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Around The Yard: Air Force Academy Athletes Win National Titles and Earn All-American Honors

Falcons are reaching new heights across the board of NCAA sports

For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the Air Force Academy, there is a time each year that cadets and graduates refer to as ‘the dark ages.’ It’s the time following Christmas break until after recognition weekend, which is a culminating event for the freshman class that is held each March.

The dark ages are named as such for the relentless Colorado weather, the academic and military grind during that time of year, and although graduation and summer breaks are approaching, they still seem painfully out of reach. It would be easy for most people to fold during this time of year, but after a few weeks of seeing the accomplishments of the Falcon athletic programs, the term ‘dark ages’ may be a bit antiquated. We have All-American athletes, a national championship title, and several programs in mid-season which have been seeing unprecedented heights of success. In this week’s around the yard, let’s take a look at what some of these Falcon athletes have been up to.

Hockey

The Falcons regular season came down to the wire for conference standings to lead into the Atlantic Hockey Conference tournament. With some solid play and a little bit of luck from the results of other conference teams, Frank Serratore’s club secured a number three seed and a bye to start the AHC tournament. The puck drops at 7:05 mountain time on Friday, March 15th against Niagra to start the Air Force conference tournament run in hopes of securing an NCAA tournament bid. Team play and putting pucks on net will be a focus for the Falcons and they shouldn’t have too much to worry about in the net minding position with their goalie Billy Christopoulos earning First Team All Conference honors.

Rifle

The Air Force rifle team won the NCAA Air Rifle national championship, held at West Virginia University on March 8th and 9th. In an exciting fashion, the Falcons were tied with TCU in points, but it came down to the Falcons hitting 10 more center shots than the Horned Frogs to win the title. In addition to the championship, five members of the rifle team earned seven All-American honors this season, including two freshmen.

Lacrosse

In his first year as head coach, Bill Wilson has led his lacrosse team to a 4-2 start to the season. They dropped two contests to national powerhouse Denver as well as to the University of Utah, which is in its inaugural season. Apart from playing Yale on March 26th, the Falcons remaining opponents are all in the Southern Conference, which means that the team still has a clean slate at 0-0 for their conference record. Air Force has fared well in the SOCON, since joining in 2016, winning the conference twice, once in the tournament and once in season standings. In addition to the great outlook for the team, Senior defenseman Brandon Jones was taken 36th overall in the MLL draft by the Denver Outlaws. It was announced that he will play this summer for the team as it will not interfere with his military service commitment, but it is unclear as to what his plans are for professional lacrosse following this season.

Swim

The Falcons have finished up their Mountain West swim season and while many members of the team placed and sniffed school records, Emma Strom and Kylie Stronko stood out by earning All Mountain West honors. Strom placed fifth in the 400 individual medley with a time of 4:17:34. She missed a chance to swim in the NCAA races by .04 seconds. Stronko earned her honors with an eighth place finish in the 200 backstroke with a time of 2:00:06.

Track and Field

As the indoor track season comes to a close, two Falcons have earned All-American honors in middle and long distance running. Jaci Smith earned second team honors after finishing sixth in the 5000 meter event and after finishing 14th in the 3000 meter event with a time of 9:20:68 at the NCAA indoor championships. Michael Rhoades also became the Air Force Academy’s first runner to earn All American honors twice in the 800 meter event after running a 1:48:49 in the finals.

Women’s Tennis

The Air Force women’s tennis team has been on a very strong streak with a 17-1 record this season, only losing a match to the number 8 ranked team in the country, the Kansas Jayhawks. Elizabeth Barnickel’s singles record has been absolutely stellar at 25-10 overall and her doubles record with TJ Fumagalli at 23-6 is reminiscent of the success of Melissa Cecil and Tahlia Hutchins’ (Smoke) run in 2012, when they finished with a 22-10 record while competing against nationally ranked opponents such as Nebraska, TCU, and UNLV. While the team has played well over the course of this season, we’re still over a month out before the Mountain West tournament begins and five of the six remaining opponents are also in the Mountain West.

It’s amazing seeing so many cadets competing at such a high level. While athletics can often take a back seat to the other commitments and responsibilities of a service academy cadet, the successes that these athletes have earned are a testament to the type of hard working and talented individuals the Academy recruits. It may be a bit too early to give Nathan Pine all of the credit for these achievements, but it’s certainly an indication that the Air Force athletic department is doing something right.