Author: Benjamin Seidel

Willis uplifts rushing attack vs. Hamline

St. Olaf football finally broke through for its first conference victory of the season, claiming a pulse-pounding 40-33 Homecoming win over Hamline. The Oles dominated on the ground as the rushing game exploded behind the dominant performance of running back and kick retuner Khayleb Willis ’20, who rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown, averaging an impeccable 4.9 yards per carry on 32 total rush attempts. With his emergence, St. Olaf can potentially achieve a more balanced offensive attack together with quarterback Jack Goldstein ’18, presenting a more dynamic, fearsome offense against future opponents.

Q: Describe some of your football background. How did you get into it? How did you know it was something you’d want to pursue even after high school? 

A: I’ve played football for the majority of my life, 16 years. My family has a rich background in football. My dad and uncles all played football at the collegiate level and some even at the pro level. Also, my oldest brother is trying out for the NFL this upcoming spring. I knew it was something I wanted to pursue after high school because it was always my dream to play college level football. I believe seeing all the hard work and dedication my brother puts into football really inspires me to work as hard as I do. My brothers are my biggest role models.

Q: What do you feel is your greatest strength as a running back? Where do you think you could still improve? How will you go about improving it?

A: I think my greatest strength as a running back is my speed and toughness. I may not be the biggest running back in the MIAC (5ft 5’ – 160lbs) but I am definitely the fastest and I think I can take a hit as good as anybody. I think I can still improve in my blocking skills. I will improve that by hitting the weight room to get stronger and getting my technique down during practice. 

Q: What was the biggest difference maker that contributed to your breakout performance?

A: I think the biggest difference maker in my breakout performance was the way in which the team practiced all week. We practiced with a lot of energy and enthusiasm which translated to game day. And of course I give all the credit to the big boys up front [the offensive linemen]. They opened up holes for me so big a car could drive through. Our chemistry is really starting to pick up; I foresee a lot of big runs in the future.

Q: How does kick returning compare to rushing as a back? What elements of kick returning helped you succeed as a running back? Which do you prefer?

A: I love running back, but there’s nothing like the first kick return of the game to set the tone for the team. I think being the kick returner has helped my vision at running back. It allows me to see the open holes and hit them as fast and hard as I can. It definitely benefits me as a running back.

Q: You had nearly double the amount of carries against Hamline than your previous high for this season against Luther. Does this signal a shift towards a more aggressive rushing attack for you guys? What effect did this have on recovery after an increased physical toll?

A: I’m not sure if this signals a shift towards a more aggressive rushing attack but if it helps the team win more games then I’m all for it. I think our coaches do a great job every week breaking down the film of our opponent and making sure we expose their weaknesses on game day. That week they believed our running game would be effective and they were correct. But if the O-line continues to play as good as they did, then I don’t see why we wouldn’t run the ball whenever we want. With all the carries I had, I think I had a few more nicks and bruises compared to other games, but at the end of the game, knowing we won and seeing all my teammates and fans happy, I really didn’t notice any major physical toll. 

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Star power carrying volleyball to resurgence

In the Manitou Messenger’s fall sports preview, we predicted that St. Olaf volleyball would most likely undergo a developmental season after losing several key starters, featuring younger players who would need time to adjust to an intensely competitive conference.

Boy, have they proved us wrong. Thus far, the volleyball team has easily been the most surprising athletic team on campus in 2017, jumping to an impressive 17-8 overall record and overcoming some tough rivals to emerge 4-2 against MIAC opponents. Though being thoroughly outmatched by perennial conference threats Gustavus and St. Thomas by a score of 3-0 in each match, the Oles have emerged victorious in nine of their last 12 contests, including  dominant performances against Hamline, Macalester and Bethel. Of those nine wins, six have been shutouts. 

Altogether, St. Olaf appears destined for its first winning record since its incredible 2010 season, and potentially a postseason appearance along with it. If the regular season ended today, the Oles would be the sixth and final playoff seed. 

What’s most surprising, however, is the staggering offensive proficiency that St. Olaf has demonstrated, a complete reversal from a 2016 squad that ranked ninth among MIAC teams in kills and tenth in average kills per set. By comparison, it ranks first and fourth respectively this season.

