Author: Benjamin Seidel

Game 5 is why baseball rocks

We all thought Game 2 was the climactic pinnacle that would come to define the 2017 World Series between the abnormally deep, star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers and the tenacious, explosive Houston Astros. Four days later, it’s nothing but a distant memory, paling in comparison to what can only be described as pure, concentrated insanity on a baseball diamond.

Game 5 is undeniably the most purely exciting game in MLB history. It was so exhilarating, those possessing apathy or even disdain for America’s pastime could momentarily perceive beyond the facade of an ostensibly “boring” sport and come to truly understand why mass participation in its fandom is such a rabid mania successfully ensnaring the hearts and souls of people who dutifully invest into its intoxicating ethos. If you believe the previous sentence to be overly-romanticized, hyperbolic schlock about a superficially mundane sport, you likely didn’t watch the Astros and Dodgers lay it all on the line for over five hours Monday night.

“Oh, there goes Ben, gushing about a children’s game in pretentious vernacular again like the big, dumb manchild nerd he is.” Yeah, you know, maybe. But I would insist that Game 5, an extra inning, 13-12 slugfest thriller, was a staggering microcosm of the myriad unfolding stories between an iconic playoff mainstay and a relentless newcomer playing with a ravaged city on its back. 

With the Dodgers jumping out to an early 4-0 lead behind the best pitcher in the world, Clayton Kershaw, Houston appeared to be in dire straits, on pace to drop two of its final three home games and expecting to return to L.A. down 3-2 in the series. 

Suddenly, the Astro offense awoke and ignited a domino effect of insanity that spiraled out of control long before the contest would end. A four-run fourth inning stirred the Houston crowd into an absolute frenzy, knocking Kershaw out of the contest and shifting the momentum 180 degrees in favor of the home team. Sure enough, L.A. responded immediately with three emphatic runs during the next half inning, robbing Astros fans of hope as soon as they sniffed it. Continuing the turbulent roller coaster ride, Houston icon and likely American League MVP Jose Altuve, the pride of short athletes everywhere, mashed a three-run homer in the following half inning, gridlocking the score at 7 and escalating the energy in Minute Maid Park to an arguable all-time high.

L.A. Houston. L.A. Houston. Back and forth, back and forth, lead change after lead change until the Astros finally emerged victorious after the Dodgers accomplished an improbable three runs with their backs to the wall to send the storybook game into extra innings. What makes this Game 5 in particular so uncanny is the near identical match it shares with each team’s story up until its first pitch. 

The Dodgers, always the bridesmaid but never the bride, consistently jumpstarts regular seasons with a torrential pace, a stacked roster and more financial resources than any organization could hope for, yet always ends up belittled in October for faltering on the biggest stage in spite of their numerous advantages. While only the most cynical of fans could claim they choked in such a closely contested competition, the fact remains that they put themselves in a near-optimal position to stranglehold Houston into submission and once again let a golden opportunity slip through their grasp. While certainly not eliminated, it’s a feeling that L.A. fans have grown woefully accustomed to during the past decade.

The Astros face impossible odds in the middle of a metaphorical hurricane and represent a rare spark of hope for a city in ruin after a disastrous literal one, rising to a herculean challenge and refusing to concede. The people of Houston desperately needed something to get excited over, and, like the 2013 Boston Red Sox before them, the narrative of tenacity and unity that the Astros have consistently displayed through the playoffs, World Series and especially Games 2 and 5 is a perfect match to uplift those devastated by tragedy.

By the time this article is published, Game 7 will have definitively dictated the next baseball champion – if last season’s zany conclusion between the Cubs and Indians is any indication, things could, somehow, get even crazier. However, Game 5 will always be the one to remember, as it not only perfectly encapsulates what it means to follow either the Dodgers or the Astros, but, more importantly, reminds baseball fanatics that the impossible is never out of reach while simultaneously inviting outsiders to understand its potentially unrivaled allure. For my money, it doesn’t matter who wins – Houston and L.A. have already imprinted their mark in history.

