The Bundgaard-Finholt Era of Basketball in Northfield

Originally Published in the March 2012 Entertainment Guide

The opening game of the 1965-66 basketball season of the Northfield High School Raiders was to be played on the court of a new opponent, South St. Paul. The NHS team had won only four and lost 18 the previous season, with just one win and nine losses in Big 9 Conference play. Head coach Jed Dommeyer had five returning lettermen, but only one of the five had played as a regular. Dommeyer told the Northfield News of Nov. 18, “It is difficult at this point to say who will be starting at what positions. Only time will tell, as this team has a lot of potential yet to be put in action.”

Eric Bundgaard

The Northfield News headline of Nov. 25 was “First Victory This Season Shows Poise,” as the Raiders won over South St. Paul 54-45, with Barry Holden and Peter Bierman at guard, Tim Sellers and Dave Follansbee at forward and Eric Bundgaard at center. Bundgaard was singled out for “clutch shooting” in the contest.

Eric Bundgaard was a 6'5" junior transfer from Brookings, S.D., who had come to Northfield with his family when his father, Axel Bundgaard, became the new athletic director at St. Olaf College that fall. Eric had been the leading scorer in South Dakota his sophomore year so, as Eric told me recently, his arrival in Northfield came with “some hoo-hah.” Moving was “a little bit of a shock,” said Eric, “but I adjusted.”

Dave Finholt

Northfielder Dave Finholt was destined to be linked to Eric as one of the best “one-two punches” in Northfield basketball history. From his home in Tampa, Florida, Dave recalled a day when Eric and his father came by the Finholt house in the summer of 1965. (Dave’s father, Albert Finholt, was Vice President and Dean of St. Olaf.)

“Eric and I went to Longfellow School and shot some hoops,” said Dave. Though Eric was not wearing basketball attire or shoes, Dave said, “It was clear he was a good player, even with wingtips on asphalt.”

Eric told me he had been “a little concerned about basketball” in Northfield, but after he met and liked coach Dommeyer, he had a “sense of hopefulness.” Dommeyer had, after all, been a leading scorer on the University of Minnesota basketball team and was working to build up Northfield’s program since his arrival from Windom in 1963. Northfield was the smallest school of the Big 9, which consisted of Northfield, Austin, Albert Lea, Red Wing, Owatonna, Winona, Mankato, Faribault and Rochester John Marshall (later adding Rochester Mayo).

In the second game, the Northfield News of Dec. 2, 1965, reported that Owatonna got “caught in the weeds,” with the Raiders winning 77-61. “The man of the hour was Bundgaard, whose 31 points and 18 rebounds for the evening should create a small ‘shock wave’ in the Big 9 conference circles.” The Raiders’ first defeat came in the next game from Austin, 79-65, with Eric scoring 28 points. A win over LeSueur was followed by two losses to Mankato and Windom. Dave Finholt (6'6"), who had broken his collarbone in the last football game that fall, returned to start in a 70-55 away win over the arch-rival Faribault Falcons, “providing a big boost to solidify the team,” Eric told me.

The 1965-66 Northfield High School District 4 Champion basketball team.

The team set records while cruising to victories over Minneapolis Marshall (scoring 81 points) and Minneapolis West (with Eric scoring 35 points). On Feb. 11, 1966, NHS faced league-leading Winona. Eric scored an eye-popping 42 points in an 81-72 Raider loss at home, a record for points scored in a single game which still stands at Northfield High School. Eric told me, “I was in a zone and my teammates kept feeding me the ball. We played them pretty well and were disappointed with the loss.”

Jed Dommeyer

The Raiders had a 4-6 Big 9 record, finishing 10-8 in regular play overall, giving Dommeyer his first winning season. Eric ended the season with a league-leading average of 26.4 points per game in conference play.

