involved in numerous community service programs. They have conducted food drives and volunteer with the local Special Olympics. “I’ve been involved in Special Olympics all four years I’ve been at Gustavus,” said Joe. “We also do an annual Polar Plunge. People pledge money and we jump into a lake in the middle of winter to raise money for Special Olympics. I’ve done the Plunge three years and plan to do it again this winter.”

Joe is a Business Management major, and has a minor in Sociology and Anthropology. He sports a 3.20 GPA and will graduate this spring. He is looking at career options in the business community in the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest. “In the summer, I had an internship with Enterprise and have been asked to come back after I graduate,” he said. “So that is one option.”

The ability to play – and excel at – two sports is one of the reasons Joe originally considered Gustavus. “The coaches have worked together to let me be able to do that and it has worked out well,” he said.

While athletics is what first attracted Joe to GAC, the experiences he has had there go beyond his expectations. “I like the small community here, and really appreciate the people,” he said. “The best thing is that no one here is unapproachable, whether they are a student or teacher. Gustavus fits my personality, and I don’t think I could have had the same experiences anywhere else.”

In his four years at Gustavus, Joe has inspired those around him to strive to be better, to do more and become more. “Joe Welch is the complete package of athlete, student, friend and leader,” said Coach Haugen. “He is a person that people want to be around and look to for guidance and inspiration.”

[The photos are courtesy of the Gustavus Adolphus College Sports Information office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.