The dramatic improvement of both Megan Grimes ’19 and Lauren Rewers ’20, as well as an extraordinary breakout season from rookie Summer Reid ’21, has provided the Oles with a powerful triple threat on offense that has utterly overwhelmed most opponents this season. The trio currently possess the top three kills totals out of all conference players. Rewers in particular has been a gem, leading all players in the MIAC with 293 kills and 3.66 kills per set. 

That’s not to say St. Olaf hasn’t impressed in all aspects of the game. Though the loss of immaculate digs leader Abby Slack ’17 was expected to significantly hinder the Oles’ defense this season, Haley Langeslag ’20 has nearly mirrored the former’s production, posting 413 digs and 4.86 digs per set, second and third in the MIAC, respectively (by comparison, Slack produced totals of 457 and 5.02) during her senior season. Lexi Wall ’21 has provided the backbone support, topping the conference with 11.14 assists per set. 

Breakout performances from several young stars have breathed new life into St. Olaf volleyball, pointing towards an optimistic future and building tremendous excitement for a potential 2017 playoff run.

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Men’s soccer earns first victory vs. St. Mary’s

To put it lightly, the St. Olaf men’s soccer team didn’t produce an especially encouraging start to the 2017 season. After starting the fall with five consecutive losses, only scoring once during each of those contests combined, the outlook for the remainder of the schedule appeared particularly grim.

However, the dearth of offense finally vanished this past weekend, as the Oles claimed their first victory of the season, a tense 2-1 win over conference rival St. Mary’s. Though the team’s overall record currently rests at an unsettling 1-5, securing this road win boosts their conference record to a modest 1-1. This is an exponentially more surmountable hurdle to overcome provided the young starters can continue improving individually and progressing as a team. According to the veteran players, though the relative inexperience initially presented an obstacle, the new faces on the team are quickly emerging into noteworthy talent.

“Obviously our goalkeeper graduated and our two centerbacks graduated, so we’ve had a lot of younger players stepping up,” veteran

midfielder Simon Broccard ’18 said. “We actually have three freshman starters this year, so they’ve been very impressive with their play. Some of the players who didn’t get as many minutes [last season] have also been doing a really good job of stepping up.”

Most prominent among this collective of new starters is goalkeeper Ben Westermeyer ’19. Though he struggled to shake off the rust during the season’s initial few games, surrendering seven goals in three contests combined, Westermeyer has stepped up his game during St. Olaf’s recent stretch of play. During the past two weeks, he’s only allowed one score in each of the Oles’ three matches, including a convincing six-save performance against Loras to keep the contest scoreless through regulation. If he can continue to minimize the damage and keep St. Olaf within a realistic striking distance of victory, men’s soccer can easily turn things around.

“[Ben] was in Ole Band last year, so that conflicted of course,” Broccard said of the team’s new goalkeeper. “But it’s great to have him on the team now, he’s been a very strong presence back there in goal.”

Though St. Mary’s struck early, the Oles finally found their groove on offense late during regulation, with rookie Thierno Gueye ’21 delivering a dramatic score at 84:21 to send the game into overtime, his first goal for St. Olaf. From there, veteran Kyle Leemon ’18 capitalized on a depleted Cardinal defense, administering the climactic final blow while claiming the team lead in goals (2) en route to a 2-1 Ole win. Finally, St. Olaf hurdled beyond their dearth of offense to deliver in the clutch.

“Offensively, we’ve been struggling, so we put some different players in our attacking tactics, and that seemed to pay off,” Broccard noted of the victory. “The second goal was inevitable for the other team, as they [St. Mary’s] had gotten a red card with ten minutes left, and that brought us into overtime.

You could tell that it was just going to be either 20 minutes of them defending or a goal [for St. Olaf] pretty quickly.”

Despite a severe scoring drought culminating in an overwhelmingly discouraging beginning to the 2017 season, St. Olaf finally has some semblance of momentum heading into a home stretch of conference games against Gustavus and St. John’s. Overall record aside, if their winning percentage within the conference remains in a positive direction, the Oles can easily bounce back.

“I think we’ll keep [these tactics] in mind for the future,” Broccard said. “We still didn’t play as good as we wanted. We probably could have possessed the ball a little bit more, and we have to capitalize a little more on our chances, but overall I think we’re moving in the right direction, and getting a win is a really nice feeling at this point in the season. Plus it’s really helpful because it was a conference game, so we’re starting the conference 1-1, which is respectable.” 

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Helle delivers game-winner in overtime

Emily Helle ’18 picked an excellent time to secure her first goal of the 2017 season, netting the Oles a thrilling 2-1 victory in a suspenseful match against St. Mary’s. In her final season, she hopes to help push St. Olaf into a playoff spot following its dramatic turnaround a season ago.

Q: What part of your game do you feel you improved most during the offseason? What’s one aspect of your game that you wish to improve upon this season?

A: I’d say the one thing I put the most time into this offseason was fitness. Each summer we receive a weekly summer training and lifting packet and I followed that pretty religiously. I also trained with some other teammates, both current and former Oles, to stay in shape. There are a lot of aspects I can improve on this season, but I’d say right now my biggest challenge is staying tighter formation-wise with my other center mid-fielders. It’s something we’ve been working on in practice and I’m excited to show everyone our progress this weekend.

Q: Now that you’re a senior, how has your leadership mentality changed?

A: As a senior I don’t think my mentality has changed too much in regards to leadership. I’m more of a lead-by-example type of player and during preseason all of the seniors worked to make the team environment as inclusive as possible. We have a great group of talented freshmen who are already making a huge difference to this program. They fit in with our team personality so well.

Q: Decribe what was going through your mind when you took the winning shot against St. Mary’s.

A: There were only 20 seconds left [in over- time] on the clock, and the whole period we had been pushing toward a goal. We all got into the 18 and Mackenzie Schoustra ’20 sent in a beautiful corner kick, which St. Mary’s struggled to clear out of the box. The only thing on all of our minds was that we needed to find a way to get anything on this ball – ahead, a shoulder, a leg, a knee. I stepped up to press the ball and it ricocheted off my chest over the keeper’s hands and into the goal. There were two seconds left on the clock and we walked away with the win. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but I think it showcased the grit that this team has to fight to the end. 

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Strong team play keeps St. Olaf perfect

Chalk another win up for the Oles, now in sole possession of first place within an intensely competitive MIAC.

Heading into minute 80 of scoreless regulation play against visiting St. Benedict, St. Olaf women’s soccer once again faced an extremely tight contest likely to be decided by a single score. Luckily, as in their past two conference matchups against St. Mary’s and Bethel, the Oles manufactured a clutch, decisive goal in the closing minutes. Claire Bash ’20 capitalized on a pinpoint corner kick from Sarah Fisco ’18, launching a header into the net and securing a 3-0 start in MIAC play for a red hot St. Olaf squad. The victory marks the first time women’s soccer has started the fall with three consecutive conference wins since 2011.

True to form, the Oles maintained a healthy balance across the field, emphasizing unselfish team play and depth in order to emerge victorious. Overpowering St. Benedict consistently throughout the afternoon, St. Olaf remained on the attack without providing an inch of leeway, producing six combined shots on goal during the contest. Contributions on offense from

established starters such as Bash, Fisco and Abby Stets ’18, each with one shot on goal, were effectively supplemented with healthy production from younger players such as Maggie Wilson ’21, who pressured the St. Ben’s defense with two shots off the bench.

Another major storyline demonstrated in the contest is St. Olaf’s increasing efficiency on defense. Marissa Carroll ’21 presented a formidable obstacle in her third start at goalkeeper, one that the visitors could not overcome. However, in addition to Carroll’s efforts in goal, alongside fellow first year platoon goalkeeper Brynne Davis ’21, it’s not as if the opposition has been gifted any chances to score in the first place.

A stifling defensive wall led by veteran Kaylyn Billmeyer ’19 and emerging star Briana Linnerooth ’20, who have started every match and played a team-leading 815 and 833 minutes, respectively, has shut down any momentum from conference rivals this season, holding MIAC foes to only one goal combined. Indicated by the 1-0 final score, defense was once again the most significant key to victory against St. Benedict, as the Oles only allowed one shot on goal during the entire contest. In addition, St. Olaf’s sturdy defense silenced breakout St. Benedict forward Megan Thompson ’21, who is tied for third in the MIAC with six goals, holding her in check for zero shots on goal for the match’s duration.

This well-rounded teamwork is moving mountains for the Oles in 2017, a successful approach that they hope continues to bear fruit as they attempt to tie the school record against Gustavus with their fourth straight conference win to open the season. 

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