Griffons stay above .500 at midseason

The first half of the Griffons' season has been a rollercoaster as Western tried to find consistency. Although they made their way to five wins, the fastest in program history, they are not satisfied with where their record currently stands. Western sits at 6-4-1 on the season, but holds a subpar 2-3-1 record in conference play. “We have had a couple of losses we shouldn’t have," midfielder Bridget Blessie said. "We cannot afford to lose any more games in order to be where we want to be at the end of the season.”  The Griffons have relied heavily on a solid defense and an extremely reliable goalkeeper to stay afloat this season. The Griffons' defense has yet to give up more than one goal in a game. This statistic has been critical. As of Western’s six wins, four of them have been by a single goal. Eight of the 11 games played by Western this season have been decided by one goal. This well-executed defense, alongside an impressive season being put together by goalkeeper Sarah Lyle, are an excellent combination for the Griffons. Facing 115 shots on the season, Lyle has 46 saves and only eight goals allowed. Her presence in the goal has been valuable and allows for the offense to be able to find a way to victory. The Griffons' offense has been fueled by Blessie and Sydney Cluck. The two midfielders each have three goals apiece to lead the team. Between the two of them, they have put up 53 shots, 32 being on goal. This dynamic duo also share another significant, more impactful statistic this season. Both Blessie and Cluck have a pair game-winning goals. The most recent game-winner by Cluck took down conference-foe Emporia State. Cluck would find the net in double overtime against the Hornets this past Sunday to secure a 1-0 victory. This victory is one that the Griffons believe could propel them through the remainder of their season. “The win this weekend really helped boost morale,” Lyle said. The team is not down on itself. “We have never given up and will continue to fight for the remainder of the season,” Blessie said. The goals of the team moving forward are just as high as they have been all season. Blessie, Cluck and Katie Kempf all hope to host a first-round tournament game. However, they also have one more common goal they hope to accomplish in the coming weeks. “Beat Northwest.” The Griffons have six games to make the most of this season and find their way to the postseason. Western hosts Nebraska-Kearney and Fort Hays State this weekend at Spratt Stadium. They travel to Northwest Missouri State on October 30.

‘The godfather of Missouri Western athletics’

Charlie Burri and his wife Patti attend Missouri Western's home football game against Fort Hays State at Spratt Stadium. Zack Papennberg | Photo Editor
[caption id="attachment_25575" align="alignnone" width="300"]Charlie Burri and his wife Patti attend Missouri Western's home football game against Fort Hays State at Spratt Stadium. Zack Papennberg | Photo Editor Charlie Burri and his wife Patti attend Missouri Western's home football game against Fort Hays State at Spratt Stadium. Zack Papennberg | Photo Editor[/caption] Respect. There is an old phrase that ‘respect is not given, respect is earned.’ Few people have earned the type of respect among their peers at Missouri Western that former athletic director Charlie Burri has earned. University President Robert Vartabedian holds Burri in very high regard as someone who has shaped Western into the place it is today. "If you look at the history, (of the institution), go back all the way to the mid-60’s, (Burri) has been an important part of this university for half of its existence,” Vartabedian said. Former Griffon athlete under Burri and current head football coach Jerry Partridge knows that any successes that the athletic department has can be traced back to the influence of Burri. “Charlie is the godfather of Missouri Western athletics. He is the guys that started it all,” Partridge said. Current Griffon Athletic Director Kurt McGuffin got along with Burri well from the moment he was hired. “When I got the job, I asked for a list of people to call,” McGuffin said. “Charlie was the first one I called and two and a half hours later on the phone after all the stories, I knew right then we had someone who cared about Missouri Western.” Burri did not take a common path to his place among Western’s legends. In fact, he began his path to the head of Western athletics in one of the most unlikely of places: Northwest Missouri State University. In 1958, Burri graduated from Northwest. After a stint at Faucett High School, Burri moved to St. Joseph and became a teacher and basketball coach at Benton High School. In 1966, Burri was approached by then-College President Milburn Blanton about joining the staff at what was then-Missouri Western Junior College. Burri not only served as the school’s first director of athletics, but he was also the school’s first head basketball coach, first golf coach and first physical education teacher. Burri also had the foresight to realize that if the athletic department was going to continue to grow, that a major sport was missing that would help propel it upward. That sport was football. Where some might have only seen a hillside with a flat patch of grass at the bottom. Burri saw a football field. “We drive by that little natural bowl down there, so I said to Dr. Looney (Western’s then-President)… it’d look nice to have a football field down there,” Burri said. In 1979, Burri opened Spratt Stadium and changed Western and the athletic department forever. While the university looks to renovate the stadium this year, Vartabedian appreciates the work that must have gone into the project when Burri undertook it. “Huge accomplishment,” Vartabedian said. ”You can imagine getting something like that going at an institution like Missouri Western. It took a lot of ingenuity on his part, incurable people skills, connection, all of the above.” Burri was only focused on building a football facility though, he also got the Griffons the MWSC Fieldhouse in the Looney Complex, which is named for the president which Burri served under for the longest, M.O. Looney. “To think ahead and to say we need to put in top-notch facilities for the future was key,” McGuffin said. Burri's foresight and ability to think quickly on his feet were attributes that served him well as an athletic director, but they also served Dr. Looney and several faculty members well during a photo opportunity shortly after the school purchased new land to move from its downtown location to its current setting. “Out where you go to turn in, that was part of a dairy farm, well they wanted to take a picture,” Burri said. “ We had to climb under the fence, and I didn’t like something I saw, I saw two longhorn steers out there. We got over there 10 yards or 15 at the most and they charged. You should have seen us diving over that fence. How it ended was they jumped the fence a ran through some gal’s laundry.” The Bearcat-turned-Griffon is not just respected in the athletic and Western community for what his teams did on the field. He also worked very hard to position the department well off the field as well. In 1970, he established the Gold Coat Club, modeled after the Kansas City Chiefs Red Coat Club. And before Western was the training camp home of the Chiefs, Burri had the NBA’s Kansas City Kings playing in the MWSC Fieldhouse. Western had many successes on the athletic fields and courts during Burri’s two decades with the institution, including a softball national championship, golf national tournament appearances, and football bowl victories. Burri had opportunities to leave Western and take larger profile jobs, but in the end, St. Joseph and Western were too special to him and his wife Patti. Burri retired in 1986. He is a charter member of the Western Athletics Hall of Fame, in addition to being elected to several hall of fames dedicated to athletic directors. Burri, to this day, rarely misses a Western home football or basketball game. Partridge talks to Burri whenever he has the chance and is quick to thank him for making what Griffon football does today possible. “Everytime I see or he sees me, we talk,” Partridge says. “I’m so respectful of what he did to make my job possible and Missouri Western athletics possible.” Varabedian appreciates the fact that Western is in Burri’s blood and he continues to support Western with his great love of the university. “For the last 31 years, since his retirement, (Burri) has just been like Griffon royalty attending our events,” Vartabedian said. Charlie Burri is truly ‘Griffon royalty.’  

