Brady Boie – Staff Writer
After having almost two years effectively nullified due to the ongoing pandemic, the Gustavus Adolphus Athletics rebounded in an impressive fashion. Despite dealing with extra guidelines, altered practice environments, and unexpected cancellations, the Gustie athletes who competed in the 2021-2022 seasons unlocked their fullest potential and became a point of pride for students and alumni alike.
“Our athletes have played full seasons, for the most part, this year, and have taken advantage of it. A lot of our teams have captured conference titles and moved on to national tournament play, with some even making it to the national championship,” Sports Information Director CJ Siewert said.
With sports finally returning to some normality in the fall, the Gusties were determined to take advantage. Early highlights of the fall included a come-from-behind homecoming day victory for the Gustavus football team. This victory was emblematic of their stellar season, as the Gusties finished with their best record in over two decades. Seniors Dalton Thielen and Zachary Jakes starred on offense and defense while Junior Andrew Abegglen shone through on special teams. Not to be outdone, the men’s and women’s cross-country teams had equally successful seasons. The women’s team placed third in the MIAC, while the men finished fourth.
Senior Andrew Stumbo completed his hall-of-fame cross-country career by running strong at a star-studded NCAAs. Men’s and women’s soccer both reached their respective quarterfinals, as women advanced through to the semis while the men fell in an overtime heartbreaker. However, none of the aforementioned teams had the most impressive fall sport.
“Volleyball missed out on a lot. They had their Fall 2020 and most of the Spring 2021 season canceled… they had a lot of seniors who had experienced MIAC championships and national tournaments, and they were eager to get a chance to get back to that kind of competition,” Siewert said.
After a dominant regular season, the Gustie volleyball team rallied from an early deficit and defeated Bethel in the MIAC championship game. They advanced to the NCAA tournament and defeated highly-touted Chicago before falling to UW-Eau Claire in the semifinals. This sensational squad was led by Senior Kate Holtan, who earned All-American honors.
“Losing to the eventual national champion UWEC speaks to the leadership of seniors like Kate Holtan and Hailey Embacher, who led the charge all year long,” Siewert said.
As impressive as the fall sports were, the winter sports were even better. Women’s hockey stood above them all, as they blitzed through the MIAC and had a Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament. The Gusties reached the national championship game before the clock struck twelve, as they lost an overtime heartbreaker and were national runner-ups. This game completed the greatest season in Gustavus Hockey’s history, and the team earned school-wide recognition for their impressive performances.
“I’m so proud of our ladies and how hard they battled… this is a special team… a really close-knit, hard-working group… I couldn’t be happier for our school,” Head Coach Mike Carroll said.
Both the men’s and women’s swim teams followed hockey’s lead, as both had team members reach nationals. The women sent a relay team to nationals after a second-place finish in the MIAC; the men broke the MIAC points record and claimed the conference for the third consecutive year. This effort was led by MIAC Most Outstanding Swimmer Matthew Strom (Sophomore) and nationals-qualifying Junior Andrew Becker.
“On the men’s side, it is almost becoming an expectation to win the conference meet, and they have done that the last three years… Coach Carlson has done an excellent job recruiting top-level student athletes,” Siewert said.
The winter season of winning didn’t stop there; the Gustie women’s basketball team also claimed a MIAC title, as Sophomore Emma Kniefel and Junior Anna Sanders earned All-Conference nods, The men’s team also had two All-Conference players, as Seniors Kaleb Feahn and Nolan Malo guided the Gusties through coach Mark Hanson’s final season as head coach.
“To have the success that the women had this year was a pleasant surprise… for them to upset Augsburg was really cool to see,” Siewert said.
When spring sports rolled around, the winning momentum continued for the Gusties. The men’s tennis team just claimed the MIAC title, vanquishing the Carleton Knights in the final match. The women’s team followed suit, blitzing through the competition before losing to Carelton in the final. Track standout Junior Birgen Nelson has been nearly unstoppable and guided a relay team to a historic victory at the Drake Relays just a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the men’s relay teams are rounding into form as the championship draws near.
Out on the diamond, the Gusties continue to shine. The softball team is led by Sophomore Piper Otto, whose strong pitching has helped the team remain competitive. On the other hand, the Gustie baseball team just broke the home-run school record and is ripe for a deep playoff run. Finally, the men’s golf team is set to compete at nationals this upcoming week and has established itself as a top-20 program in the nation.
“Men’s golf has been close to reaching the national meet for the last few years and they were able to accomplish that this season for the first time since 2013. Jacob Pedersen is leading that group as the MIAC Player of the Year and a returning All-American,” Siewert said.
With the majority of spring sports conference play on the horizon, the Gusties look to be in a good position to end the year on a high note. Gustie Athletic programs have battled through one of the most difficult years in recent memory and come out the other side shining brighter than ever. Highlighted by dominant performances on the court, in the pool, and on the ice rink, the Gusties ended the 2021-2022 season with multiple MIAC titles, dozens of All-American Honors, and countless victories on and off the field. All of these accolades bode well for a 2022-2023 year in sports that cannot come soon enough.