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye

Oles abruptly eliminated in first round

The dream 2017 season for St. Olaf women’s soccer, one in which it advanced into postseason play for the first time since 2013, came to an abrupt and emotional end Tuesday afternoon as the Oles succumbed to sixth-seeded Gustavus 2-0 in the first round of the conference playoffs.

After a closely contested first half in which St. Olaf played a comfortable, effective game of ball control in order to generate scoring opportunities, it seemed like only a matter of time before the third-seeded Oles inevitably broke through the Gusties’ rigid defense. However, a sluggish start to the second half allowed Gustavus to blindside St. Olaf with two jarring scores. From that point, once the visiting team could focus every effort on stall tactics and defense, the Oles could no longer afford to rely on the methodical, deliberate play that brought them so much success during the regular season. Forced to play frantic catch-up, women’s soccer simply couldn’t produce enough explosive offense to keep its championship run alive. 

“We were excited that we had a chance to redeem ourselves against Gustavus, who was one of the few teams that beat us in conference play during the regular season,” head coach Rachael Sushner said. “We had a great first half and continued our dominant possession style game and defended very well. But, the first few minutes of the second half we came out flat for some reason and Gustavus, an experienced playoff contender in the MIAC, capitalized on that by scoring two goals early in the half, which totally changed the momentum of the game for the remaining 30 minutes.”

It’s not that the Oles possessed a dearth of opportunities but rather the few early chances to score simply didn’t come to fruition. After being awarded a penalty kick in the first half to potentially take the lead and give St. Olaf invaluable momentum, Kaylyn Billmeyer ’19 couldn’t convert, allowing the 0-0 gridlock to persist. Emily Helle ’18 knocked on the door with a breakaway scoring chance soon afterward, but multiple Gustavus defenders deftly hounded her down and cleared the ball before the situation could escalate further. This was a common occurence throughout the contest, as any daylight the St. Olaf offense garnered was quickly snuffed out by the agile opposing defense. The Oles generated five corner kicks compared to Gustavus’ zero, but, despite hard fought battles in the trenches of the goal box, the Gusties managed to stabilize the situation before St. Olaf could properly capitalize. It’s not that the Oles’ gameplan was faulty – it’s that the execution simply wasn’t successful on this particular day.

Coming off a series of closely contested final regular season matches against some of the top threats in the MIAC, including playoff teams such as St. Thomas, St. Benedict and Augsburg, the Oles had all the confidence in the world heading into the first round, which tinged an already disappointing loss with an air of emotional frustration. However, for Sushner, this stretch of play is indicative of a strongly spirited team that, despite being a first-year playoff participant, could compete pound-for-pound against the conference’s veteran championship teams.

“We had come off multiple games against the best teams in the conference having played really well,” Sushner said. “It was nice to see how hard we competed in those games leading up to the playoffs and that we could be successful playing a great style of possession oriented but dangerous soccer. It felt like the pieces finally came together in the most important part of the season and I was very proud how well we played as a team and our focus in practice each day, even around midterms.”

While the end result leaves a bitter taste, it’s important to consider the greater context. For a young team ranked seventh in the MIAC preseason coaches’ poll, securing the third seed – and finishing one thrilling, airtight overtime loss from taking first in the conference – is, in itself, a massive success. Though saddened now, the experience these players gained on their biggest stage yet will inevitably be valuable when they take the field next fall, this time with an even more motivational chip on their shoulder. The fans chanting “Um Ya Ya” on the sidelines, despite the loss, can tell you this team was an absolute thrill to watch and has nothing to be ashamed of, possessing an optimistically bright future.

“I know that we improved out of sight as a team since preseason in August,” Sushner said. “The season was quite a roller coaster at times, but we learned valuable lessons in out of our conference games that allowed us to succeed once conference games hit. We never stopped improving this season as a team and that reflected in our style of play in later games against strong opponents. Knowing that we were playing for first place in the last game of the regular season is something to build off of for next year. The bar needs to be set higher now and things that were once just lofty goals now need to be expectations for the future. If we can start off the 2018 season with that mindset, then I’m confident we will be looking at a chance at competing in the NCAA Tournament next year.”