But wait! There’s more. The Northfield News story of March 10 detailed the 72-58 victory over Waseca, which gave the Raiders a District 4 tournament win. Tough defense from Waseca held Eric to only five points in the first half, but he ended the game with 23 points, with Dave scoring 22. The Raiders then gained a berth in the District 4 championship game at Owatonna by beating Faribault 69-63, with Eric hitting 26 points. Claremont High School then fell to the Raiders 80-62 by virtue of the superior rebounding and team play of the Raiders, with Eric again leading the scoring with 27 points. With a minute left, reported the Northfield News on March 17, 1966, “The more than capacity crowd, made up mostly of Northfield fans, went wild as Coach Dommeyer emptied the bench, letting his regulars bask in the glory of the District Four Championship.” For the first time since 1943, the Raiders had earned a trip to regionals in Rochester to play against the Blooming Prairie Blossoms, the winners of District 2 over Austin.

Dave Finholt

Tournament fever swept through Northfield. Eric told me that winning District was “a big deal, the town really embraced it. It was fun. We all felt the support of the community.” Only 31 other towns in Minnesota had reached this stage out of 500 high schools in the state. Eric said, “If you were the state champion, you were the only state champion in basketball.” He spoke of the scenario in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” where a small town Indiana high school was able to win the state championship over much bigger schools.

Unfortunately, the “Hoosiers” movie ending did not take place for Northfield. The March 24, 1966, Northfield News reported, “The Blooming Prairie Blossoms could do no wrong last Wednesday night as they ran over the Northfield Raiders 81-53 before a capacity crowd at Rochester-Mayo Civic auditorium.” The team with the benign name then defeated Red Wing 59-54 for their first Region I title. (Edina ended up winning three straight state championships from 1966-68.) Dave said simply, “We played badly.” Eric told me, “The loss to Blooming Prairie was a tough one.” Coach Dommeyer told the Northfield News, “I’ve enjoyed working with this club more than any other I’ve had here.” He said he would build next season’s team around “the two big kids, Eric Bundgaard and Dave Finholt.”

Eric Bundgaard

Eric was awarded All-Conference honors and named to the WCCO Radio All-State Team. And in May, as the NHS track team won the District 4 meet, Eric set a district and school record in the hurdles of 19.9, a record he then broke his senior year with 19.6 at the state outdoor track meet.

The 1966-67 basketball season started with the first basketball game in the new Senior High School, a 70-48 clobbering of South St. Paul, with Eric pouring in 35 points and Dave 17. A close loss to newly formed Rochester Mayo was followed by wins over Owatonna, Red Wing, Faribault and Minneapolis Marshall. Dave said, of Eric, “There was absolutely nobody that could stop him,” no matter what defense they threw at him.

As 1967 commenced, the Raiders defeated St. Peter 64-52 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, a preliminary game to the U. of Minn.-Chicago Loyola match-up. Eric has memories of the arena’s “bouncy floor” with elevated floorboards which made him wish that “dunking” the ball was allowed in high school play.

After an 81-73 come-from-behind victory over Winona,  with Dave scoring 29 points and Eric 20, the Raiders were rated the fourth best team in a state newspaper poll. But then came losses to Waseca, Albert Lea, LeSueur, Kenyon and Austin, broken up by a one-point victory over Mankato. In the win over Mankato, Dave clinched the game with a jump shot with 13 seconds left. Dave had 24 points, Eric 23. Another exciting 70-68 win came over Rochester John Marshall in a home game which was tied 38 times, as Eric hit a jump shot with one second left, then hit a free throw in the victory. Eric scored 27, Dave 21. An 85-75 win over Owatonna (where a new team record for points scored was set, as Eric hit for 27 points and Dave 22) and a loss to Red Wing concluded the season, leaving the Raiders with a 7-5 record, tied for fourth. Eric won his second Big 9 scoring title, with a 21.6 point average, barely beating out Dave’s 21.5 point average.

