Writer’s Roundtable: Memories on the Mesa (Part 1)

All+five+seniors+featured+in+this+edition+of+Writers+Roundtable+are+pictured.+Part+2+of+Memories+on+the+Mesa+will+be+released+next+week.

Alexa Oslowski

All five seniors featured in this edition of Writer’s Roundtable are pictured. Part 2 of Memories on the Mesa will be released next week.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

Over the last four years, so many memories have come from players having lights-out games to power outages to coaches earning milestone wins.  

Our sportswriters at The Daily Aztec have seen or covered conference championships, blowout games and record-breaking moments. 

We asked our writers to look back and reminisce from the last four years in the Scarlet and Black in this latest edition of Writer’s Roundtable.  

In part one of this two-part special, I talked to Photo Editor Alexa Oslowski, Sports Editor Kyle Betz, Arts & Culture Editor Devin Whatley and Senior Staff Writer Reese Savoie about some of their memories in this edition of Writer’s Roundtable: Memories on the Mesa. I also provide input to these questions.

Breven Honda: What is a favorite or memorable game/moment you have seen or covered? 

Devin Whatley:For me, I would say the favorite moment that I’ve gotten to see was the Mountain West tournament final back in 2020 between San Diego State and Utah State. Obviously, a loss is not what you want to say is your favorite moment if you’re an Aztec fan, but for me, I just remember that moment because it was like the last game before COVID hit and sort of put a pause on sports. It was just such a good game, too. I mean, you had Malachi Flynn, Sam Merrill, (Neemias) Queta, all these big names, stars matching up against each other. I think it was a phenomenal game. Outside of the loss (for SDSU), it was just a very, very high-quality college basketball game.”

Alexa Oslowski: I’m going to say mine is the same season, so the 2020 season just before Devin’s game when they clinched the (regular season) conference championship at Viejas (Arena). I was on the floor covering that with a senior last year, (staff writer/photographer Kareem Jones), who graduated (in 2020). That was just a crazy experience when (the Aztecs) knew they had the game, which then meant they knew they had the conference title. I can’t even explain it and then everyone storming the court, hundreds of people on that basketball court, everyone going up on the ladder and cutting down the net and finally (men’s basketball head coach Brian Dutcher) holding it up to the whole audience. I took it for granted then, but looking back on it, it’s got to be one of my favorite games I’ve ever been at.”

Reese Savoie: “My favorite game to cover it was actually pretty recently. It was SDSU baseball against New Mexico. It was their doubleheader and they had two walk-off wins in a row, absolutely insane. That was so much fun to be there. We actually got it on camera, both of the walk-offs, which was crazy. That was completely accidental, so we were like, ‘Let’s just get some b-roll today.’ It just so happened that we got both the walk-offs, so that was wild. It was cool that the team stormed the field.  It was also the first series where fans — I mean, you could call them fans — but it was the parents and friends and family of the players. People were there, it was awesome. It was so exciting, the energy at Tony Gwynn (Stadium) was unmatched and I just felt really lucky to be able to be there in those moments. So that was awesome.”

Kyle Betz: “I’m gonna piggyback off Alexa. That’s single-handedly my favorite game that I think I’ve ever covered. I mean, it was an incredible experience being there, the energy in the arena was unmatched, especially considering it was right before the pandemic hit. So it was one of the last moments where we were in Viejas to be able to experience a moment like that and the court storming and the cutting down of the nets. But, the game itself, I mean, the Aztecs really had a great team that year. It was an honor and a privilege being able to cover it and watch it on a daily basis. That team made waves and it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to see how they did going into the NCAA Tournament, but at least we have that moment. That’s something I’m gonna cherish.”

Breven Honda:For me, I’m going to have to go with women’s basketball on this one. It was a game last year in January against New Mexico. That was an 11 a.m. game because it was field trip day, so they had all the kids come in and there was something about that game, playing New Mexico — a team that (SDSU) women’s basketball defeated in the previous conference tournament in 2019. You see that Aztec team with Sophia Ramos and to put up 32 points, and to hit 16 of 16 at the free-throw line, it’s something that you’re never going to see, you’re really hardly ever going to see. For them to win that game 75-74 and for Sophia to hit her final two free throws to be the difference in the ballgame is something that stands out as a favorite moment.” 

BH: What is the craziest memory you have?

