Latter-day Saint Life

Latter-day Saint athletes and coaches—some familiar, some new—who made headlines in 2021

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.

Tony Finau

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Professional golfer and Latter-day Saint Tony Finau smiling and in his element—a golf cart.
Jed Wells / LDS Living

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:

► You may also like: Pro golfer Tony Finau talks faith, family, and the ankle incident that almost kept him from the 2018 Ryder Cup

MyKayla Skinner

Latter-day Saint gymnast MyKayla Skinner in the gym in 2019 as she prepares to give her Olympic dream one more shot.

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

► You may also like: Going for the goal: Why MyKayla Skinner is giving the Olympics one more shot

Sarah Robles

Latter-day Saint Sarah Robles lifting her way to another Bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Chris Graythen, Getty Images

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

Bryce Harper

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins
Right-fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies and Latter-day Saint Bryce Harper congratulated by teammates after scoring.
Credit: Shutterstock

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).

Jason Smyth

The Smyth family at the airport following Jason’s gold medal win in Tokyo.
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

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.

Taysom Hill

Latter-day Saint and former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill throwing the football in the New Orleans Saints’ winning game against the Carolina Panthers on January 2, 2022.
Getty Images

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.

► You may also like: In Facebook Live Video, NFL player Taysom Hill shares advice he received from an Apostle

Bronco Mendenhall

Virginia Cavaliers Head Coach and Latter-day Saint Bronco Mendenhall announcing his resignation from coaching via virtual press conference.
Screenshot from YouTube

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 Elijah Bryant, pictured left, and Sam Merrill, pictured right, playing professional basketball with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Associated Press

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

Ashley Hatch

NWSL Championship Soccer
Latter-day Saint professional soccer player Ashley Hatch, pictured left, celebrates with her Washington Spirit teammate.
Jeff Dean, Associated Press

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

Santa Clara
Latter-day Saint and Brigham Young University midfielder Mikayla Colohan playing in the NCAA national soccer championship game in Santa Clara, California.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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 Football

NCAA Football: Virginia at Brigham Young
Brigham Young running back Tyler Allgeier congratulates quarterback Jaren Hall for his touchdown at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Jeffrey Swinger/Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

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

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University of Utah wide receiver and Latter-day Saint returned missionary Britain Covey making a run for it on the football field.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

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:

► You may also like: Latter-day Saint returned missionaries just one piece of resilient Rose Bowl-bound Utah Utes football team

Utah State University Football

Utah State defensive end and Latter-day Saint Nick Heninger (42) celebrates his teammates in their winning game against New Mexico State on Friday, November 26, 2021.
AP Photo/Andres Leighton

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

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

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