Pete Bierman (left) and Dave Finholt (right)

Then came district play. The March 2, 1967, Northfield News said, “Dave Finholt’s unbelievable 40-foot desperation basket at the final buzzer gave NHS a thrilling 75-73 win over Faribault in the District 4 opener at Kenyon last Friday.” NHS led most of the way with Dave hitting for 28 points. (Dave said to me, jokingly, “I hogged the ball my senior year.”) The Raiders again won the District 4 championship by defeating Waseca 61-55 in finals at Owatonna. The Raiders overcame a 33-25 halftime deficit, responding to Dommeyer’s exhortation, “We’ve got nothing to save ourselves for. It’s up there if you want it.” Dave scored 29 points, with Eric scoring 16 and having a season-high 23 rebounds. The team moved on to Region I play against Chatfield in Rochester, coming away with a 73-64 victory (the Raiders had a 31-14 free throw advantage in the game).

Playing against Hayfield in the regional finals, the Raiders lost their way by a score of 68-59. Dave remembered, “Our senior year, we expected to win, we should have won. The most painful loss was to Hayfield.” This time free throws favored the opponent, with Hayfield canning 24 and Northfield 11. Dave scored 18 points and Eric, triple-teamed all night, was held to 11.

Eric ended his NHS career with a total of 1,059 points in just two years, the all-time scoring record to that date, at a time when there was no 3-point shot. (The 1,000 point mark has since also been surpassed by Brendon Moersch, Jeff Hoxie, Scott Christensen, Paul Richardson and Zach Filzen). Eric scored 20 or more points 34 times. Also All-Conference in football, Eric was again a member of the WCCO All-State basketball team and was named to the High School All-America squad with Dave being given honorable mention. Eric and Dave shared the “Athlete of the Year” award that spring at NHS.

Eric Bierman shooting his 42nd point – still a Northfield High School record.

Given their talents, did they ever feel a competitive rivalry with each other? Dave said only in practice, when the first team would play against other teammates. He noted that he and Eric enjoyed after-practice shooting against Coach Dommeyer and assistant Al Berkvam. Dommeyer, who still resides in Northfield, recalled how much fun that was and told me that he felt Dave and Eric “were equal in talents and equal in value to our team. I enjoyed coaching both of them immensely.”

Eric and Dave ended up playing at St. Olaf under head coach Bob Gelle, after testing hardwood elsewhere. Eric started out at the University of Colorado and Dave at Harvard. (Dave told me the basketball was “awful” at Harvard, with 21 losing seasons.) Dave became eligible to play at St. Olaf on Jan. 31, 1969, and soon led the team with an average of 18 points a game. St. Olaf won its first undisputed Midwest Conference crown, with a 16-2 league record (17-5 overall) and a 76-64 defeat of cross-town rival Carleton in which Dave (much to his pleasure) scored 27 points. The Ole team then lost 75-47 to Southwest Missouri State in the NCAA small college division tournament in Springfield, Mo.

In December of 1969, Dave scored a school record 42 points (11 field goals and 20 of 24 free throws) in an 83-81 overtime victory over Augsburg and in January of 1970 tied a Midwest conference mark of 36 points in a 92-79 win over Knox. In February Eric played his first college game with Dave, as St. Olaf won a 66-57 home victory over league-leading Carleton. Eric scored 16 and Dave 14. (Before the game, Carleton’s Coach Jack Thurnblad, anticipating a “wild one,” said, “I’ll take my tranquilizer before the game and watch the action.”) The team finished with an overall 13-9 record, 10-8 in the conference, with Dave leading the Ole scoring with an average of 19 points a game and setting a school record for the most rebounds in a season (251).

Holding the District Championship trophy high, Barry Holden receives a pat on the back from Coach Dommeyer.

The 1970-71 St. Olaf team lost only two games during the regular season, to Valparaiso University at a tournament there on Dec. 12 and at Ripon College on Feb. 13. The high-powered tone for the season was set with a 97-96 overtime victory at St. John’s in the first game on Dec. 5. On Feb. 5, 1971, the team won an away game at Grinnell by a school record score of 117-79.