RS:I’m going to go with the Kawhi jersey retirement night. That was absolutely insane. Nothing like crazy, crazy happened that night, but just all of the emotions that went into it. It was incredible being there, it was so overwhelming. I remember looking around at that fully packed arena and thinking about how I knew in that moment that I was going to remember that forever. I knew it was just so special and so memorable. It was a whiteout, there were so many people there. The Clippers were there, Kawhi was there, it was insane. Then, the process of getting tickets. I remember my friends and I skipping class, and being out in the (Conrad Prebys Aztec  Student) Union desperately trying to log on to the portal to get tickets. It was insane. We had to get tickets for my friend who was in her lab, too. So not only were we trying to get tickets, we were trying to get tickets for other people. We didn’t think it was going to work and all of us happened to work at the same restaurant, so we all had to try to figure out how to get time off. I didn’t even end up getting my shift covered, so I was like sprinting from Islands to SDSU afterward. Trying to get there in time because we wanted to get there early because we knew there was going to be a line. Everything that went into that day was absolutely insane, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I’m so happy to play it out how it did. It was crazy, but in the best way possible.”

DW: “I would say my first women’s lacrosse game that I covered. Last year was probably one of the craziest ones because it was their home opener and it was against Arizona State. I go in there and I had no idea how lacrosse worked. I remember being so confused about everything but I remember it was like a very high-scoring game. They were down like 3-0 to start. They tied it 6-6. There were at least four ties, four lead changes in the game. I remember they were down like 10-8 at half. They were down like up 18-16 with about 2:30 left. SDSU scored three goals within the last two minutes of the game to win. I remember that one kind of being just the craziest because it was so high scoring, and not only that but just, just the fact that it was like my first lacrosse game too. I think it had that adrenaline rush just from the fact that the game was so high-scoring. The environment and the players and the coaches’ reactions to it were just so crazy. So that’s what I would say is probably the craziest moment I’ve experienced as a writer.”

KB: There’s been a lot of good games in these four years at SDSU. I think that reflecting on it, I could say it was back in 2019 when SDSU upset No. 6 Nevada at home. That was a crazy game as well, another court storming. But, I think I’m gonna say earlier in the school year. Fall 2018, back when San Diego State played Fresno State on the road in Fresno in football. We took a road trip up there, and we came back all in one day. It was chaotic to say the very least, and we didn’t have to drive all the way back down after the game ended. But me and Kyle Saunders, who was a staff writer at the time, we did anyway, and we were extremely tired. It was a fun experience covering the game. Obviously, SDSU lost it — I think it was 23-14. But driving up there, coming back on the same day and cranking out a recap all at the same time — that was pretty fulfilling and it was a lot of fun.”

AO: “So I probably have two that are pretty even. The first one is photographing the loss that SDSU had last (2019-20 men’s basketball) season, so their first loss. It was at home. I think it was against (UNLV) because I was shooting right behind the basket and I just saw the look on the entire team’s face. Matt Mitchell was standing like three feet in front of me, I just like being there and like seeing him close, seeing the team that close and the silence of Viejas, especially from The Show. It was just like crazy in the complete opposite sense because we had such a historic season and we were the last team without a loss. Then, to have that happen at home and then I was covering, it was just indescribable.

The second one is getting up at three o’clock in the morning to drive to Las Vegas last year, picking everyone up. I drove my car last year, and I picked up like four (staff writers). We were just driving all around San Diego and then we had to get to the game that was at 11:30 that morning. We couldn’t drive the night before because half of us had class until 10 o’clock, so we were stuck getting up at 3 a.m. to drive. I’ve never drank so many Yerba Mates in my entire life.”

BH:For me, I think the craziest memory I had is something we all witnessed. How many of you remember the power outage that we had in fall 2019 with the bird? I think for me, that was the craziest memory because who would have thought a bird would have caused the whole power added to the university. I remember that whole day because I had a race over to a press conference that day. But then later that night, me and two other writers — a couple weeks before — had to figure out how we were going to cover a volleyball game and a women’s basketball game that was going on at the same time. It was part of the season where volleyball was finishing up their season and women’s basketball was starting their season. So we kind of had to figure that out. Then, we had to also worry about the location change because the power was still out. It had been like six or seven hours since the initial power outage. That’s probably a crazy memory that I still remember: classes being canceled on top of sporting events being moved.” 

BH: What is a favorite story you’ve written and for Alexa, what is a favorite photo you’ve taken?  

KB: “There’s been a lot of really good moments, a lot of incredible stories that I’ve been able to be a part of. Throughout the years of covering football and men’s basketball, I think that, going in to really just the experience. Being able to cover a 30-2 team was incredible. I think being there for the Mountain West tournament, being able to write the recap for the final. I think that just was really memorable to me on that level because we all thought that they were going to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and they ended up losing that game. Everyone was like, ‘What is going on?’ They’re going into this NCAA Tournament off a loss. So I think that game really stood out to me. In terms of a profile, I would say there’s been a lot of other good ones that I’ve been a part of. But I think, covering Stephen Strasburg and Kawhi Leonard when they had their crazy postseasons. That was a really cool story to be able to write for The Daily Aztec. With Stephen Strasburg winning the World Series MVP and then Kawhi obviously (being NBA) Finals MVP. That was a pretty special time for Aztecs in the pros.”

