Spring sports are in full swing at the Air Force Academy and while most cadets are preparing for finals, ring dance, and graduation, we have several teams quietly playing at their best. Let’s take a look at a few of these great cadet athletes:
Griffin Jax Wins Air Force Athlete of the Year
2017 Air Force Academy graduate Griffin Jax was named the 2019 male athlete of the year for the entire Air Force. Jax was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2016, but at the time, it seemed as though his opportunity may not come to fruition due to regulations requiring active duty service for academy graduate athletes prior to being eligible to play professionally full time. Ultimately, he was allowed to play as an officer on the World Class Athlete program, which allows airmen to play their respective sport while still serving. Jax is still with the Twins organization, playing for the double A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in Florida. He is also training to play for the 2020 US Olympic baseball team. In an interview with Air Force public affairs, Jax said “Being selected is a huge honor. I was shocked after hearing the incredible stories of the Airmen nominated alongside me. To be even considered was a blessing, but I was greatly honored and humbled to have been selected, and will continue to shine a positive light on the military through sport.”
The Falcons have continued to play baseball that’s just okay this season. In the last week, they won their series against Nevada 2-1, but they lost to Northern Colorado 4-5 in a midweek game. They play three games against UNLV this weekend in another conference matchup. It’s been unfortunate to see the 12-13 record play out because it doesn’t tell the full story of the quality players who make up the roster. Nic Ready, the 2018 College World Series Home Run Derby champion, broke the Academy’s RBI record with the 196th in his career in the walk-off loss to Nevada which opened the series. Senior Jake Gilbert also pitched well, throwing a clean 4th through 6th innings, but in the end, a run in the ninth inning cost the Falcons the game.
Senior catcher Robert Dau is also generating buzz in the NCAA as he was named to the Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year watchlist. He currently has a .236 batting average and 14 RBIs on the season.
With the second half of the season underway, the Falcons are going to have to play some seriously impressive baseball if they want to have an opportunity to make some noise in the postseason. It’s certainly not out of the question for the talented squad, but they will have to treat every game as if it’s must win to really get ahead.
While their spring break trip was largely a success, Coach Wilson’s team has a lot of work to do heading into the Southern Conference playoffs. The Falcons are 3-0 in the SOCON, but they now face their toughest conference test this Saturday against the number 14 ranked High Point University. High Point is 8-2 with impressive wins against Duke and Virginia, but they’re certainly not bulletproof, losing to Jacksonville 10-12, who Air Force was able to beat last weekend. There’s no doubt that Air Force relies a lot on its star power, with junior attack man Trey Lervick, who has tallied 42 points this season, with 29 of those being goals.
Sophomore goalie Braden Host has also been playing exceptionally well, and he was even named the SOCON defensive player of the month. He had a 5-1 record in the month of March. His only loss came from the defending national champions, the Yale Bulldogs and he has maintained above a .500 save percentage in each game last month.
To finish off the season with some strong conference play, the Falcons need to continue allow players like Trey Lervick shine while also allowing other players step up. They’re outplaying their opponents in practically every statistic, including shots on goal, face-offs, goals on man up opportunities, and clears. They do have almost double the amount of penalty minutes, which can prove detrimental, especially in close games. As long as they continue to play their brand of highly conditioned lacrosse, we can hope to see a strong post-season push from the Falcons.
The Air Force women’s tennis team has played some of the best tennis we’ve seen from the Air Force Academy in a few years. They went 5-0 in the month of March with three of those wins coming against Mountain West teams. There are only two regular season matches left for Air Force, one against Utah State and one against New Mexico. Utah State is 9-7 and they haven’t played any Mountain West teams, while New Mexico is 1-1 in conference play. What’s been really impressive is how talented the entire team is. Nadeen Lieberman, a junior, won Mountain West player of the week honors for her play last weekend. She plays in the number 6 spot in singles and the number 3 spot in doubles. She didn’t lose a set in singles play and defeated Colorado State and Wyoming’s doubles teams with her partner Priscilla Palermo. It’s an impressive feat and shows the depth of the Air Force team.
As the school year winds down, it’s heating up for a lot of cadet athletes up on the hill. We wish them continued success and can’t wait to see how the rest of the respective seasons play out.