“Now, we will have to think about this game for a long time and will need to wait to redeem ourselves on September 26, 2018 in St. Peter. And that will be a good day.”

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye

Volleyball downs Bethel, advances to semis

In its first playoff match since 2012, fourth seeded St. Olaf volleyball was locked in an intense struggle against the visiting fifth seed, Bethel University, following the second set of play. Although beginning with an inspiring and enthusiastic 25-19 first set victory in which they never surrendered the point lead after an electric 5-1 start, the Oles found themselves losing momentum quickly, dropping set two 20-25 while committing six errors in the process. 

St. Olaf head coach Emily Foster needed to steer the Oles back to their winning trajectory. Together, during the tense intermission before a decisive third set, Foster and her players exited to the locker room to regroup and come back strong, determined to keep their Cinderella season alive. 

We just had to refocus,” Foster said. “We were one set apiece at that point, and it was basically just that we had to fight back. This is the playoffs, [Bethel] is a team that’s gonna fight us. Are we gonna push back? Are we gonna prove that we belong in the playoffs? Or are we gonna let them take control? That was part of it. Our ball control also fell apart a little bit in the second set, so we just needed to refocus on our passing and our serve receives so we could get back in system.”

Evidently, Foster’s strategic team meeting worked wonders – St. Olaf absolutely dominated during the proceeding stretch of play, bullying the Royals for a 25-15 set victory, the largest margin of the contest that permanently skewed the match in the Oles’ favor. Consistently demonstrating a strong sense for correcting the team during moments of lapse, Foster called another timeout in the same vein as the locker room meeting after Bethel took a 12-7 advantage in the fourth. Once play resumed, led by veteran star Megan Grimes ’19 and breakout sensation Lauren Rewers ’20, who had 17 and 14 kills in the match, respectively. St. Olaf snatched six of the next seven points to tie the score and permanently reclaim the momentum en route to a triumphant 25-23 fourth set victory. It’s the Oles’ first playoff win in seven years. 

“It [the timeout in the fourth] was mostly about ball control and serve receive,” Foster said. “If we can serve receive and run a quality offense, it’s a whole different game.”

Having finished 10th or worse in the MIAC for the past four seasons and entering the season ranked dead last in preseason polls, St. Olaf volleyball has consistently proven to be the most surprising athletic team on campus this fall, a wild underdog story as inspirational as it is exciting. Everyone wrote them off in August. Now, they’ll be the only St. Olaf fall team still playing in November. 

“Belief is the biggest difference from last year to this year,” Foster said. “The takeaway from this match is our serve receive. When we can serve receive we can play with anyone.” 

The Oles face a daunting task in their approaching semifinal match against  Foster’s alma mater, St. Thomas, a nationally ranked powerhouse that swept St. Olaf 3-0 in the regular season. However, for this team that revels in the underdog role and wears its heart on its sleeve, the obvious question when faced with such odds is “why not us?” Ole volleyball has been consistently surprising fans and opponents alike all season long, and for a squad containing the MIAC leaders in kills (Rewers), assists (Lexi Wall ’21), service aces (Rewers) and points (Rewers), not to mention finishing second in conference in total team kills and assists, a momentous upset could absolutely be in the cards.

The moment the final ball was struck, Foster began prepping for the Oles’ semifinal match in St. Paul on Thursday.

“We gotta get them out of system, and we have to do a good job against their middles,” Foster said. “Their middles are very, very talented. Those would be the two biggest keys to that match.” 

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye

Rewers leads volleyball playoff pursuit

After finishing tied for last place during the last two seasons, St. Olaf volleyball has accomplished a 180-degree flip in 2017, currently positioned in a tight battle for their first playoff appearance in five years. Lauren Rewers ’20 has been at the forefront of the Oles’ success, leading the MIAC in individual kills (349) and kills per set (3.71), emerging as a breakout star and jumpstarting St. Olaf’s offense to one of the most intimidating in an already formidable conference. With Rewers leading the way, the Oles look to maintain their sixth place status and clinch a playoff seed against current fifth place contender St. Mary’s.

Q: What’s been the biggest contributing factor towards your improvement? 

