COVID Impacts Athletics & Homecoming Celebrations
As with all other things, COVID-19 has and continues to impact Warrior Athletics. In August, WSU was informed that the NSIC Board of Directors had cancelled all fall sport seasons, suspending competition in all NSIC sports through December 31, 2020. All 16 member institutions voted in support of the decision.
For the Warriors, that meant that football, volleyball, women’s soccer, as well as men’s and women’s cross country teams were directly affected. Fall seasons of men’s and women’s golf were suspended, while men’s and women’s basketball competition was also halted through December 31. Winona State gymnastics, which competes in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), also followed the NSIC directive.
Inevitably, these changes, along with the overall ongoing pandemic, resulted in the university postponing its annual fall Homecoming celebration. While it remains possible that WSU will host a smaller-scale event in the spring, it was announced that the Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony welcoming the Class of 2020 would be moved to Fall 2021. Winona State looks forward to welcoming the six former Warriors chosen for the honor to campus to properly celebrate their accomplishments. The year’s inductees include: Rich Ernst (football), Jonte Flowers (men’s basketball), Reggie Johnson (football), Amanda (Wilhelm) Kallenbach (softball), Scott Wanshura (baseball) and Anna Wurtz (women’s basketball).
Read more about this year’s inductees and save the date for Homecoming 2021 – Oct. 8-10. Go Warriors!
25 Years of Tom Sawyer
A quarter of a century. Two and a half decades. 25 recruiting classes. No matter how you phrase it, 25 years is an impressive amount of time to be a head football coach for one program in college athletics. And for Winona State’s Tom Sawyer, the best is yet to come.
Warrior head football coach Tom Sawyer is one of three college football coaches on the cusp of hitting the 200-win mark. Only 94 head football coaches have reached the milestone of 200 career wins across the NCAA and NAIA coaching ranks. Sawyer currently sits at 190-85-0, good for a .717 winning percentage.
For the Warriors’ Sawyer, the 2021 fall campaign offers a chance – with a great season – to hit the 200 mark. Winona State has had six seasons with 10 or more wins under Sawyer, most recently a 10-2 mark in 2017. The high-water mark for the Warriors was an 11-2 season in 2003, where they reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. They also achieved 10 wins in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2012.
Read the full story, including an interview with Tom Sawyer as he reflects on his 25 years as the Warrior head football coach.
Warrior Athletes have always accomplished great things. On the field, on the court, in the classroom, and definitely after they graduate. This year, Warrior Athletics has caught up with a number of notable Warrior athlete alumni in their “Warrior Stories” series. Focusing on former student athletes, get a glimpse at what these alums have been up to since their graduation:
Warrior Gymnastics Head Coaching Change
Warrior Gymnastics team is starting a new era under newly appointed head coach Aixa Evanson. The change was announced after former head coach Beckie Rolbiecki announced her retirement after serving in the position for 16 years.
Evanson served as Rolbiecki’s assistant coach for two seasons and was an athlete on the team between 2010-14. In addition to having earned her undergraduate degree from WSU, Evanson is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Sports Management at the university as well.
“I am humbled and ecstatic about working with the ambitious young women who walk through those gym doors. My hope is that since my taking over this program, each athlete departs from their college career with a sense of pride and a confident drive to use their voice for the good around them. In my heart, I will forever work to be their advocate in whatever form necessary; as their coach, sister, friend, or mom away from home,” says Evanson.
During her tenure, Rolbiecki played a major role in reestablishing the proud tradition of Winona State Gymnastics. She earned multiple conference Coach of the Year awards, as well as Regional Coach of the Year following two seasons. Rolbiecki noted, “I have immensely enjoyed my coaching years at WSU! I feel very privileged and blessed to have worked with so many wonderful student-athletes and I am very proud of their accomplishments both academically and athletically. They leave a great legacy behind them in a multitude of school records broken, All-American honors, and national qualifications.”
Women’s Tennis Announces New Head Coach
Winona State recently announced that longtime Winona High School tennis coach Tom Sanvik has been named as the new head coach for Warrior Tennis. He joins the team after former head coach Heather Reilly decided to step down in order to spend more time with her growing family and focus on her teaching position at W-K Elementary in Winona.
Sanvik has coached both the boy’s and girl’s tennis teams at WSHS since 1988; he also serves as the camp director and head instructor for the Winona Area Tennis Association. Additionally, Sanvik works as a teaching professional for the Winona Area Tennis Center, a position he began in 2017.
“I am really excited at this opportunity to work with high-level collegiate players,” said Sanvik. “I have been coaching tennis for 35 years at Winona Senior High School and I know that these opportunities don’t come along very often. Coach Reilly has done a wonderful job with the program and we are going to work hard to keep the momentum going. I am really excited for this new coaching challenge.”
Whether coaching or competing, Reilly stood out as one of the all-time best in Warrior tennis history. As a student-athlete, Reilly (then Heather Pierce), rewrote the record books for winona State Tennis. After moving to the coaching ranks prior to the 2011-12 season, Reilly took the Warrior program to new levels of success becoming the first head coach to reach the 100-win mark.
Of her decision to retire, Reilly said, “Most of all, without a doubt, I will sincerely miss the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to develop with the student-athletes on my team. To the student-athletes, thank you. Thank you for letting me challenge you. Thank you for your loyalty, effort, understanding, and patience. Thank you for trusting me.”