Two weeks in, the NFL season has been all that football fans could ask for.
By Ryan Ford
Football season is back. Fans are allowed back in stadiums, in most cases at full capacity, and the energy so far has been electric. The NFL has just concluded their second week of games as of this writing, and already there have been many storylines and surprises. For those who haven’t been paying attention, here’s some of the more noteworthy developments at this point in the 2021 season.
Tom Brady continues to defy Father Time
One of the oldest sayings in all of sports: “Father Time is undefeated.” No matter what, at some point an athlete will just be too old and beaten up to continue playing their sport at the highest level. Eventually, this will be true (you’d think?) about Tom Brady, but if these first two weeks are any indication, he still has a lot more left in the tank.
Through two games, Brady leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (9), is 8th in QBR (65.0), and sits at 5th in passing yards (655). Most importantly, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-0. Watching the tape, his arm looks as strong and lively as ever. Pretty good for a 44 year old QB, who has played in the NFL longer than some of his teammates have been alive. There’s a lot more football left to be played, but Tom Brady is looking like one of the favorites for the NFL MVP early on in the season.
New-look Ram’s offense has the NFC West looking like the NFC’s Best
Ever since the Los Angeles Rams lost Super Bowl LII to the New England Patriots in 2019, something just seemed off about the relationship between QB Jared Goff and wunderkind head coach Sean McVay. The Rams never returned to the Super Bowl with Goff, and after two disappointing seasons, he was traded to the Detroit Lions along with several draft picks for Pro Bowl QB and former number one overall pick Matthew Stafford.
So far, the marriage between Stafford and his new play-caller McVay has been must-watch TV. The Rams’ offense looks amazing, and alongside a defense that was the best in football last season, they have outscored teams 61-38—good enough for a +23 point differential that is 6th in the league. Stafford has made all the difference, as he sits 4th in the NFL in QBR (78.1) and has propelled the Los Angeles Rams to a 2-0 start with his veteran leadership and cannon of an arm.
Add in the hot starts of Kyler Murray’s Arizona Cardinals, Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks, and Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers, and it’s looking like the NFC West (a combined 7-1 record and +72 point differential through week 2) is once again one of the best divisions in football.
Biggest Surprises of the Season So Far
The Las Vegas Raiders sit at 2-0 following impressive wins against the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many were skeptical of the Raiders following another off-season in which they made questionable draft picks and overhauled their entire offensive line. But so far so good for Jon Gruden’s Raiders, as Derek Carr is making his case for the most underrated QB in all of football.
Another team off to a surprising start are the Carolina Panthers, who are also undefeated through two weeks after clobbering the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday, 26-7. Newbie quarterback Sam Darnold has been impressive (3rd in the NFC in QBR at 66.3), and their defense has been top notch (1st in yards allowed in the NFL at 380).
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has had a lackluster start to the campaign. Following a 13-3 regular season and a 2nd-place finish in MVP voting in 2020, Allen and his Bills were popular bets to win the Super Bowl this year. However, they sit at 1-1 through two weeks, and even though they are fresh off a blowout win against the Miami Dolphins, Josh Allen hasn’t been himself. He currently sits at 23rd in the league in QBR (44.6) and 32nd in yards per attempt (5.3). Again, there is still plenty of time to regain his MVP-worthy 2020 form, but this is certainly not the start that he and Bills fans were hoping for.
Image Courtesy: Bleacher Report
The SMC track and cross country team are finally back to competing and running without the constant ubiquity of masks
By: Eden Llodrá
While for most of us it is a struggle to walk with a mask, try running or starting a race with one on. This year the Saint Mary’s track team is relieved to be able to run without masks, yet the remains of social distancing and mask protocols are still present in tournaments and indoor practices. Compared to last season’s strict COVID-19 protocol restrictions and training regimens, this year, there is an unanimous feeling of relief and excitement to be somewhat back to normal.
From an athlete’s perspective, Trinity Santana, a junior on the track team, said “it's honestly just so nice to be back and even though things aren't completely ‘normal,’ it's nice that my team has kept the same love for running even through the pandemic.” Although not everything has reversed back to the way it was, there is team motivation in the rekindled friendships that resurfaced after quarantine.