Particularly satisfying were back-to-back wins over Carleton in the last week of January, with Eric and Dave in double figures in both games. In the home contest, St. Olaf hit 33 of 39 free throws, a team record in Midwest Conference play, with Dave hitting a perfect 11 out of 11 from the foul line. Just one week later, at Cornell, the team made a staggering 39 of 42 free throw attempts. St. Olaf won the 1970-71 Midwest Conference championship with a 17-1 record and established a slew of Ole records, before falling to the nation’s tenth ranked Kentucky Wesleyan 94-79 in the first round of the Midwest regional NCAA tournament in Kirksville, Mo. and to North Dakota State 96-94 in the consolation round.

Dave graduated in 1971. Eric played the 1971-72 season, in which St. Olaf had 17 wins and five losses in the regular season and shared the Midwest Conference crown with Ripon. On March 6, 1972, Eric played in a game at Skoglund Athletic Center against South Dakota State where his father had been athletic director before taking that position at St. Olaf. At stake was a berth in the NCAA regional tournament in St. Louis. Eric considers this game one of the “most memorable” of his basketball career. Bleachers were even set up on the Skoglund stage and, as Eric told me, “every nook and cranny was filled, with people hanging from the rafters.” Seven or eight busloads of Jackrabbit fans had come from Brookings, expecting a victory. Despite a height advantage of the Jackrabbits, St. Olaf put together “a complete effort in every phase of the game,“ as coach Bob Gelle said. St. Olaf was behind by two points, 39-37, at halftime but pulled away to win 87-72. The Manitou Messenger said that Eric “came up with a big second half, hitting for 15 points and providing the much-needed muscle under the boards for the Oles” with 14 rebounds. Eric told me that when the teams exchanged handshakes after the game, one of the S.D. State players said, “We didn’t realize how quick you guys would be.” The euphoria of the upset ended with a 97-81 loss to Lincoln University of Jefferson City, Mo., in the NCAA semifinals in St. Louis.

Dave Finholt graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1975 and trained in pediatrics at the Stanford University Medical Center and in Pediatric Critical Care in Philadelphia. He took training in anesthesia at the University of Virgina, staying on the faculty for an additional two years before working for 16 years at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He was an anesthetist for children at the Shriners Hospital in Greenville, S. Carolina, and has worked the past two years at two outpatient service centers for children in Tampa, Florida. This August he will begin a master’s in Exercise Science at the Univ. of S. Florida in Tampa. His wife Deborah Steed served as a Lutheran parish pastor in Virginia, Cincinnati and Greenville and does hospice work. Dave and Deborah have two children, Ben and Rachel, and one-year-old twin grandchildren, Alexandra and Vanessa, from son Ben.

After St. Olaf,  Eric Bundgaard played basketball one year overseas on a Mozambique team in a Portuguese league. He worked for Xerox Corporation, went to graduate school in hospital administration at the Univ. of Minn. and was a hospital administrator in Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. Louis Park in Minnesota and CEO of Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines. His last position was at a children’s hospital in Denver. After leaving hospital work, he was Superintendent of Schools in Fairplay, Colorado, for several years.  In 2005 he and his wife Denise moved to Northfield. Eric has two sons from a previous marriage, Trygve and Tycen, and two grandchildren, Ella (6) and Trystan (5). Denise works as Faculty Data Coordinator at St. Olaf and Eric works part-time for the St. Olaf Athletic Department. He says that while he does attend St. Olaf basketball games, he has not played basketball for a number of years because “it is a young person’s game” and not easily played after age 35.

Eric and Dave saw each other last month when St. Olaf brought back players and coaches who had been part of the very successful Ole basketball program from 1968-72. They were honored at the halftime of the St. Olaf-St. John’s basketball game on Feb. 11. Eric told me, “We’ve kept in touch. I have good feelings about playing with him. He was an excellent basketball player and a pure shooter. We’ll always share a common history.” Dave said he regards Eric as “the best athlete in the history of Northfield.”

Both Eric and Dave have created memories which still resonate for those who lived in Northfield during the duo’s “glory days” of unparalleled athletic achievement.

Thanks to Jane Anderson Currer, NHS class of 1967, for loan of the Norhians and Jim Christensen for sharing basketball stats with me.

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