[caption id="attachment_26265" align="alignnone" width="300"] T.J. LaFaver[/caption] With Will Smith popping up on your television almost twice a day, I am sure you are aware of the rising concern of concussions in sports. Recent incidents around the country have forced the NCAA and other organizations to take a strong approach towards the protocols when dealing with a concussed athlete. Some of those same protocols have been followed carefully by Missouri Western. Blaise Kriley is going into his third year as the head athletic trainer at Western. He noted that, since the topic is becoming more popular, more people are starting to be more aware of seriousness and the symptoms of concussions. “If you remember, back in 2011-2012, that’s when the big NFL case came out with the concussions,” Kriley said. “The awareness about concussions became much more apparent, and I think it has risen due to education.” Yearly, Kriley and his staff work with over a dozen incidents involving concussions with athletes. Since Kriley has arrived, that count has been pretty steady over the years. “Each year we deal with 15-20 concussions,” Kriley said. “And for this year, we are kind of going on that same pace.” There are normally trainers around at the different sporting events going on around campus. According to Kriley, it is their job to identify athletes with concussion symptoms and proceed with the protocols immediately. “Basically, if we suspect that someone has a concussion, we evaluate them,” Kriley said. “If it is during practice or during a game, we immediately remove them from activity, then we do the evaluation.” After being removed from activity, a series of tests are ran on the athlete by a physician. “They then start what we call our concussion protocol,” Kriley said. “Which is when they see our team physician and they do what we call the IMPACT test, which is a neurocognitive test that helps measure brain functions.” After that, the athlete is then shut down from activity to allow time to heal from the incident. “They go into a period of rest and once they are symptom free, then they can start a return to play protocol,” Kriley said. “Which is just a progressive day-by-day exercise regimen that they do to work back into full activity.” This same protocol is used for athletes on campus, from the football team to the cheerleading squad. “It does not matter if you are a cheerleader, a golfer, a football player or a basketball player,” Kriley said. “We treat all concussion incidents the same.” The NCAA also has a hand in how the concussion protocols and history of the incidents are handled. “We have to have a concussion protocol on file,” Kriley said. “It’s like a plan that is on file so everyone knows what we have to do. We also have to do education on concussions. So, every student athlete that comes here, they watch a team video in their team meetings. It goes over signs and symptoms and a broad return to play protocol.” Some notable concussion incidents so far have been suffered by two of the Griffons quarterbacks. Both Skyler Windmiller and TJ Lafaver split time this past season when the other could not play due to concussions. Football was not the only sport were a notable concussion incident occurred. For a period of time, volleyball was without one of their All-MIAA performers in Jessie Thorup, due to concussions. Coach Marian Carbin feels that although volleyball is not seen as physical as football, some of the same symptoms apply. “I think the symptoms are similar,” Carbin said. “We actually had two concussions this year, and I think that some of the symptoms can get really severe. We have players that get nauseous, especially when they hit the floor or get hit by the ball.” Carbin noted that the after-effect problems can also be a challenge to deal with. “They have to be in environments that are low-stimulating,” Carbin said. “Where they just sit in their rooms normally. For our players coming back, just the noises in the gym are sometimes hard to deal with.” Concussions are an issue that is rapidly growing onto the public conscious and there are many accusations of wrongdoing in different levels of sport, but it is safe to say that Western takes the problem seriously and handles occurrences as such.