AO (photo): It’s so hard to pick one because so many games have had such incredible moments to capture. But, in terms of one, I have this photo of Matt Mitchell dunking from this year, and it’s the exact shot where his wrist is holding the ball and he’s flicking it into the hoop. He’s just completely suspended in mid-air and everything is crystal clear. The ball’s not in motion, his hands not. It literally just looks like, I paused time and was like, ‘Can you hold right there while I take this picture?’ So many times, like dunk photos are in action and it’s kind of hard to get a perfect, crystal clear one. I have two crystal clear shots of Yanni (Wetzell) dunking in the Mountain West tournament last year and then I have that one of Matt Mitchell. The look on their faces, you can see even some of the players underneath them like just one of my favorites to get a dunk, especially because sometimes you can tell, right before it happens that it’s happening. You feel that like energy, and I’m checking my camera afterward to see that it was the exact shot that I was waiting for, it’s just so rewarding.”

DW: “Oh gosh, I mean, I have plenty that come to mind instantly. I think for me, I’ll name two. I would say the first one would be a column that I wrote about Malachi Flynn, SDSU men’s basketball player. It was basically a column, getting to know him off the court. For me I really loved that story because it was one of the most extensive reporting stories I’ve ever done in my time with the DA. I spoke with his high school coach. I spoke with (men’s basketball) assistant coach Dave Velasquez. I reached out to plenty of people. I mean, I even tried reaching out to his brother, his dad. The amount of extensive reporting in the storytelling that I ended up revealing in that piece, I think it’s one of the reasons why I really loved it. Also, he messaged me after the story was out, saying that he and his family really enjoyed it was something that I really enjoy because obviously, he’s a star player for SDSU. He’s a guy that’s very quiet and reserved. I think it was cool to shed a light on who he is off the court.

So that was one of them, and then another one would be the story I wrote about a women’s soccer player named Veronica Avalos donating clothes to children in Tijuana as part of a project called Unity 4 Orphans. It was one of my favorites because I really got to know what it was like for her as an athlete to realize that she has this sort of important stature with orphan children in this other country and she’s been able to get other athletes involved. That whole story and realizing the personality aspect behind these athletes and what it means to know them off the field, I think those are probably my two favorite stories.

RS: “This one was actually back in 2019. It was when I first started with The Daily Aztec and I got to cover a footvolley tournament over in Mission Beach. That was really cool because I had no idea what footvolley was. At the time, I’d never heard of it. I remember (former Sports Editor Aaron Tolentino) pitching it at one of the meetings, asking if anyone would be interested in taking it and I was like yeah like, ‘Why not? Sounds cool. I went down there by myself and it was so much fun being down there the entire day. I really got to immerse myself in the Brazilian culture and that was really amazing because, again, that was something I didn’t know too much about beforehand, but they are some of the most welcoming people that I have ever met.

I got to talk to a number of them. I would approach random players after the games and kind of talk to them about their background, ask them a little bit about the sport. I got to hear some really cool stories about some of their upbringing in Brazil and how cool it was and how special it was to see that sport that’s so prevalent in their home country, come to the United States, specifically San Diego. That was really special and Daniel, the guy who ran the entire event, he was so kind and like he wouldn’t let me leave until they gave me an entire plate of Brazilian food, which was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. So that was just really amazing. I’ll always cherish that day. Being able to write about that, share their story and allow myself to, let me into their world, that was really special, so I always love that.”

BH: “For me, when I think about a favorite story, I will kind of hop on the same boat as Kyle. When you’re able to write a story about a player like Kawhi Leonard or Stephen Strasburg, that has so much value, especially in a university where sports have done a lot. I think about the poll  that we did in 2019 where we got to rank our top 10 student athletes. We have players like Kawhi, Donnell Pumphrey and Rashad Penny on there, that stands out so much. Then, you get to see players on the back end of the list like Ashley Henderson, Bonnie Draxler and Xander Schauffele. That stands out so much because of what they’ve been able to do and that’s all within the last 10, 11 years.”

BH: What is a message you have to future, new and younger writers for The Daily Aztec?   