A: I only played three rotations in the front row last year, so coming into this season I was determined to be a six-rotation player always on the court. That spot was definitely not going to be handed to me, so I’ve had to work really hard to improve every aspect of my game. Coach Emily always talks about continuous improvement and that was something I really took to heart. Every game is a clean slate, so I am always working to be the best I can be each individual game and each individual point. 

Q: What have been the biggest difference makers for the team’s rapid turnaround from last fall? 

A: I think that team mindset has played a huge role in our success this season. Every player on the team is 100 percent committed to working hard on and off the court, and the commitment has allowed us to make drastic improvements to our mentality and game. The seniors last year were awesome leaders who really set the bar high, encouraging us to work hard and give to the team no matter the situation. They instilled in the program such a commitment and love for the game that I think we have really used their guidance from last year and ran with it. We also gained some awesome first years who I am so glad to be playing with. All of them completely buy into the program we are building and some have become huge impact players during every game, which is so awesome. I really feel like we are motivated by the desire to play and give everything to our teammates. I am out on that court because I love the game and love the girls I’m playing with, and know they would all say the same thing. We are a team of achievers, so no one is settling for “good enough” or “almost winning.” We are determined to be the best we can be, and the outcome of that is winning. 

Q: How is the team preparing for your upcoming conference matches with a potential playoff spot on the line? 

A: We haven’t won anything yet, and we know that this week is crucial to secure a playoff spot. We never go into games assuming a win or assuming to get the outcome we want without working hard for it. I love playing in the MIAC because it is such a competitive conference, so no conference game we’ve played has been easy. Every game is a new challenge and can have any outcome, so we definitely try to keep our mentality the same for every game. We started the season ranked 12th in the MIAC, knowing that it would be a battle to prove people wrong and bring ourselves to the top of the conference, and even though we are doing way better than anyone might’ve thought we would, we still fight every game as the underdog with nothing to lose and everything to prove.

Q: Describe some of your volleyball background. How did you start playing? What role models or teachers have helped guide you through your career thus far?

A: I grew up playing soccer, but my mom played volleyball in college so it was always something she encouraged me to try. I started playing club volleyball in sixth grade while still playing club soccer, but realized soon that I liked volleyball a lot more than soccer. I blew out my knee my sophomore year in high school, during our biggest rivalry match of the season. With a dislocated kneecap, torn ACL and shredded meniscus, my sophomore season ended and I spent the next year in recovery. My team went 32-6 that season finishing sixth in the state of California, and I was their loudest cheerleader from the bench. That year in rehab really made me realize how much I valued being an athlete and how I hated not being able to play, so I was determined to strengthen my body and get back on the court. I think I realized that year that I wanted to be playing at a competitive level for as long as possible, so I started working on being recruited for college. My parents have been my biggest support system throughout everything, the really good and the really bad, and I honestly wouldn’t be anywhere without them. I also wouldn’t be anywhere without my physical therapist, because he was the person who pushed me to get better, believed in me when I was so sure I’d never play volleyball again and celebrated with me when I was finally cleared after a long year of rehabilitation.

Q: What do you feel your greatest asset is as an athlete, and what’s a part of your game that you feel can improve? 

A: I think one of my biggest assets as an athlete is belief in myself. Volleyball is basically a game of who can make the least mistakes, so it’s really easy to get caught up in what happened in the past play, or other mistakes that were made in points before. I work really hard to move on from a point, whether I just got a kill or hit the ball into the net, because ultimately that point is irrelevant now. I am not a player who gets caught up in my mistakes or in my head, which I think has really helped me to be successful. I have a strong desire to keep developing because it is impossible to play a completely perfect game, so I am always working on limiting the number of errors I make. This requires sustained focus and discipline, something my coach and teammates do an awesome job holding me accountable for.

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye

Oles outlast Carleton in Cereal Bowl classic

Rivalries rarely reach the level of historic magnitude St. Olaf has managed to achieve with its crosstown competitor, Carleton College. Therefore, it should come to nobody’s surprise that, as the game clock suspensefully entered the final minute of play during the 2017 Cereal Bowl last Saturday, Oct. 21, the outcome remained stressfully uncertain. 

