Opinion: Sweethearts and sweet tarts: Wildcat athletics moments of 2022

Weber State wins 2022 Big Sky Softball Tournament.

A year with conference championships and groundbreaking changes, 2022 was quite a ride for Weber State University athletics. Today, on Valentine’s Day, it’s time to look at the four things fans loved about the Wildcats’ last year as well as something that broke their hearts.

A bittersweet passing of the torch

After Weber State’s men’s basketball team lost in the semifinals of the Big Sky conference tournament, fans knew they’d have to say goodbye to star players like guard Koby McEwen, forward JJ Overton and center Dontay Bassett. But on May 16, the Wildcat basketball community was shocked to hear about the retirement of 16-year head coach Randy Rahe.

This came as a surprise to even players like forward Dillon Jones. Knowing the forward would receive offers during the offseason, Rahe convinced Jones to stay with the Wildcats.

“Those were the conversations we had at the end of the year,” Jones said to The Signpost in July. “It was nothing about him retiring. It was about trying to win the championship next year.”

Although heartbreaking to lose the winningest coach in the program’s history, the announcement of Rahe’s replacement felt right. After coaching under Rahe for 16 seasons, assistant coach Eric Duft was promoted.

“My goal was to stay here and help coach Rahe as long as he wanted to do it, and when he didn’t want to do it, I wanted to be the head coach of Weber State,” Duft said to The Signpost in July.

Beating teams like Utah State University this season, Duft has made a strong first impression as head coach. With an 8–6 in-conference record, Weber State is currently No. 3 in the Big Sky standings.

A vindicating upset

Before the start of 2022, Weber State’s women’s basketball team enjoyed some success. Winning their first game of the season as well as a game against Montana State University to close out 2021, Weber State had a 6–6 record. The rest of the season, however, did not go as smoothly.

After beating the University of Montana on Jan. 1, 2022, the Wildcats went on a six-game losing streak. While there were blowouts like a 62–41 loss against the University of Idaho on Jan. 13, most of the games were lost by only a few points.

From the start of 2022 till the end of the season, the Wildcats won only four of their 17 games — losing six of those games by 6 points or less.

Finishing No. 10 of 11 in the conference, Weber State came into their Big Sky tournament opener against Sacramento State University on March 7 as heavy underdogs.

Despite falling behind in the first quarter, the Wildcats were able to beat the Hornets 74–64. Four players were able to score over 10 points on Weber State’s way to victory.

“I’m really proud of our players,” Wildcat head coach Velaida Harris said after the game. “They’re such fighters.”

Heartbreak: Jay Hill leaves

While continuing to list what fans loved about Weber State sports this season, it’s time to look at one thing that broke their hearts: the departure of Weber State football’s head coach, Jay Hill.

Hill had been a staple of the program for nine seasons. The winningest coach in the Wildcats’ history, Hill led Weber State to four Big Sky titles and six FCS playoff appearances.

Following the Wildcats’ FCS playoff loss to Montana State on Dec. 3, Hill announced on Dec. 7 that he would be joining Brigham Young University as a defensive coordinator.

“We will always be Wildcats and look forward to seeing Weber State always be great, great, great,” Hill said in his Thank You video to the university.

Offensive coordinator Mickey Mental has been appointed as the Wildcats’ new head coach. Although excited for his tenure to start, fans will miss the first Weber State head coach since 1972 to bring home multiple conference championships.

Putting the L in Logan

Weber State’s football team in 2021 hadn’t enjoyed the success they’d had in prior years. Finishing the season with a 6–5 overall record, the Wildcats failed to make the FCS playoffs.

Despite beating Western Oregon University 41–5 in their season-opening exhibition on Sept. 1, 2022, many still had doubts about the Wildcats. Quarterback Bronson Barron threw for only 152 yards and had 0 touchdown passes against the Division II opponent.

Heading into their matchup against Utah State on Sept. 10, Weber State was not favored. The Wildcats hadn’t won a game against the Aggies since 1978.

Finishing with 401 yards of total offense and keeping Utah State to just 283, Weber State beat the Aggies 35–7. Mental’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense dominated Utah State while the Wildcat’s defense held the Aggies offense to 0 points.

“We had DB’s in the office every day this week,” Hill said. “They just played absolutely outstanding.”

Matching the football team’s success, the men’s basketball team beat Utah State 75–72 in Logan on Dec. 19.

With a 4–7 record, the Wildcats were seen as the underdogs against the then-undefeated Aggies.

After dominating Weber State in the first half, many believed the game would be a blowout. Down 43–29 at halftime, however, the Wildcats rallied back and scored 46 points in the second.

“Before that game, we just said to each other that they’re going to be 9–1,” Wildcat guard KJ Cunningham said. “The whole game, we were going to be like, ‘They’re going to get their first loss today, and it’s going to be against this team.'”

The Big Sky’s best ever

It seemed like Weber State was headed back to the NCAA tournament in 2021. Their 15–3 in-conference record had deemed them the regular season champions.

For as dominant as they were in the regular season, however, the Wildcats were not able to enjoy success in the Big Sky tournament after losing 2–1 to Portland State University on May 13, 2022 and then being eliminated by Sacramento State after a 4–3 loss on May 14.

That offseason, the Wildcats brought in talented freshmen like catchers Mika Chong and Carlye Davis, outfielders Marissa Cerda and Gianna Memoli and infielder Abby Grundy.

To add to their stacked lineup, Weber State brought in fifth-year pitcher Arissa Henderson from BYU. With the Cougars, Henderson won 2019 West Coast conference pitcher of the year and had been a part of multiple conference championship-winning teams.

The Wildcats dominated both in and out of the conference that season, beating teams like Texas A&M University; University of Las Vegas, Nevada; San Diego State University and the University of Utah.

Weber State started their in-conference schedule with an eight-game win streak. Finishing with a 15–3 Big Sky record the previous season, the Wildcats went 13–1 in-conference and 38–12 overall.

To solidify themselves as the most dominant team in Big Sky history, Weber State run-ruled every playoff opponent on their way to a conference title.

Following the title, the Wildcats became the first team in the history of the Big Sky to be selected as a third seed for the NCAA tournament.

Weber State fans went through multiple ups-and-downs, but overall, we had a good 2022. With the softball season now underway and Big Sky basketball conference tournaments starting soon, fans will get a glimpse into what 2023 has in store.