[caption id="attachment_26266" align="alignnone" width="300"] Running back Josh Caldwell[/caption] It was a challenging season for the Griffons this past fall. They are heading into next season with the possibility of having to rebuild at several positions. However, there are also some positions that look to be stacked and primed to improve from this past season. On defense, the linebacker is losing decorated player Yomi Alli, but have at least four linebackers with experience returning next season. Three of those players were All-MIAA selections this past season. Darrian Bass made Third-Team All-MIAA after putting up 62 tackles, six sacks and three interceptions. He was third on the team in total tackles. Cody Lindsay and Jorge Belcher both received All-MIAA Honorable Mention for their past season performances. Lindsay had 56 tackles and led the team in sacks for the second year straight, this year achieving 7.5. He was fourth in the MIAA in that category. Belcher finished the season with 29 tackles, along with 3.5 sacks, despite missing the final two games of the season. Those three will be playing without at least four players from the defensive line this past season, including All-MIAA performers Arbanas Elliot and Janis Matulis. Mackenzie Wischmann and Daylon Harper will be returning to anchor the line, and both have some experience in the trenches. It will be interesting to see if they continue to work Harper into the offense next season. Dennis McKinney seemed to catch the eyes of the coaches lately, and was starting to get on the field towards the end of this past season. He’s young, but should be able to contribute when he gets a couple of snaps. What seems to have the most uncertainties comes from two of the more crucial spots on the field, starting on the offense. The offensive line will lose three senior linemen, including All-MIAA performer Leonard Wester. On the bright side, they have two more All-MIAA performers in John Carter and Travis Anderson returning for another season. Although those players return will be impactful, the line will have to go through some reshuffling in order to see who fits where. They have a lot of depth at the position, but there is some inexperienced players on the roster. On defense, the secondary situation is similar to the offensive line. There are also two All-MIAA players returning at the safety positions in Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owens. Watkins was fourth on the team in tackles with 59 and also had two interceptions. Owens was second on the team with 85 tackles and was second on the team in interceptions with four. The bad news is that they will lose two more All-MIAA corners, which include two-time first-team All-MIAA member Mike Jordan and Sam Brown. Other than Elroy Douglas, who also finished up his career last season, no other corners saw much time on the field than Jordan and Brown this past season. That may have been because most of the other corners were redshirt freshmen. It will be interesting to see what corner O.J Graves' role will be heading into next season. He got some playing time, but who knows what Partridge has planned for his young but experienced secondary. On the bright side, the offense may be due for a big season next year. They lose the second leading rusher in school history in Raphael Spencer, but Josh Caldwell took a bulk of the carries when Spencer did not and he was impressive. Caldwell gave the offense a huge lift when Spencer was not on the filed with some of his punishing runs. Would not be surprised if they used two running backs heavily again, as Kendall Short showed flashes of brilliance last season as well. The biggest improvement should come from the passing game. Skyler Windmiller is headed in to his third season, and probably his first as the clear cut favorite to be the starter. This past season he went through more growing pains, but steadily showed improvement. Dee Toliver's decorated career at Western is over, but DiJuan Ussery and Trey Lewis were solid players for the Griffons this past season. They are both deep threats and allow Windmiller to stretch the field. For the past two years, the defense has been pretty solid, with the offense trying find its identity. This might be the year the table flips, and the offense gets rolling while the defense continues to be solid, but also goes through some growing pains of their own.
It was the last game for the seniors, and offensively, it may have been their best of the season. Western was able to finish the season with a 63-21 victory against Missouri Southern. The Griffons scored their first two touchdowns on the ground, courtesy of running back Josh Caldwell. A balanced attack of passing and running helped the Griffons take an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Raphael Spencer and Caldwell led the rushing attack, as the two averaged 5.8 and 8.6 yards per carry respectively. For the second straight game, both running backs achieved over 100 yards in the same game. Southern struggled to get anything going early, with the Griffons forcing three-straight three-and-outs, leading to more Griffon points. Quarterback Skyler Windmiller hooked up with big-play target Dee Toliver for a 69-yard touchdown reception, early in the second quarter. The game seemed to slip away from the Lions, after return man Brandynn Clark returned a kick for an 82-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was Clark’s first return touchdown of the season. “I felt the punt team was long overdue for a house call,” Clark said. “I just felt that it was necessary to get one today.” Southern quarterback TJ Fleeton was finally able to get the Lions on the board, after a two-yard touchdown run, but the Griffons still had more left in the tank. Wideout DiJuan Ussery completed a 24-yard touchdown pass from Windmiller, making the game look out of reach for the Lions. Ussery also converted a 57-yard catch into a touchdown after the half, his second TD grab of the game. With Southern not finding an answer to the Western defense, Western gave them a heavy dose of Spencer and Caldwell to run off some of the clock. Spencer finished the game with 128 yards on the ground and one touchdown. He finished his third-straight season with over a 1,000 yards rushing and finished his career as the second-leading rusher in Missouri Western history. “It was a nice ride man,” Spencer said. “I am never going to forget the men in that locker room. They made it possible for me to do what I do. So, I will keep them in my heart, wherever I go.” Caldwell finished with 121 yards on the ground and two touchdown carries. Wideout Toliver finished the game with 89 yards and a touchdown grab. He led the Griffons in receiving in his final year as a Griffon. “I came in with a great group of guys,” Toliver said. “These guys have always had my back. The team has always had my back and I could have not done it without my teammates.” Although they gave up 14 points late in the game, the defense finished strong, along with senior linebacker Yomi Alli and senior cornerback Mike Jordan leading the way. Alli finished his senior season as the team’s leading tackler on the season. While Jordan led the team with five interceptions and in pass deflections on the season. “You invest into a lot of these young men,” head coach Jerry Partridge said. “Especially the ones that have been with you the whole time. The four-year guys, the five-year guys, and even like the guys like Yomi that go for six years. It is very difficult to say goodbye to them.” The Griffons finished the season 6-5, but were able to end on a two-game win streak.