Western sneaks by Fort Hays State with big conference win

Sam Brown, left, and Evan Jennings, right react to incomplete pass to seal Western's 26-21 win over Fort Hays State, Aaturday in Spratt Stadium. A teammate rushes over to celebrate with Brown. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor
[caption id="attachment_25617" align="alignnone" width="300"]Sam Brown, left, and Evan Jennings, right react to incomplete pass to seal Western's 26-21 win over Fort Hays State, Aaturday in Spratt Stadium. A teammate rushes over to celebrate with Brown. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor Sam Brown, left, and Evan Jennings, right react to incomplete pass to seal Western's 26-21 win over Fort Hays State, Aaturday in Spratt Stadium. A teammate rushes over to celebrate with Brown. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor[/caption] Survival. That is what it was all about for the Griffons in their 26-21 victory against Fort Hays State on Saturday in Spratt Stadium. The clock reads 0:01 in the fourth quarter. The Griffons hold a five-point lead. The two teams had run 150 total plays up to this moment and it all comes down to this play. The official places the ball ready for play seven yards away from the end zone. Tigers’ quarterback Treveon Albert looks to his right where Isaiah Maxi is covered by Griffon star corner Mike Jordan. He looks to his left where Evan Jennings is matched up with Sam Brown. Albert calls for the snap. Brown drops into his coverage knowing that the game and possibly the teams’ playoff hopes will likely depend on his ability to force an incomplete pass on this play. “My heart was beating a bit,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, this is what I train for every day.” Albert lofts a pass in Jennings and Brown’s direction as the two players exchange slight shoves in an effort to gain a positioning advantage over their opponent. “(The officials) let them play at the end,” head coach Jerry Partridge said. “Thank heavens.” As the players leap for the ball in the back corner of the end zone, the ball hits Jennings’ hands as Brown knocks it away from behind. Brown and Jennings tumble to the ground, just as the ball does, hitting the turf and ending the game. “It played out in slow-motion,” Brown said. “The only thing I was thinking about was making sure that I won at the end of the day.” Jennings and his teammates immediately begin to call for a flag to no avail, while Brown and his teammates celebrate their survival. The Griffons were able to have the lead to hold on to thanks to a very strong first half. Injuries, again, bit them early though. T.J. LaFaver was pushed into action for the second-straight home game, as starting quarterback Skyler Windmiller injured his thumb in the first quarter. LaFaver started two weeks ago against Lindenwood, as Windmiller recovered from a concussion, and performed well in the only extended action he has seen this season. LaFaver played well again against the Tigers on Saturday. He threw for 163 yards on 13-of-21 passing while also turning in 2-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. “T.J. is such a dynamic threat,” running back Raphael Spencer said. “Seeing him blossom into the player he is today, it does something for me; it does something for everyone.” The biggest play came on a deep bomb from LaFaver to DiJuan Ussery. Ussery ran under the 40-yard pass to give his team a 10-7 lead with 6:22 left in the first half. “That’s all DiJuan,” LaFaver said. “Just getting open and all I got to do is get him the ball.” Spencer padded the lead with an eight-yard touchdown run with just over a minute left in the half. Tanner Pettet missed the extra point to keep the advantage at nine points. Pettet redeemed himself and continued his up and down season with a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the half. “Tanner, leg-strength-wise, is in the category of all but (Greg Zuerlein),” Partridge said when discussing how Pettet stacks up against other kickers he’s had a Western. Spencer finished with 28 carries for 160 yards and helped Western out-rush the MIAA’s top running team by 47 yards. “To out-rush the leading rushing team in the MIAA was big,” Partridge said. The teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter and Western maintained their 12-point lead. An early fourth quarter Albert touchdown set the stage for Brown’s heroics and the Griffons survived again. Western has one more week to survive, and keep their playoff hopes alive, before attempting to make a statement on the national-level and get signature wins against Emporia State and Northwest Missouri State. This week, Western welcomes their home opponent 3-3 Washburn to Spratt Stadium. After Washburn, Western faces undefeated Emporia State and Northwest in consecutive weeks. In order to make the playoffs, Western is likely going to have to continue to survive and run the table the rest of the way.

