Patrick Reusse
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Old Main was the original building for classes at Gustavus Adolphus College in October 1876, and it still stands on that stately perch above downtown St. Peter.

The historic building survived the fierce tornado of 1998, although 2,000 trees on campus did not, along with damage to some buildings.

As it closes in on its 150th year, this home to the Gusties has had its share of obstacles, and this week's must rate as the toughest among them:

Universal tears.

There was an accident at the intersection of a pair of rural highways in central Minnesota on Sunday. There were four freshmen from the Gusties' 2022-23 national championship women's hockey team in an SUV.

Jori Jones, 19, a sophomore-to-be from Little Canada and Roseville High, died in the crash. Three teammates and the driver of the other vehicle survived.

I made a visit to Gustavus in February to report a piece on Mike Carroll's dynastic women's hockey program. The Gusties were headed into the MIAC playoffs (which they won), and then an NCAA quarterfinal vs. extra-strong Wisconsin-River Falls (which they won, 2-1), and then to the Final Four (which they won for the first time by winning two games that totaled five overtimes).

On that mild February day, I talked with a pair of seniors, forward Molly McHugh and defender Kayla Vrieze. When asked about the younger talent on the team that will be charged with maintaining the Gusties' prowess, the pair answered as if they were discussing kid sisters.

And now one of those has been lost.

Jones, a goalie, was anticipated to spend one more season backing up Katie McCoy, a fifth-year senior already with an astounding 26 career shutouts, and then compete energetically to lead the Gusties onward — always onward — in the nets.

The Gusties have been connected to Aberdeen, S.D. through the Holland sisters, Hailey and Kaitlyn, in recent years. And a mini-tradition started recently of getting together in Aberdeen in mid-August.

"There's a county fair out there, and a number of players have gone out there in recent years,'' McHugh said. "Team building: 'How was your summer?' 'Ready for school?' Sharing some laughs … those things.''

There were several vehicles with Gusties spaced along the route back home early on Sunday. McHugh was in a vehicle not involved in the crash. She went with a group of five teammates to the hospital in Montevideo, where Jones passed away.

"We had people come from the Twin Cities and other places to drive us home,'' McHugh said. "None of us was in condition to drive home when all we could think about was Jori.''

Carroll, the Gusties coach, said in a conversation Tuesday: "Sometimes being a freshman, before you get to know everybody, it takes a little longer to see their full personality.

"Jori was quieter, but always with a smile on her face and passionate about hockey, about playing her position very well.''

McHugh said her teammates had a different view. "Jori wasn't quiet around us,'' she said. "She definitely had a big personality. She was spirited, energetic, funny.''

Pause, then McHugh said: "Sometimes it does take a freshman a little while to join in, but with Gusties hockey, we are all more than teammates.

"We're best friends.''

There was a small vigil held for Jori Jones at Gustavus on Monday night.

"School doesn't start here until after Labor Day,'' Carroll said. "Athletes from other sports already on campus were there, and also people from the school. Gustavus will remember Jori again in the fall when the students are back.''

McHugh was doing that on Tuesday afternoon. She invited Gusties from the Twin Cities area to her family's home to remember their teammate.

McHugh is from Minnetonka. Her uncle Justin McHugh scored 66 goals in four seasons for the Gophers in the mid-'90s. Molly McHugh has 31 college goals, which includes a five-game COVID season. That's what gave her the option to be a fifth-year senior in 2023-24.

"We were very happy when Molly told us she was coming back — not only as a talented player but to return as a captain,'' Carroll said. "She is such a good kid, respectful … open to everyone."

Does this tragedy of losing a 19-year-old teammate change the role for the captains?

"It's usually more of a ceremonial thing,'' McHugh said. "But losing Jori … it's important that we be there for everyone this year, and not just teammates, also families.''