Training without the push and reward of being with like-minded teammates made last year’s mental and physical struggles immense. With constant COVID-19 tests, health forms, and teammates separated across the country, the track team, like most other sports teams, felt the heavy weight of the pandemic on their shoulders. Santana shared that “last season during cross country and track we had to do temperature checks going into every meet.”
No matter what, there was no escaping the new reality that COVID-19 introduced to all of us, and for the track team that was greeting teammates from afar and racing with masks in hand. Stuart Kendall, a senior on the team, said “as of right now the training has resumed to pre-Covid conditions, other than wearing masks during weights.” With the introduction of the vaccine, restrictions have been slowly lifted and teams do not feel the same kind of stress they had felt before. Slowly, teams are building back up again as a unit and getting the chance to travel again for competitions.
The Cross Country races have made progress in restoring the way competitions used to be, yet Kendall said “some races still have limited entries in order to limit the total number of athletes racing at once.” Although things may not be completely back to normal, it is admirable that sports teams are still being mindful and proactive in preventing the spread of the pandemic. The Saint Mary’s track team seems to have outrun the isolation of COVID, yet minor restrictions remain in their practice regimen, but have not stopped them from racing together, masks set aside.
This season for most feels like a fresh start, a chance to reconnect, relearn and reflect. The track team feels the excitement of being able to celebrate each other's successes and rekindle their love for running. Since last season, many had to continue training on their own, which made it hard, as many lost the feeling of what it was like to be part of a community. Now, as team training has commenced, the act of striving together is what makes everything the team has been through worth it.
On Friday, September 11th, the SMC Volleyball team beat CSU at a home game
By: Eden Llodrá
Back on the Saint Mary’s courts, the spirit was alive in the stands and the players radiated their excitement. The game started out with an ace by Elena Baka, number fifteen. It is a great start to the set, as the Gaels caught the lead early on. With a block from number nineteen, Chandler Cowell, it put the score at 8 to 3, with the Gaels ahead.
Baka later faked a kill and tipped the ball over, landing in center court, making CSU fall to their knees with the score 13 to 5. Number eighteen for CSU had a strong and fast topspin serve, but SMC knew how to return it everytime. Gaels swept CSU in the first set 25 to 15 like it was nothing. Their excitement to be back and doing what they love lit up the court.
At the start of the second set, the Gaels easily got ahead 9 to 3. Number twenty one, “Boo” Laird hit the ball straight down the middle and CSU couldn't even get a dig on it. The crowd went crazy, with the score 10 to 4, feeling like it wasn’t even a close game.
That being said, seemingly out of nowhere CSU seemed to get their formation and strategy back. Gaels held control of the set, but it was SMC at 18 and CSU at 15. The opponent started to make a comeback and SMC had to stand their ground. Things started to get intense right after the CSU libero served and it was a point for SMC, as she was out of position.
The Gaels started to slightly lose their focus, as CSU began to wake up. CSU spiked the ball down tying up the set 21 to 21. With a few mistakes on the SMC side of the court, a timeout was called and CSU was ahead 23 to 21. As the game continued, it was hard for SMC to close the set and CSU tipped the ball in, winning 25 to 23. They had each won one set.
In the third set, SMC started out strong again, but didn’t gain a drastic lead. Number sixteen, libero Kelsey Knudsen served it in and CSU returned it. Baka then hit it to the right and it was a tip off a CSU player and went out. The game tied up 9 to 9.
Within the third set, the competition and the tension in the stands grew. Number twenty-two, Alosina Thompson, set it to “Boo” Laird who tipped it over. CSU then dove to get it back, but Kelsey Knudsen set it to setter Thompson and number five, Kristen Erland, who hit the ball down. Gaels got ahead 20 to 17. It became a very close game and everyone felt the weight and importance of the set.
SMC and CSU took turns tying up the game. Before CSU’s set point, the score being 25 to 24, SMC called a timeout. After that, the Gaels made a comeback and number five, Kristen Erland smacked the ball down to the right for a win of 27 to 25.
