Dartmouth’s Top Ten Athletes, Part II

Red Rolfe ’31, who played ball for the Yankees after graduating Dartmouth, tops out our list.

Previously, The Review published the first part of a two-part series chronicaling the greatest athletes to ever graduate from Dartmouth.  The following five athletes  constitute the latter half of this series.

5. Gerry Ashworth ‘63 –Track and Field

From his days at Holderness High School in Plymouth N.H., Gerry Ashworth defied the notion that the nation’s top sprinters hail from the South. Although he ran a respectable 9.9 seconds in the 100 yard dash in high school, cold weather prevented him from competing with the best times in the nation and from being noticed by traditional track powerhouses in other parts of the country.

Ashworth’s relative obscurity continued through his first two years at Dartmouth.  His fastest freshman year time in the 100 yard dash was discounted due to a high tail-wind, and he continued to face poor conditions in many of his outdoor races. But during his junior spring, Ashworth finally garnered some of the national recognition he deserved. After winning the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships in the 100 with a time of 9.4, Ashworth became the fastest man in New England history, only weeks removed from his 20th birthday. Ashworth subsequently won the IC4A championship in the same event, proving that he was one of the top runners in the country. Unfortunately, Ashworth pulled a muscle and missed NCAA Outdoor Championships, beginning a pattern of nagging injuries that would plague him for the rest of his Dartmouth career.

However, Ashworth’s injury riddled senior season only stands as a testament to his talent and resilience. While he was again unable to compete at the national championships, he was undefeated in both the indoor and outdoor seasons and won indoor races against some of the top professional runners in the world, racing at major venues such as Madison Square Garden.
Heading into his final home meet at Dartmouth, Ashworth was battling a hamstring injury and was unable to use starting blocks, preventing him from competing in his preferred 100 and 220 yard events. Wanting to help his team defeat visiting Boston University, he decided to enter the 440 yard dash, hoping to at least be competitive with Dartmouth and BU runners who were experienced in the event. As recorded by The Dartmouth, conditions that day were “slow” to say the least, with mud all over the track and a driving rain. Undeterred, Ashworth won the race by five yards with a time of 48.8, only a second off the school record at the time.

A 1963 issue of The Dartmouth announcing Ashworth’s selection to the US team for the Pan American Games noted that Ashworth was “inexperienced” at running relays.  If this were true, Ashworth learned quickly, as a year and a half later he found himself competing for the US in the 4×100 yard relay at the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo. Running as the second leg, Ashworth helped his team coast to victories in the first two rounds of the event, breaking the previous Olympic record in the semifinal round. In the finals, Ashworth’s US team bested themselves to win gold and break the standing World Record with a time of 39.0.
Following his gold medal performance, Ashworth didn’t have much of a track career. But such high levels of talent, toughness, and determination solidify his place among Dartmouth’s greatest.

4. Adam Nelson ‘97 – Track and Field

Like Michael Jordan, Adam Nelson’s successful career as a professional athlete can be partly attributed to his being cut from a team as a kid.  “I have to be honest, I went out for the track team in eighth grade because I didn’t make the baseball team,” said Nelson in 2006; “It turned out alright,” It certainly did.

Although Nelson gradually improved in the shot put throughout high school, it was his other sport, football, for which he was recruited and in which he began his athletic career at Dartmouth. In the fall of 1993, Nelson became the first freshman to play varsity football in school history, lining up at defensive tackle. In the winter and spring, his focus changed back to track. He wasn’t able to dominate the NCAA right away, but Nelson had a successful freshman year, breaking the Dartmouth indoor record in the shot put and capturing a title in the Ivy Indoor Heptagonal Championships. That summer, he captured an even more impressive title: a World Junior Championship in the shot put with a throw of over 60 ft.

Nelson also enjoyed fairly successful sophomore and junior seasons in both of his sports, but it was his senior campaign that ranks as one of the best in Dartmouth history. In the fall, he played linebacker for the 1996 Ivy League Championship team, which finished undefeated with a 10-0 record, and in the spring, he captured an NCAA championship with a hurl of 64.5 ft.
After graduating in 1997, Nelson began the rewarding but financially challenging journey of being a professional shot putter. His first big break as a pro would come years later, with a victory at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2000. Weeks later, he captured silver at the Olympic games in Sydney, losing only to Arsi Harju of Finland.