Stone cold super fan: Western student helps KC take the crown

If you see Chris Stone on campus, you might not think he’s different than any other student at Missouri Western.

However, the communications student from Kansas City, Missouri has an alter ego.

Stone is known around Kauffman Stadium as Superfan, a nickname he more than lives up to.

“The first game I dressed up, we were 10 games under .500 and we weren’t even in the pennant race at all,” Stone said. “I started dressing up and we started winning, so I’m not going to stop now.”

Stone has been a Royals fan his whole life, but his Superfan ego came around at the beginning of the 2014 season.

“I’ve been dressing up for Chiefs games for about five or six years,” Stone said. “I was thinking about it, nobody does anything really out-there for Royals games. I was just like, ‘I’m going to give it a shot.’”

Stone is a fan favorite around Kauffman. He estimates that himself and his brother Andrew, who also dresses up, take roughly 120 pictures with fans at every game they attend, which has been about 100 over the last two seasons.

“We have to be there an hour before the game to get in by game time,” Stone said. “People are always stopping us...People come up to us because we’ve made it on MLB’s Instagram, we’ve made it on Sportscenter, we get interview by Fox. It’s bringing attention to the Royals, so we’ve had people from the Royals front office come down during the games and tell us what we’re doing is awesome and they want us to keep doing it. I like the attention, but it’s more just about the Royals.”

However, with the popularity in KC, comes the detest in other cities. While on trips to Minnesota, St. Louis and Houston, Stone says he’s been harassed by opposing team’s fans.

“The way we dress, especially on the road, we are lightning rods,” Stone said. “When their team is beating us, we are the people that they want to beat on and throw stuff at...because they feel like we’re the Royals, or something, because of the way we draw attention to ourselves.”

Fox 4 in Kansas City recently wrote an article about Stone and the other Royals super fans. Stone has been interviewed by several TV stations, including one in Houston after the ALDS.

The Royals’ success over the last two seasons has been memorable for every fan, especially Stone.

“We went from the guys that ‘oh it’s a nice story, they’re there, but they’re not going to do anything’ to the guys that can do something,” Stone said. “We proved to America that we’re not the underdogs anymore. This year has just been incredible, it’s just been a whole different reaction...definitely from last year to this year has been night and day, from going underdogs to being the favorites.”

Stone is just like every other fan though. He is more than superstitious, especially when it comes to how he dresses for every game.

“I wear my towels in the same place for every game,” Stone said. “Whenever I get a new towel for the playoffs, I won’t put it on until we win and I know it’s lucky, then I put it on. I do a lot of different stuff with beads. I’ve had the same hair the whole time.”

With the upcoming series against the New York Mets, Stone is hoping plan a trip for the games at Citi Field.

Stone may be a die-hard Royals fan, but he is more than confident in the team’s ability to finally take the crown. He says the fans’ spirit every game is what makes the team so special.

“That’s what’s special about Kansas City sports, and I feel it every time I go to a game, it’s different here in Kansas City...how passionate fans are,” Stone said. “It just shows how passionate the fans are and how much we deserve this. There’s not one team, anywhere, that deserves this as much as we do...nobody deserves this as much as we do and that’s why we’re getting it this year.”

Andrews’ sense for the game

Sydney Andrews approaches ball during Friday's win over Missouri Southern. Zack Papenburg | Photo Editor
[caption id="attachment_25419" align="alignnone" width="300"]Sydney Andrews approaches ball during Friday's win over Missouri Southern. Zack Papenburg | Photo Editor 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."