In the fourth set it was not as close and SMC gained the lead like they did in the first set. With Gaels ahead 16 to 8, winning was just in sight. CSU’s number eighteen served the ball, and SMC’s number twenty-one, Boo, tipped it to the left side of the court. SMC was in the lead by ten points, 20 to 10. With only two points left for SMC to close up the game, CSU called a timeout.
Nevertheless, there was no chance of CSU catching up. The SMC Gaels proudly won the last set, 25 to 13. The cheers from the crowd were overjoyed, not only did SMC win at home, but it showcased that they were back better than ever, and ready for the season to start.
The University in Provo, Utah appears to be set to leave the conference that it has called home for over 10 years, which means that the Gaels might be losing one of their fiercest rivals
By: Ryan Ford
After a decade of playing in the West Coast Conference, it looks like Saint Mary’s and the rest of the WCC are losing one of its most competitive members, Brigham Young University. Per KREM 2, BYU will be leaving the conference and likely joining the Big 12, paying the WCC $500,000 to make the move. The move will not take place until the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season.
For our men’s basketball team, this is a huge blow. The WCC, in large part due to the recent success of Gonzaga, has become one of the more well-respected mid-major conferences in all of college basketball. BYU is coached by Mark Pope, who has led the team to consecutive twenty-win campaigns and the 6th seed in last season’s March Madness. Saint Mary’s relies heavily on having quality wins (which is to say, wins against opponents who are considered to be tournament-worthy teams), and BYU has been just that.
Their men’s basketball team has failed to win 20 games just once during their time in the WCC, accumulating a 233-105 record over that span, per ESPN. Saint Mary’s has fared well against their conference rival, however, winning 14 out of the 21 games they have played against Brigham Young during that same span. Despite that somewhat lopsided number, SMC vs. BYU games have produced some of the most noteworthy moments in our basketball program’s past decade.
Who can forget the legendary game-winner from half-court by Saint Mary’s legend Matthew Dellavedova, to take down the Tyler Haws-led Cougars in 2013? Or Jordan Ford’s game-winning jump shot against BYU to clinch a spot in the 2020 WCC Championship game? Needless to say, Saint Mary’s and BYU’s rivalry definitely made its mark on the conference.
For those wondering why BYU would leave an up-and-coming league in the WCC for the Big 12, some context is needed. While Brigham Young University made the move for the West Coast Conference in 2011, their football team went independent, meaning that they didn’t belong to any conference in college football. This move to the Big 12 certainly aims to put their football program on the map, as the Big 12 has historically been a prestigious football conference. Recently, blue-chip programs Oklahoma and Texas accepted invitations to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, per ESPN. This left space for a respectable football program in BYU to make their move, one that they have likely been eyeing for a while financially.
BYU’s football program generates by far the most money out of all their sports teams. Their football program generated $23 million this past year, which led to almost $2 million in net profit for the school. The Cougars got off to a 9-0 start last season and were ranked as high as 8th in the country. They finished the 2020 season with an 11-1 record, led by QB Zach Wilson, who was drafted second overall in the NFL Draft this past April. This recent success makes them a prime candidate for replacing Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12.
As the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team attempts to rebound from last year’s uncharacteristically down year, they are scheduled to play BYU in Provo on January 8th, and later at home on February 19th, two games that figure to be deciding factors for the fate of the Gael’s upcoming season.
The team bounced back from their previous loss of the season with a 4-2 win against the San Jose Spartans on September 13th
By Kulia Osborne
At an exciting home game, Saint Mary’s men’s soccer team went up against the San Jose Spartans. This game followed a 0-1 loss to Grand Canyon University. The game started with the Spartans taking a 1-0 lead against the Gaels in the first 10 minutes of the game. This didn’t deter the Gaels, as they closed in on the goal for the Spartan numerous times.
There were multiple attempts at a goal by number two, Christian Engmman, but Sweeney from the Spartans saved both hits from Engmman. This, however, ended up leading to a pass from number twelve, Andrew Rotter to number six, Bourdanne Ngongofor, who promptly kicked the ball into the goal, thus making this Ngongofor’s first goal of his collegiate career. Excitement was high and the cheers were heavy, but this wasn’t the end for the Gaels nor the Spartans.