He picked up a club when he was a toddler, and it has been hard to get it out of his hand every since. "My dad started me when I was about five-years old," Hand said. "Around 10 years of age we started to play in competitive tournaments around Kansas City." Hailing from Savannah, Missouri, Ryan Hand has always been fond of competition. After graduating from Savannah High School, Hand continued to play recreational golf, while also playing golf in junior college before coming to Western. "This will be my second year at Missouri Western," Hand said. "I played junior college golf in Dodge City, Kansas and then transferred here after two years. I love competition golf and I love recreational golf. It is an important part of my life." One of the highlights of last season for Hand was sharing a first place tie in the MWSU Holiday Inn Express Classic. Hand was competitive throughout the year, finishing in the top-25 in three other tournaments. Earlier this October, he placed fourth in this year's MWSU Holiday Inn Express Classic. He credits the recent success of the golf program to good coaching and his teammates. "It has been a lot of fun," Hand said. "My teammates, we're pretty close. So, there is never a dull moment really. We know how to have fun." That positive energy may have trickled down from the coach. Hand noted that head coach Greg Dillon's positive attitude keeps the team motivated to play. "Our coaches are constantly pushing us to be better," Hand said. "It has been a good experience here. [Dillon] is a really good guy and keeps things positive every time. Even if you have a bad shot, he finds a way to pick you back up." The person who first put the club in his hand is also his caddy during tournaments. It's a tradition that started when he was just 10-years old. "My dad is my caddy for the tournaments," Hand said. "It has been a real good father-and-son bond. Over the years, we have been all over the country. He has been there with me every step, along with my mom. She comes to most of them, when she can." The future for golf at Western looks encouraging according to Hand. He noted that the program is continuing to grow and the younger guys are ready to compete in bigger tournaments. "I expect the younger guys will stay hungry and continue to try to turn the program around," Hand said. "Hopefully we can get a team in here for a Regional."
[caption id="attachment_25419" align="alignnone" width="300"] Sydney Andrews approaches ball during Friday's win over Missouri Southern. Zack Papenburg | Photo Editor[/caption] The Griffons are off to one of their best starts in program history, and Sydney Andrews has played a pivotal role engineering that start. Plus, she is doing it all with a hearing disability. Soccer is a sport were communication is key, so it is hard to imagine how she's able to hear on the field, while also playing at a high level. "I am deaf in both ears," Andrews said. "I got hearing aids when I was two." Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Andrews was born deaf, but that never distracted her from doing what she wanted. One of the keys for Andrews is being aware of things around her. She feels that her teammates do a good job with making sure she is aware. "Because I am deaf, I have to be a lot more aware of the (other) players," Andrews said. "The players on the field can't talk to me. (That) makes it harder for my teammates, but I have really good teammates." One of those teammates includes Sarah Lyle. Lyle noted that Andrews has become one of the leaders of the team. "For the two years I have been here, I have seen her grow from her personality on-the-field and off-the-field," Lyle said. "She is a more positive and upbeat person. She does not really get the credit she should, but she has really been a positive role model for the girls on the team." That type comfort is why Andrews decided to come to Western. With offers from other schools, Andrews felt like Western was a family. "I had some other contacts, but this school stood out to me," Andrews said. "We have a great team atmosphere, a great coach and a great group of girls." The defender's disability has opened up to some wonderful opportunities along the way, including being able to travel overseas to play soccer. "I played for the USA Deaf Women's National Team," Andrews said. "I joined the team in 2012 and went out for a tryout. I was actually getting recruited by a coach and he told me about it." On the experience, Andrews thought it was interesting playing with other deaf players. She even came back to the states with a medal. "That year, we went up to Turkey for the deaf World Cup, beat Russia and took first. It was pretty awesome," Andrews said. "The following year, we went to [the] Deaf Olympics in Bulgaria, and we won there, too. This year we are going to Italy." Being deaf has it's disadvantages, but Andrews is determined to not let it hold her back, not even on the field. "Personally, it's kind of nice, being out there, just out there playing," Andrews said. "You don't hear fans, although fans are nice, there are no distractions."