The Fall 2016 Mountaineer Athletics Season Recap and Highlights and Winter Starts.
Nicholas A. Fischer / Staff Writer
With temperatures dropping and snow falling, the fall athletic season came to an end, ushing in the winter athletic season. The first half of the 2016-2017 NCAA sports season has not disappointed as it has been full of records, awards, and heartbreak.
During the fall season, Mountaineer’s had success on the football and soccer fields, volleyball court, and running trails.
Western’s football team had their first winning season in over 15 years. They went 7-4 and finished fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings. In the Hall of Fame Game Western beat rival Adams State then beat the 23rd ranked Colorado School of Mines for the Homecoming game to start the season 2-2.
Two straight shutouts by the defense had the team hunting for postseason play with three games left. The loss of two of the last three games knocked them out of postseason contention, ending a run that had the fans cheering until the last play of a heartbreaking loss to Colorado State-Pueblo on Oct 29.
The defense was led by juniors Chad Wasser and Carter Wasser, and seniors Kristopher Bass, Austin Yurko, and Rodrick Waters. Leading one of the most impressive offenses in Western history were seniors Austin Eckler, Brett Arrivey, and Kyle Adkins.
Running Back Austin Eckler made Mountaineer football history by breaking the school career records for rushing yards, attempts, touchdowns, and scoring. Eckler is also a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the top player in Division II, which will be announced on Dec 16.
While Western’s women soccer team did not have a winning record 6-9-3, they were still able to qualify for their first RMAC tournament. Under new head coach Amy Bell, the Mountaineers began to look like a force to be reckoned with after beating the number three ranked Colorado School of Mines in double overtime on Oct 16.
Even though the experience and play of seniors Izzy Engman, Rachel Sullivan, Courtney Urrea, and Katelynn Mardeusz is sure to be missed, the Mountaineers have many talented players returning for the 2017 season.
Western’s cross country team saw the most success of any of the teams so far this year. At the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championships, the Mountaineers women’s team finished in 3rd place and men’s team was in 11th.
At the National Championships, Senior Georgia Porter capped off her two-time All-American career with an eighth place finish. Juniors Alicja Konieczek and Sophie Seward placed 11th and 22nd respectively also took home All-American honors.
Senior Keifer Johnson finished his college career with a seventh place finish at the National Championships. Redshirt freshman Preston Cates started his career with a 28th place All-American performance.
Western’s women’s volleyball team had to have the most heartbreaking season. The team had their first winning season in a decade with a record of 14-12. However, they would miss the conference tournament on the last match of the season.
Seniors, Allison Walker, Tori Gaherty, Amanda Maestes, Avery Buckholder, and Molly Hothan along with junior Jordan Eatwell left everything on the court as this year as they made every volley a competition. Maestes holds the school record for digs with 1490, and Gaherty averaged 300 kills a season over her career.
The team lost an emotional last home game for the seniors at Paul Wright Gymnasium to Adams State that knocked them out of RMAC tournament contention. While the seniors did not get to finish their careers with a trip to the conference tournament, the crowd was loud and proud of their career accomplishments and sent them off with an appreciation that they players had for them and Western alike.
One of the greatest achievements for Western Athletics this fall did not come on the court, field, or trail, but from what a campus legend had accomplished through his career. The NCAA Division II Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year Award was named in the honor of Dr. Duane Vandenbusche.
Over Dr. Vandenbusche’s 37 year coaching career, he won 7 coach of the year awards, which he gives all the credit to his athletes. When asked about his thoughts on the coach of year award being named for his career accomplishments Vandenbusche said, “It is a great honor and I really appreciate it, but the honor should go the great athletes I had.”
During Vandenbusche’s coaching career he led 12 teams to national titles and 51 individual titles and had over 300 All-Americans on his teams. Vandenbusche’s dedication to coaching those athletes to success “came from the lessons he learned growing up in St. Nicholas, Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula”
While Dr. Vandenbusche is now retired from his 37 year coaching career of Western’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams he has yet to retire from educating. That goes along with what he says is the key to being a good athlete, “Number one, be a good person; number two, be a good student; and number three, be a good athlete. And in that order.”
Dr. Vandenbusche may not be coaching anymore, but he still can be found in his office writing on his typewriter, or in class teaching students or the public about Gunnison Country and Colorado history. I have also been told he still known to find the time to scramble up the mountains around Crested Butte.
Some of the success seen in the fall is starting to show in the early winter basketball, swimming & diving, wrestling seasons.
Randi Yarnell is starting her season out fast and has already broken more Western school records. On Dec 1 at the A3 Performance CMU Invite, Yarnell broke her previous record time in the 50 free with a time of 23.47. Western’s 400 medley relay team of Yarnell, Ma’alaea Lawrence, Ariel Fitch, and Kate Hewson, set another school record in that meet with a time of 3:55.28.
Swimming and Diving’s next home meet is on Jan 14 12:00pm, versus Colorado School of Mines at Paul Wright Natatorium.
Western’s Men Basketball team has its ups and down to start the season. The Mountaineers have struggled away from Gunnison, but have had some success at home to start the season at 2-4 as of Dec 2. However, the Mountaineers had an historic come from behind win over Colorado Mesa University on Nov 29.
During the game against Colorado Mesa, Western was down for most of the game. After scrapping their way back from 15-point deficit over the last 13 minutes of the game, Brady Supart hit a three-pointer to tie the game with 21 seconds to go. Then Will Duggan hit a just past half-court shot as time expired for the win over rival Colorado Mesa. As the shot went in student section rushed the court to revel in a win that didn’t seem likely 20 minutes prior, making it a game that will go down in the lore of Western basketball history.
Being Will Duggen’s second last second shot to beat a rival team, he hit a baseline three against Adams State last year, he said, “I did my best to contain my excitement and act professional knowing my teammates and I had been in the situation before.”
Western’s Women Basketball team has also struggled to a 1-5 reconrd so far this season as they rebuild under first year coach Lora Westling. However, after receiving the team’s first “lights out” introduction in over a year, in the home opener an excitement could be seen over take the team.
Both basketball teams next play their back-to-back double header games at home in Paul Wright Gym on Dec 9 against Adams State and Dec 10 verses Fort Lewis College. Women’s games start at 5:30pm on Friday and 5:00pm on Saturday. Men’s games are at 7:30pm and 7:00pm respectively.
For Western Wrestling, Brandon Supernaw and Konnor Schmidt each started the season off strong with wins at the University of Nebraska-Kearny Open.
The next home wrestling match is the Tracy Borah duels on Jan 7 with the first events starting at 9:00 am