With an Olympic medal under his belt, Nelson began to receive the national attention he deserved for his prowess in the throwing ring. But it was style, not results, that made Nelson so popular in traditionally one of the less prominent events in Track & Field. Before each throw, Nelson is known for pumping up the crowd and emphatically ripping off his shirt before stepping into the ring. His throwing technique, dubbed the “spin” carries the greatest risk of stepping out of the ring, or “fouling,” but is more powerful when executed right and more exciting to watch.

Nelson went on to capture another silver medal at the 2004 games in Athens, as well as four world championship medals, including three silvers and one gold.

3. Gretchen Ulion ‘94 – Ice Hockey

Gretchen Ulion is regarded as one of the strongest hockey players ever to play for Dartmouth. As a forward, Ulion owns nearly every offensive record in Dartmouth hockey history. She was a nearly unstoppable scoring machine, leading the school with 189 goals and 312 points. Ulion holds the first 4 spots for most goals scored in a single season with 49 (twice), 46 and 45. On February 5th, 1994 against Yale, she scored the most goals in a single game with eight. In a single season, Ulion logged in seven hat tricks and ultimately captured the school record for career hat tricks with 21. Of her many goals, a record 23 of them were game winners. Despite the impressive record of individual goals, Ulion was certainly still a strong team player. She is second in school history in assists in a season (37) and assists in a career (123). Naturally, she also holds the top three spots in most points (goals in addition to assists) in a single season (85, 83, and 80). During her time at Dartmouth, Ulion helped lead the Big Green to two Ivy League Championships and was team captain during her final season in 1993. She was named All-Ivy three times and All-ECAC twice, in addition to the New England Hockey Writers All Star Team after her senior season. After Dartmouth, Ulion would go on to play for the U.S. national team in 1994 and 1997 and win silver in those world tournaments. Her biggest achievement ultimately came in the form of the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. These winter Olympic Games marked the debut of women’s hockey as an Olympic sport. Ulion scored the first goal in the gold medal game against Canada, and the team would ultimately triumph 3-1 and win the first ever gold medal for women’s hockey. Ulion’s final Olympic stat line was three goals and five assists in six games. Following the big win, Ulion and the rest of the Women’s Hockey team were featured on a box of Wheaties Cereal.

2. Rudy LaRusso ‘59 – Basketball

One of many great NBA players from the 1960’s lost in the annals of history, Rudy LaRusso, had a tremendous career as a collegiate and professional basketball player. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the 6’7” LaRusso caught the eye of many collegiate scouts after nearly leading his high school team to a state championship. But like many other athletes on this list, LaRusso was predominantly concerned with his future beyond basketball, and chose to attend Dartmouth over other traditional basketball powerhouses.

By his junior season at Dartmouth, LaRusso was a strong and gifted center and was posting staggering rebounding numbers. His season average of 17.92 rebounds per game still stands as an Ivy League record, and his best single-game performance, a 32-rebound effort against Brown, is still the top mark in school history.  The team’s results that season were also strong, as LaRusso led the Big Green to an Ivy League championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. More than just a qualifier, Dartmouth earned decisive victories against Connecticut and Manhattan in the first two rounds before falling to Temple in the national quarterfinals.

After a similarly successful senior season, LaRusso was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in the second round, going 12th overall. At the time, LaRusso was viewed as a steal for lasting beyond the first round, poised to immediately help the Lakers with their glaring need at the forward position (although he was a center in college). Legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach would later lament passing on LaRusso in the draft and failing to scout the local prospect more than once during his time at Dartmouth.
In his rookie campaign, LaRusso proved that he was built for the power forward position, continuing his rebounding dominance while showcasing scoring and defensive capability. Had he not drawn the misfortune of entering the league at the same time as Wilt Chamberlain, he may have won Rookie of the Year.

