A look into the start of the season for Western Athletics.
Nicholas A. Fischer / Staff Writer
While classes have been in session for over a month, and games have already been played at home, homecoming weekend has officially launched the start of the 2016-17 year for the Mountaineer community.
On Friday September 23, 2016, Western students embraced the town of Gunnison with a parade of club floats through downtown before lighting the world’s largest collegiate symbol, The W on W Mountain, on fire, in addition to a bonfire above the Mountaineer Bowl. To cap off Homecoming week on Saturday, the Mountaineers hosted a 5k run to benefit student athletes, and a football game against in state rival #23 ranked Colorado School of Mines.
Mountaineers representing the various NCAA sports teams at Western joined together on what was the largest float in the Homecoming parade, a flatbed trailer filled with members of the wrestling, swimming and diving, basketball, and track teams. However, this was just a small fraction of about 370 student athletes on one of the eleven NCAA Division II teams at Western. In addition to the NCAA team float, the Mountaineer club and mountain sports teams came out in force to represent their respective teams on their own floats.
NCAA student athletes make up one fifth of the academic community at Western and have a history of success in the classroom as well as out of it.
On September 23, it was announced that 49 Mountaineers received Academic Achievement awards from the Division II Athletic Directors Association for cumulating a 3.5 GPA over two academic years. This year’s awards make it consecutive years that the Mountaineers took home the most Academic Achievement Awards of all schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC).
In addition, those national awards come on the heels of a spring 2016 semester that saw 84 mountaineers make the Athletic Directors Honor Role with a GPA of at least 3.5. In addition, the 360 student athletes posted and impressive cumulative GPA of 3.01 for the 2015/16 year. This sets a high academic bar for the current student athletes at Western to strive for.
At the inaugural Homecoming Mountaineer 5k run on Saturday, Western students Brandon Supernaw and Katelynn Martinez were the first to cross the first line. The Homecoming Race was organized as a fund raising event for Mountaineer Athletic Association and their support of the student athletes at Western. J.E. Dunn Construction sponsored the race held above the Mountaineer Bowl.
Then with a large and loud homecoming crowd leading the way, Austin Eckler rushed for three touchdowns while catching two more to help the mountaineers win 45-31 against the Colorado School of Mines. When asked what helped the team the most to get the win, Eckler said, “The crowd was awesome today. They really helped push us over the top to get the win.” The crowd for the Homecoming game was filled with students and families that got louder as the back and forth contest went on. It did seem that every time Eckler broke a tackle or ran over a defender, the crowd would go nuts and propel him into the end zone time and time again. And when the game was on the line in the closing minutes, the defense stepped up and sent the Colorado School of Mines high powered offense to the bench scoreless two times.
Mountaineer Football started the season with a disappointing 34-14 loss to Colorado Mesa University on September 23. Since then, the Mountaineers have come on strong winning their next three games. Senior running back Austin Eckler and senior quarterback Brett Arrivey, have kept the offense running on all cylinders this season while the defense has been improving with every down they play under the leadership of a large senior class.
On September 10, the Mountaineer Football team was able to bring the Colorado Classic trophy back to Western with a 56-25 victory over Adams State during the Hall of Fame Game. That game was followed up by a 24-15 road win over Chadron State College. Those two victories set up a conference match up for the Homecoming game that the Western fans were aching for.
The homecoming win moved Western into third place in the RMAC standings with a record of 3-1. Mountaineer Football will return to Mountaineer Stadium on October 15 to face Black Hills State University in their second to last home game of the season.
After splitting its first two conference games, Western’s Women’s Soccer team has found itself in the middle of the RMAC standings with a 3-3-1 overall record as of September 23. After a four game road trip that started on September 18, the Mountaineers will get their homecoming when they play Fort Lewis College on October 2 at Gateway Field. This will start an important four game homestead during conference play in which the team can make a push for the conference tournament.
Western’s Women’s Volleyball has been finding its stride as they start conference play after mixed success in the season’s opening tournaments. Seniors Allison Walker, Tori Gehrty, Amanda Maestas, Avery Buckholder and Molly Hothan have led their fellow Mountaineers through 6 hard fought victories. Western was sitting in a five-way tie for second place in the RMAC with a 2-1 conference record and are 6-5 overall heading into their Saturday night match against Regis University. The Mountaineers Volleyball will make their homecoming to Paul Wright Gym on October 7 vs New Mexico Highlands University.
Seniors Georgia Porter and John Patterson and junior, Alicia Konieczek, as well as redshirt freshman Ross Husch have been pacing the Mountaineer Cross Country Women’s and Men’s teams this season. At the 2016 Mountaineer/Cowboy invite at Gunnison Middle School on September 17, Porter and Patterson won individual titles while leading their teams to second and first place finishes, respectively. Porter was also awarded the RMAC Runner of the Week for that race. The Mountaineer Cross Country teams will host W Mountain Race on October 8.
Up to date schedules, results, and standings about Western’s NCAA teams can be found at gomountaineers.com. To discover all the cool things that Western’s Mountain Sports teams have been up to on the mountains visit: wscumountainsports.com. And check out the Western Club Sports at western.edu or stop by campus recreation.