Saint Mary’s then scored a second goal from Riley Lynch, putting the Gaels in the lead at the beginning of the second half. The Spartans were sure to remind the gaels that this wasn’t going to be an easy game when they attempted another goal against the Gaels, but number zero, Kash Oldapo, made an amazing stop before the goal could land against Saint Marys. However the Spartans soon secured a second goal thus evening the score 2-2. In the last couple minutes of the game, number three, Louis Sterobo, made an amazing pass to number seven, Phillip Van der Lof, who then made an amazing score in the 88th minute. It wasn’t over because then in the 89th minute number fourteen, David Borg, kindly responded with the final goal of the game.
Nikita Ducarroz represented Switzerland in the first ever BMX freestyle final at the Tokyo Olympics, winning a bronze medal for her country
By Eden Llodrá
Nikita Ducarroz, raised in Sonoma Valley, got into BMX riding through Youtube videos. She was self taught and a visual learner when it came to the sport. “When my family and I went camping at Sugarloaf,” she shared,“I would make little jumps to jump off on my bike.”
It all began as a fun hobby and regular time spent at the skate parks. Then, some little competitions here and there, but she said “at the time, as the only girl doing it, I didn't think I could make it a career.” When she began the sport there wasn’t a whole lot of female representation for BMX, however, Ducarroz said that social media helped her connect with other girls around the world and brands as well. These connections really got her going and led to overseas competitions, life-long friendships, and big sponsorships.
With all that is going on in our world today—not to mention the added pressure of an elite athlete’s training regime and competition schedule—the stress is unimaginable. Nevertheless, when speaking toDucarroz, her playfulness and comradery in her training style shows the true reason she fell in love with the sport to begin with.
In the training center she says “when one of us is scared to do a trick we make bets, so if someone does something that they have been really nervous to do then the other person has to do the trick that they are most nervous about, and things like that.” With hours of training everyday, it can be difficult to keep things feeling new and exciting, yet Ducarroz makes sure that her BMX career does not become monotonous. “When I start feeling burnt out and have dips in my training, when riding becomes not as exciting, I take a break until I crave it again.” She takes her training seriously, but does not lose sight of why she started riding in the first place. By leaving room to take breaks, her love for the sport is reborn.
When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, Ducarroz was in the midst of moving to a house in North Carolina that was right next to a training center. The purpose of the move was to train more rigorously and she was lucky that she could still practice at the center with a small group. She said, “my training changed a lot during the pandemic, because I wasn’t getting ready for competitions anymore, but just practicing tricks. In some ways, it worked out for the better.” Although competitions were canceled due to COVID-19, it gave athletes like Ducarroz time to practice, regroup, and reconnect.
Throughout these last couple of years, there has been no doubt that people have experienced struggles with their mental health, even before the pandemic, and Olympians are no exception. Ducarroz shared that she has always struggled with anxiety and depression and started seeing a psychologist even before her career took off. She says “my mindset is always to take it one day at a time.”
With the looming possibility of the Olympics including freestyle BMX for the first time, Ducarroz wasn’t sure whether or not she would be able to compete in Tokyo. This doubt did not stop her from regularly training and getting herself mentally prepared.
When BMX finally made its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, Ducarroz was ready. Not only was she trained and conditioned for the competition, she knew what strategies worked for her to ease her stress. She said that she uses visualization and breathing techniques before a competition, as training the mind is just as important as training the body.
At the Olympic finals, Ducarroz shared a special moment. “As everyone was feeling the pressure, tense on the deck and people weren’t talking, my Australian friend broke the ice and said ‘hey we haven't hugged in a while.’” At that point, she said that the silence broke and the girls all came together to root each other on. They were all in it together.
Ducarroz shows us that we should never lose our playfulness, that breaks in routines leave room for appreciation to grow, that mental health comes equal to one’s physical health, and that without embracing others, we may never know the comradery in our successes.
Melanie Moyer '22,