The following offseason, the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles and drafted Jerry West, who would go on to become one of the best guards in NBA history. Along with powerful small forward Elgin Baylor, the duo formed “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside,” referring to their scoring capabilities from different spots on the court. For the next six seasons, LaRusso played third fiddle to the two perennial all-stars, but maintained an integral role on the team. Lakers coach Fred Schaus noted that LaRusso’s solid jump shot and inside scoring capability forced teams to pay attention to him and that he perfectly complemented Baylor and West.  LaRusso also gained notoriety for his “bruiser” style of play, his ability to set picks, and his willingness to do anything coaches asked of him. “If wringing out towels would help the cause of the Los Angeles Lakers, Rudy LaRusso would want to be the best towel-wringer in the NBA,” said Schaus in 1962.

Unfortunately, LaRusso never earned an NBA championship in his eight-year tenure with the Lakers, though the team reached the finals on three separate occasions. Each of those years fell within the Celtics’ legendary run of winning eleven championships in thirteen seasons. Perhaps not any more talented, the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Lakers, who were consistently strong at forward and guard but weak at the center position, having no answer for the 6’11” Bill Russell.  All that aside, LaRusso ultimately enjoyed a successful ten-year career, capped off by his two most productive seasons ever as a member of the San Fransisco Warriors.

Off the court, LaRusso was viewed as very marketable and appeared in ads touting the balance between his basketball career and offseason occupation as a stockbroker. His later professions include business consulting, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, furniture manufacturing, and being the general manager of a professional soccer team.
Shortly after his passing in 2004, LaRusso was honored at a Dartmouth basketball game, with his family in attendance. His memory elicited a chant of “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy…” throughout the stadium.

1. Red Rolfe ’31 – Baseball

A native of Penacock, New Hampshire, Robert Abial Rolfe was nicknamed “Red” because of his fiery red hair. Rolfe matriculated in 1927 and made an immediate impact on the Big Green infield as a shortstop. In 1929, as a sophomore, Rolfe led the Ivy League in hitting and piqued the interest of a New York Yankees scout, Gene McCann. McCann would follow the team to nearly every game they played and constantly correct the players’ bad language. Because of this, Rolfe actually mistook McCann for a minister. After graduating in 1931, Rolfe joined the Yankee’s farming teams on McCann’s recommendation. For 3 years, Rolfe played in the D-league and actually won the Little World Series in 1932. He finally got his shot in the Major League when the Yankees put him on the roster in 1934. Competition for the team’s starting shortstop was very intense, but manager Joe McCarthy gave Rolfe the edge because of the fire in his eyes. Unfortunately, Rolfe’s shortstop skills did not seem to translate into the Majors. McCarthy switched Rolfe to third baseman, a position he would hold for the rest of his career. During his career, Rolfe was touted as one of the best third baseman in the league as well as a dangerous number two hitter. Joe Cronin of the Boston Red Sox once said, “Of all the Yankees, he [Rolfe] was the toughest to retire when there were two outs in the ninth inning.” With Yankee greats, such as Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Red Ruffing, Rolfe made six World Series appearances, winning five of them as well, as four All-Star appearances. His best season came in 1939 with 213 hits, 139 runs scored, and 14 home runs along with a fielding percentage of 0.958. Sadly, Rolfe’s career was cut short in 1942 when he was forced to retire due to a chronic illness. He was later hired by the Detroit Tigers in 1947 as their farm director and later took over as the team’s manager in 1949. He won Manager of the Year in 1950 for winning 95 games and nearly upsetting his former Yankees. In the spring of 1954, Rolfe was invited by Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey to a duck-hunting trip. Soon after, President Dickey hired Rolfe as the new Dartmouth Athletic Director. As Athletic Director, Rolfe combatted the general indifference towards Dartmouth sports among students by getting the alumni more involved. He had those alumni help in recruiting to bring in the best possible athletes. Rolfe’s biggest addition to the Big Green family was legendary football coach Bob Blackman. Red Rolfe retired in 1967, and the baseball field was subsequently named Red Rolfe Field in his honor. He passed away in 1969, but his legacy still lives on.

  • dumbdave

    This list is missing Judge Myles J. Lane. Probably Dartmouth’s finest athlete ever, and an exemplary Dartmouth fellow.

  • frankgado

    Joe Palermo ’58. An All-American at guard.

  • ubik

    The best would be the man or woman who tackled one of the offensive lineman in the library.

  • DartBored

    Evelyn Stevens ’05? Bob Kempainen ’88?