A good year for coaches: Top 10 Utah Valley University sports stories
How can you measure the progress of an athletic program?
At Utah Valley, it can be measured by challenging for league and individual championships and extending contracts for talented coaches.
The Wolverines had plenty of both in 2021, so here’s a look at some of the top stories and moments of the year.
10. Honoring the past, moving to the future
Former UVU women’s golf coach Sue Nyhus was inducted into the Utah Golf Hall of Fame on Nov. 1. Earlier in the spring, Juli Erekson was selected as the new Wolverines women’s golf coach.
9. Security for women’s soccer
In yet another bit of coaching contract news, UVU extended women’s soccer coach Chris Lemay to 2024. The Wolverines won their first ever NCAA Tournament game on April 28, downing Memphis 1-0.
8. Back to back for volleyball
Sam Atoa has been at this for a long time (23 seasons) and its great to see him have success. The Wolverines have made two straight NCAA Tournaments and due to the pandemic, both occurred in 2021. UVU made the spring NCAA Tournament by beating New Mexico State in the WAC Tournament and in the fall, the No. 7 seed Wolverines made a three-match run to win the league’s auto bid to the NCAA’s again.
7. Starring on the mat
Taylor LaMont made international news by finishing fifth in the U23 World Championships on Nov. 2. At 121 pounds, LaMont won a pair of matches in Belgrade, Serbia, to advance to the semifinals.
6. Racing forward
In March, Maddie Bench Empey and Britain Reynolds make history: It’s the first time UVU has had multiple runners at the NCAA cross country championships. Bench Empey finished 136th out of 256 runners in the women’s race and Reynolds ended up 156th out of 251 runners in the men’s race.
5. Big man returns
Fardaws Aimaq, a 6-foot-11 center, led the nation in rebounding in 2020-21. He announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft but ultimately decided to return for another year in Orem. So far, Aimaq is one of the nation’s premier big men, averaging 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
4. Keeping the Mad Dog
Mark Madsen is still establishing his culture with the Utah Valley men’s basketball program and the school awarded him with a five-year contract extension on Sept. 28. Madsen is signed up through the 2025-26 season.
3. Getting serious
The men’s soccer program took a big step when it hired former Real Salt Lake star Kyle Beckerman as head coach in April. The Wolverines finished 9-6-2 in Beckerman’s first campaign this fall.
2. Making a big move
It’s a new era in Utah Valley baseball with the hiring of Eddie Smith to lead the Wolverines program. Smith spent the past two years as the hitting coach for LSU and has an extensive resume. He’s just the third baseball coach for UVU at the Division I level and the fifth all-time.
1. Huge upset
The BYU men’s basketball team was riding high at 6-0 and ranked No. 12 when it came to the UCCU Center on December 1. UVU was up to the challenge and beat the Cougars 72-65 in overtime, which resulted in the Wolverines fans rushing the court. It was Utah Valley’s first-ever win over a ranked team.
Former UVU basketball stars Ronnie Price and Ryan Toolson earned their college degrees; Diego Castillo was named WAC Freshman of the Year for men’s soccer; Cody Thompson hired to take over women’s softball program; The opening of the new doTerra Performance Center for volleyball, women’s basketball and wrestling; UVU extended women’s basketball coach Dan Nielson to five more years; UVU womens hoops earns first-ever NCAA Tournament berth; Men’s golfer Gabe Lyson winning WAC medalist honors in May; WAC adds Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Utah for the 2022-23 season.
The Utah Valley women’s soccer team celebrates during the Western Athletic Conference semifinals against New Mexico State in Phoenix, Ariz., on Thursday, April 15, 2021.