It was a roller-coaster of a game containing six lead changes, during which the Oles managed to reclaim a marginal 29-26 advantage with 9:30 remaining in the final quarter of regulation thanks to a 31-yard gem of a touchdown pass from Jack Goldstein ’18 to Gonzalo Piera ’20, the latter of whom was awarded the MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts. However, Carleton didn’t take long to respond with a threatening drive of its own. Moving at a torrential pace, the Knights advanced the ball 60 yards in under a minute, resulting in a 4th-and-8 at St. Olaf’s 17-yard line. For St. Olaf, one high stakes redzone play either way could potentially dictate the difference between victorious elation and crushing defeat. 

Max Karpinske ’20 and Ole defense weren’t willing to let the latter become reality. Already having broken up Carleton’s previous pass attempt on 3rd down, Karpinske immediately replicated his clutch playmaking ability to swat away the Knights’ final, heartstopping shot at the end zone. It sealed the victory for St. Olaf and secured possession of the Goat Trophy, the statue awarded to the victor of the yearly bout, for the fourth consecutive season. Also, the eagle statue in downtown Northfield will face the Hill yet again, as is tradition for the winner of the contest. 

Despite being soundly beaten in time of possession (25:10 to Carleton’s 35:50), Goldstein managed to keep the contest within reach with two efficient scores en route to 324 passing yards and three touchdowns during the game’s duration. Breakout running back Khayleb Willis ’20 continued to effectively balance the offensive attack, producing 151 rushing yards, his third consecutive game with 100+ yards on the ground, punctuated by an emphatic 67-yard breakaway rushing touchdown that gave the Oles their first score of the second half. 

Despite frustration stemming from missed opportunities during a slow first half, first-year head coach James Kilian witnessed a tangible shift towards a more relaxed atmosphere starting in the third quarter, allowing the Oles to gain momentum.

“Carleton did a great job with their offensive game plan and kept the ball for the majority of the first half,” Kilian said. “This kept our offense off the field, making every possession important. We failed early on a turnover and we were stopped on our goal line on 4th down on our next possession, but we were able to capitalize on our next couple possessions with touchdowns.”

“Most of our adjustments in the first half were just our guys settling down and play the way they know how. Offensively, we were able to take advantage of some mismatches in the secondary and turn those into some long pass plays.”

The triumphant four-peat elevates the Oles’ all-time mark against Carleton to 53-43-1, including victories in 18 of the rivals’ last 21 meetings. For Kilian, these records and the rivalry take a back seat in favor of utmost respect for opponents and insulated introspection on the extensive road towards building a championship team possessing not merely great athletes, but also well-rounded people. 

“Every win is important, but in our program we do not talk about opponents,” Kilian said. “Each week we focus on ourselves and being the best St. Olaf we can be. We respect each opponent and the tradition that comes with playing our cross-town rivalry, but that is where it stops for us. Lots of people talk about hating Carleton or any other school, but to us, hate is just another form of envy, and we do not envy anyone. We focus our energies on our team and what we can do to improve and are not concerned with others or outside opinion.”

The victory over Carleton is the culmination of a newly balanced offense and a defense that does just enough to keep the Oles within striking distance in close conference contests. Under Kilian’s guidance, St. Olaf is playing its best football in years, now having won three consecutive contests for the first time since 2012, and, with a 3-2 record in conference play, have equalled their victory totals against MIAC opponents during the last three years combined. Looking forward, Kilian’s philosophy remains steadfast – if it isn’t broken, no need to fix it. 

“It really is just more of the same,” Kilian said. “Success is not a secret formula. We ask our guys what outcomes they want to achieve and then based on those outcomes, what responses are necessary to achieve these desired outcomes? We control the response and that response can influence the outcome. The one thing we cannot control are the events. Events make up a number of things – opponents being one – that we have no control over; therefore, we do not focus on events. This makes the process simple for our guys to follow. I want to commend our players for buying into a new culture and embracing the culture that we are establishing. The success we are having is a direct reflection on the way our guys have responded to a new culture and new process.”

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye