Author: Connor Yahn

Oles come up short, eliminated from playoffs

Entering last week, St. Olaf men’s basketball still clung onto hope that it could rebound from an early season slump to reach the MIAC tournament and keep its aspirations for returning to the NCAA tournament alive, a stage it has reached in each of the past three seasons.

Considering the team began conference play with a disappointing 1-4 record, even having hopes of reaching the playoffs this late in the season could be considered an accomplishment in and of itself. A late season surge over weaker conference opponents St. Mary’s and Gustavus put the Oles back in the playoff conversation entering the regular season’s final week. Sitting at seventh place, St. Olaf needed to climb over Augsburg in order to advance in the standings and sneak into the playoffs as the sixth seed.

The week began with an impressive victory over eventual conference co-champion St. Thomas on Feb. 13. Austin Majeskie ’17 carried the Oles against the Tommies with 29 points on an impressive 13-16 shots from the floor, including a pair of late buckets to seal a convincing nine-point win for the Oles. Robert Tobroxen ’18 also chipped in 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds of his own. The win gave the Oles a surprising season sweep against St. Thomas, considered the heavyweight of the MIAC, a feat not even the past three NCAA tournament-qualifying St. Olaf squads could pull off. The Oles hadn’t topped St. Thomas a single time since 2011 – this winter, they pulled off the upset twice for the first time in 20 years. The suprising win set up a highly anticipated clash with cross-town rival Carleton two days later, one suddenly surrounded with real playoff implications for St. Olaf.

Unfortunately, the Oles were simply outmatched by the frontcourt size of the Knights, who featured the MIAC’s top two leading rebounders, Kevin Grow and Freddie Gillespie. Standing at 6 feet 8 inches and 6 feet 9 inches respectively, their size disrupted the Oles at both ends of the floor, resulting in a lopsided 67-49 loss for St. Olaf. Carleton’s height advantage forced St. Olaf into an abysmal 38.5 percent shooting night and its only sub-50 point game this season, a disappointing display on Ole Pride night that dealt a severe blow to the team’s momentum heading into the season finale.

Despite the crushing defeat, St. Olaf still faced a high-stakes showdown with Augsburg to determine the final MIAC tournament spot. Entering the game with identical conference records, the Oles would secure their spot as the sixth seed if they could best their rivals.

However, luck simply wasn’t on their side – Augsburg edged the Oles by a score of 69-66 after a three-point attempt at the buzzer by St. Olaf’s Matthew Stroud ’19 heartbreakingly deflected off the rim. Majeskie and Tobroxen once again led the Oles, as they did for much of the year, with 14 and 11 points respectively. Nate Albers ’20 also added 11 points to go along with 6 rebounds. On Senior Day, Daniel Katuka ’17 and Sam Lagus ’17 were inserted into the starting lineup, providing the Oles some good minutes in what was their final collegiate appearance. Unfortunately for the Oles, their efforts weren’t enough to propel the team past the Auggies and into the MIAC tournament for a rematch with Carleton.

Despite the defeat, looking forward to next season reveals that the Oles should be set up for success. Only three seniors, Majeskie, Katuka and Lagus, will be lost to graduation, and the team will add Ben Scheffley ’19 and Frank Delaney ’19 back into the lineup after the two starters were sidelined with injuries in the latter portion of the season. This year’s team featured a very young roster, and while that may not have ultimately translated into a playoff appearance, the returning athletes will enter next season with valuable experience.

The young Oles showed enormous potential by knocking off St. Thomas twice, undoubtedly the highlight accomplishment of the 2016-17 season. While this season featured less consistency than the previous three, the future still looks bright for a St. Olaf team that will surely be playing with a chip on its shoulder next season, eager to return to the NCAA tournament.

yahn1@stolaf.edu

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Final Four are correct

The College Football Playoff system is in the midst of its first year of true controversy. Going into the final week before the Final Four was to be determined, ten schools held strong arguments to be included among them based on the results of their conference championship matchups. This leaves many wondering whether the breadth of playoff contenders should be expanded yet again, to either six or eight teams. The answer should be a resounding no.

No matter how much the field is expanded, there will always be that one school that feels as if it was snubbed. There will always be controversy, and that is clearly evident in March Madness. Mediocre teams who have no shot of competing with the annual powerhouses like Kentucky or Kansas are often clamoring that the committee made a mistake. Qualifying for a postseason tournament should be hard – leave the participation trophies in youth sports. The College Football Playoff should be reserved for the truly elite teams.

The playoff field was set at four so that it would not diminish the excitement and importance of the regular season. Expanding the field too much would diminish the intensity of a game like the one we witnessed a several weeks ago between Ohio State and Michigan. That game will go down as one of the best games of our generation because of the playoff implications. If both teams knew they would make the postseason going into the matchup, the rivalry would still be fierce, but the energy of that thriller was amplified by the fact that the loser would be eliminated from the national title conversation. If Michigan has any complaints, then it simply should not have lost.

It’s not as if these teams being left out have perfect resumes. Alabama is the only Power 5 school with a perfect record. Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are the only other three with one loss. Those four schools deserve to play for the national championship, and they have proven this consistently. They have the right to battle it out with the best of the best. The remainder of the field had good seasons, but they simply weren’t good enough, and don’t deserve a reward.

Another conundrum that the playoff committee faced this year was how to value conference championship winners. Penn State won the Big Ten title in a thrilling 21-point comeback over Wisconsin, but it was snubbed by the committee. The committee reaffirmed its goal of selecting the “four very best teams in football” for the playoff, according to CFP Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt, by excluding a two-loss Penn State squad in favor of one-loss Ohio State. The Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes earlier in the season, and many felt that a conference championship and a head-to-head victory were enough to supplant the Buckeyes if the decision needed any sort of tiebreaker. However, those facts are just a piece of the discussion, and they are merely supplemental parts. While Penn State had a successful season, the committee, as well as much of the U.S., views Ohio State as the better team. Their record proves it. The goal of the playoff is to select the four best teams, and the committee did just that.

The playoff system as it stands now will always leave out at least one worthy school, and a mid-major college will likely never get a shot at the title under this format. Maybe expanding to six teams could solve that problem, but then you risk conforming to the styles of every professional sports league. The regular season won’t matter as much, and fans won’t have to tune in weekly to catch the season-altering upsets that shake up the college football landscape nearly every Saturday. To be considered a national champion, you must truly be an elite team. Losing two or three games in college football is not elite. Save the playoffs for the teams that deserve it. If teams don’t like it, then they shouldn’t give the committee a reason to snub them in the first place.

yahn1@stolaf.edu

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Women’s basketball thrives in Pasadena

The St. Olaf women’s basketball team made a rare trip to California over Thanksgiving break to face off against Occidental College and the California Institute of Technology. The first game in Los Angeles against Occidental ended in a 50-42 loss for the Oles. St. Olaf got off to a quick 14-5 lead in the first half, but Occidental rallied with a 12-4 run in the second quarter, including a 9-0 stretch, to close out the first half with a 24-18 lead, which it did not surrender for the remainder of the contest.

St. Olaf’s offense went cold after a 14-point first quarter, only managing 14 total points in the second and third quarters combined. By the time they found their rhythm for another 14-point display in the fourth quarter, Occidental already possessed a 16-point lead, and the game was well out of reach. The Oles shot at a clip of 26.4 percent from the floor and committed 15 to cap off a rough day offensively.

Some silver linings from the contest are the performances from the team’s younger players and a rigid defense that kept the contest competitive. Makenna Ash ’19 led the Oles with 10 points, and Ella Skrien ’20 added nine of her own. The team will need breakout seasons from its underclassmen if it hopes to attain enough depth to compete in conference this season – if they keep performing well, both Ash and Skrien will be significant in providing that advantage. Despite the dearth of consistent offense, the Ole defense held strong, holding the Tigers to 34.6 percent shooting from the floor, also inspiring optimism for the regular season.

The following day, the Oles were back in action in Pasadena against Caltech. This time the Oles won by a comfortable margin of 61-48, thanks to notable performances from Betsey Daly ’17 and Margaret Andersen ’19. Daly scored seven points and had a huge day on the glass, notching 18 rebounds. The mark was two rebounds shy of her own school record, which she set as a sophomore in a 2015 win at St. Catherine’s. Andersen led the Oles in scoring with 14 points, including four three-pointers. She also recorded three steals in the game, contributing to the 18 turnovers forced by St. Olaf. Caltech outshot the Oles by 8 percent, but the difference came through defense – St. Olaf had 13 steals, 10 more than its opponent. This time the Oles supported their defense with 34.2 percent accuracy in three-point shooting, the clinching factor in St. Olaf’s second win of the early season. Michelle Lother ’20 and Miranda Thacker ’19 each knocked down three from behind the arc in addition to Andersen’s four triples.

The win in an unfamiliar West Coast setting should help propel St. Olaf into conference play with confidence. It was a rare trip for the Ole basketball team, but it should be a rewarding one as the young team was able to get some valuable non-conference experience.

yahn1@stolaf.edu

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NFL losing viewership

The NFL is facing a predicament that was previously inconceivable – viewership of America’s most popular sport is on a swift decline. The election has been primarily to blame based on past trends – during the 2000 election season, the NFL reported that all four of its broadcast partners suffered ratings declines at a minimum of 4 percent. It’s possible that the NFL is dealing with a similar situation this year. However, if ratings continue to dwindle after the election concludes, football might be facing a larger problem.

Various factors could be causing the decline in interest. The NFL has run into concussion controversies, excessive celebration penalties and declining interest during weekday games. Pinpointing a specific cause for declining viewership is impossible, as all these problems are collectively causing the NFL to stagger. Therefore, scapegoating the election does nothing to address the bigger picture. All these issues remain at the forefront of the NFL landscape, well worth being considered as potential causes of reduced interest.

Concussion discussions have dominated football recently, both through media coverage and rule alterations. The shadow of head trauma controversy has caused enrollments in youth football leagues across the country to plummet. Many rule changes have been criticized for removing the integral spirit of the game – almost any hard hit is flagged in an NFL game nowadays. For many fans, the violence of the sport is attractive – hard hits become highlights. Now, the NFL is trying to eliminate those plays by flagging and fining any hit they deem unnecessary. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was fined over $18,000 after Green Bay’s Week 7 game against Chicago for breaking the arm of opposing quarterback Brian Hoyer. The collision itself was perfectly legal, yet the NFL punished Matthew severely. Kickoffs have all but been eliminated by the new rule change that moved the kickoff location forward five yards. Nearly every kickoff this year results in a casual touchback, erasing another exciting part of the game. The protection of players is undoubtedly necessary, but these safety precautions cost the game some excitement and, in turn, viewership.

The NFL is also eliminating the excitement of scoring by penalizing celebrations. Excitable players dance in the end zone or leap into goal posts after a touchdown, only to be heavily fined. These celebrations are nowhere near the entertainment level of old from players such as Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens, but they are more heavily scrutinized. Fans used to wait all week to see the personalities of their favorite athletes displayed on Sundays, and by fining and penalizing these actions, the NFL is limiting those personalities. During Week 7, Giants safety Landon Collins returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown. His teammate, Owa Odighizuwa, pretended to take photos of Collins with a fake camera in celebration, and he was later fined $12,154 for the harmless incident. Fines like this barely make a dent in the pockets of these lucrative athletes, but the NFL keeps enforcing punishments for innocent celebrations, making the game more strict and serious.

Football has also become less special because it’s always on television. The NFL has recently instituted Thursday Night Football on a weekly basis, in addition to the typical Sunday and Monday contests. Add in college football on Saturdays, and it’s natural to conclude that fans may have had enough of the sport during a typical week. Fans used to have to wait in eager anticipation throughout the week to watch football. Now, there’s a game almost every night.

Perhaps the election is having a bigger impact than logic would dictate, despite debates only overshadowing two Sunday night games. But by ignoring the issues at the core of its image, the NFL is putting itself in danger of further decline.

yahn1@stolaf.edu

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Dance event to connect with local studios

This Saturday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. “Fresh Space” will be taking place in Wagner Bundgaard Studio One in St. Olaf’s very own Dittmann Center. “Fresh Space” provides an opportunity for current St. Olaf students, dance faculty and community members from the Northfield area to come together to share in-progress as well as finished dances.

“Fresh Space” is a great opportunity for students on campus to see what is going on in dance, not only on campus, but also in the greater Northfield community.

This event incorporates college-aged students and will also feature performances with younger dance students from some of the various dance schools in town.

This year, there will be groups from campus, including Veselica – one of the two dance companies in the Dance Department – as well as a dance from the Africa Night performance. In addition, “Fresh Space” will have several current St. Olaf students showing work, showcasing their perspectives and talents.

Dance students from Division Street Dance, Pinnacle Performing Arts and Northfield Dance Academy will also be participating in “Fresh Space.” These are some of the dance schools around the Northfield area, and they have been practicing for their chance to show off their skills Saturday on St. Olaf’s campus.

The concert, primarily organized by Heather Klopchin, is free and all are welcome to attend the event. If you are looking for something to do on Saturday, or if you want to be impressed by quality performances of art, then you should most definitely consider attending “Fresh Space” to enjoy a variety of entertaining dance performances, highlighting various cultures and ages.

It is sure to be a riveting experience for all ages to attend. “Fresh Space” is a unique display of art that can only be seen once this year.

yahn1@stolaf.edu

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