Latter-day Saints often compete at the highest levels of sports in the world, but 2021 was an exceptionally exciting and prolific year for many of them. From Olympic medals in Tokyo, NBA and NWSL championships, PGA tournament wins, collegiate conference titles, and NFL starts, here are just a few of the Latter-day Saints who made headlines in 2021. See more athletes who have made an impact this year at Church News.
Avid golf fans celebrated as Latter-day Saint Tony Finau finally won his first PGA tournament since 2016 at the Northern Trust Open in August 2021; He previously had 40 top 10 finishes without a win. He also played for Team USA as they won the 2021 Ryder Cup in September.
Tony Finau was interviewed on the All In podcast after being named to the 2021 Ryder Cup team and shared how the game of golf has taught him the value of integrity. You can listen to the episode below:
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Against all odds, Team USA gymnast and Latter-day Saint MyKayla Skinner left the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with a silver medal. She was given a second chance to compete in her event after her teammate Simone Biles withdrew from the vault final due to mental health reasons.
Read the full story here: Latter-day Saint MyKayla Skinner wins silver medal against all odds in Tokyo
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Just one day after her 33rd birthday, Sarah Robles won a bronze medal in her event with a total lift weight of 282kg (more than 621 pounds) in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Her bronze medal performance also made her the first US woman to win two Olympic weightlifting medals.
► You may also like: Everything you need to know about Latter-day Saints in the Tokyo Olympics
Professional Major League Baseball player, right-fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Latter-day Saint Harper won his second career National League MVP award. Harper ended his 2021 season with 35 home runs and 84 RBIs in 141 games, 78 extra-base hits (first in the National League) and 42 doubles (tied for first in the MLB).
Ireland’s Jason Smyth in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games, making it his fifth Paralympic competition. Before 2021, Jason had won five consecutive gold medals at the Paralympics in his T13 100-meter and 200-meter sprint class. In Tokyo, Jason faced his closest Paralympic final to date, and ultimately won the race by 1/100th of a second.
You can read more about Jason and his experience winning six Paralympic gold medals and his life at home with his wife Elise and their two daughters here.
Former BYU quarterback, Taysom Hill has made his way up the ranks within the New Orleans Saints and saw significant and regular playing time during the 2021 season. He appeared in games as a runner, receiver, passer, and on special teams before being given a starting quarterback role. His season also included a win against another former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, making it the first time two former BYU quarterbacks started against each other in an NFL game since Steve Young faced Ty Detmer in 1997.
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In December 2021 and in a move that shocked the college football coaching world, Latter-day Saint Bronco Mendenhall announced his resignation as head coach of the University of Virginia football team. Mendenhall was the head football coach at BYU from 2005–2015, then head coach at Virginia from 2016–2021, and had an all-time record of 135 wins and 81 losses as a head coach.
You can read the full story here: Coach Bronco Mendenhall is stepping back from college football after a prayer and a prompting
Sam Merrill and Elijah Bryant
Latter-day Saints Sam Merrill and Elijah Bryant were part of the 2020–2021 NBA championship team, the Milwaukee Bucks. According to Church News, they attended church together in Milwaukee after the Bucks won a pivotal playoff series, thrilling local members and Bucks fans alike.
► You may also like: NBA player Sam Merrill says he ‘would not be where I am today’ without his mission
Latter-day Saint Ashley Hatch joined her team, the Washington Spirit, in winning the National Women’s Soccer League championship title in November 2021. According to Church News, she was also awarded the 2021 Golden Boot after leading the league with 10 goals.
BYU Women’s Soccer Team
The BYU women’s soccer team reached the NCAA national championship game, playing against Florida State University, in early December 2021. The game was originally scheduled for Sunday, December 5, but was moved to Monday, December 6, to accommodate BYU’s “No Sunday play” policy. As detailed by Newsroom, two players from the 2021 roster are moving on to play professionally, and five players from the team are stepping away from the soccer field to serve full-time missions. You can read more about these players’ stories here.
BYU’s football team—primarily made up of Latter-day Saints—spent most of the 2021 season nationally ranked. The team finished the regular season with a record of 10 wins and just two losses, a No. 13 national ranking, and an invitation to play at the Independence Bowl against UAB.
University of Utah Football
The University of Utah football team includes approximately two dozen returned missionaries. In the 2021 season, the team won its first PAC-12 championship, qualifying them to play in the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day.
Before their big game, Ute wide receiver and Latter-day Saint returned missionary Britain Covey shared on the All In podcast how faith has carried all of them through a season full of ups and downs as they also faced the tragic deaths of two of their teammates and friends. You can listen to the episode in the player below:
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Utah State University Football
Utah State University also hosts a large number of Latter-day Saint football players and went on to win the 2021 Mountain West Conference title. As reported by Church News, Aggie defensive end Nick Heninger, a returned missionary, was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on December 18, 2021.
Stanford University Football
Stanford head coach David Shaw has a very different approach when it comes to college football players going on missions. pic.twitter.com/gws8ZwrmTk
— Unrivaled w/Alex Kirry & Scott Mitchell (@KSLunrivaled) August 2, 2019
The Stanford Cardinal currently has seven returned missionaries on their football team, including quarterback Tanner McKee. Lance Anderson, the defensive coordinator for Stanford, is also a Latter-day Saint.
Head Coach David Shaw shared in late 2021 why he appreciates having returned missionaries on his roster: “I’ve had this conversation with all the guys that come back off these missions. I say, ‘You went out in the world, you experienced things, you grew, different than these young people that just came out of high school and came here,’” he told the Associated Press.
You can read the full story here: Why Stanford’s head football coach appreciates having returned missionaries on his team