AO: “The worst part for me (was the process of transferring) to SDSU. So I did my first two years at a UC and I’ve moved another 500 miles from home to come to San Diego. I didn’t know a single person on this campus. I came for journalism and I was seeking it out, but the scariest part for me was messaging at that time (former Video Editor Amal Younis), who went to my class and was the first person I heard talk about The Daily Aztec. The scariest part was taking that first step and walking in. I think about how much I would have missed out on if I hadn’t done that and I reminded myself to be brave essentially because that’s why I was here. The whole reason I’m here with my journalism degree was to make those connections and do that work. I’ve spent the last two years as photo editor. I’ve covered incredible sports games, concerts, events, you name it. I wouldn’t have had any of that if I didn’t have, for lack of a better phrase, that 20 seconds of insane courage that Matt Damon always talks about. So don’t be afraid. The Daily Aztec has some of the most incredible people I’ve met and these people will be my friends for the rest of my life. If I’ve missed out on that opportunity, I know that college would have felt incomplete, like completely missed out on one of the most influential things in my life. So if you’re afraid, don’t be.”

RS:  “I was really so terrified to join The Daily Aztec when I first started. My first two years at SDSU, I’d always wanted to be a part of it, but I was so intimidated. I was so afraid, I never reached out because I didn’t think that I could do it. I didn’t know anything about journalism, did not know anything about sports journalism. I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue but I just felt very unqualified for The DA. Then my junior year came around and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to try it, why not start creating opportunities for myself?’ So I went to the first meeting, and I went home and cried because I was so intimidated. I was like, ‘I do not belong there. Everyone knows what they’re doing, I don’t.’ So I had really bad imposter syndrome at first and I kept going to meetings. I realized I can do this and the people who are there are some of the most incredible talented, supportive, motivational people I’ve ever met. You guys encouraged me to keep going. You didn’t outwardly say that because I never expressed that to you guys that I was brave. But just by being there, being the people that you were, you guys encouraged me to keep going and I cannot express to you how incredibly grateful I am for The Daily Aztec.

Anyone who’s even thinking about it, do it. You’re going to meet some of your best friends. You’re going to have some insane memories, and you’re going to cherish it forever. I feel so prepared to go into journalism because of The Daily Aztec. I’m the person and the journalist that I am today because of The Daily Aztec. So, thank you The Daily Aztec. Thank you everyone for everything. I love everything about this so that’s my advice: do it. If you’re thinking about it, just do it, you won’t regret it.”

DW: “My point’s similar to Reese and Alexa’s. I joined the DA my freshman year back in 2019 but I remember I joined it but I never did anything. I never went to meetings. I never wrote any stories. I literally just joined it just to join but I never was actually involved in anything. Then I remember I went to like one of the meetings in my sophomore year, and I remember kind of like what Reese had, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, like everybody here knows what they’re doing’. I remember being very shy because you’re around new people in college. It’s a new opportunity that you have to get comfortable in order to do it. I would just say, to not be afraid to take chances. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and be open to opportunity because the people that you meet with The Daily Aztec, they’re going to be valuable friends, they’re going to be valuable people in your network. These people are going to be with you for the rest of your life.

Frankly, I’m nothing without The DA. I’m nothing without all of you. That’s my honest point like I’m nothing. If I wasn’t involved, I don’t even know where I’d be. I’d be without that. You’re going to foster amazing friendships, amazing connections with these people that you join in. I know once my time is done, I know that these people always got my back, they’re like my second family to me. So, I would say don’t be afraid to take a chance. The DA is life changing, in my opinion. The experience that you get from it is worthwhile. It’s going to help you out so much, especially professionally. You’re going to be so prepared when you’re in future careers. It’s just going to be so easy when you move on.”

KB: “I feel the same exact way and I’ve been blessed to be in this position. Three things that I would say that would stand out to me. First, it’s to be diligent in your work, have a purpose. Everything you do has a lasting impact, not only for the people and the players that you cover, but also for your own legacy and building your own resume and portfolio. That’s really something I wanted to do and try and continue the legacy of The Daily Aztec sports section and what we’ve been able to do over these past four years. I hope I did a great job in doing that. At The Daily Aztec, you can do as much or as little as you want, so I think the second point I would say is take advantage of your opportunities, going off what Devin said in taking a chance. What you put in you get out, so I mean, you can do as little or as much as you want, but in the end you’re only benefiting yourself and your work. I think that’s important to remember as well. 

Finally, ask questions. If you need help, everyone’s incredibly nice at The Daily Aztec. I haven’t met a person with a negative attitude in any way. Obviously, the editors and everyone on staff is there to help you, so ask questions. Most importantly, enjoy the experience because it’s important. Obviously, embrace the grind but don’t get caught up in it. Take it a day at a time and enjoy the work that you do because that’s what ultimately matters. That’s what’s going to be important for you going into the professional realms of this industry.”

BH: I think back at the last three years being part of The Daily Aztec, I think just trying to embrace it all. You never know when you’ll get (to cover) that final game. You never know when you’re going to be able to cover that final match. And with every story that you write, I think embrace the story that you possibly can because I think you never know where a story is going to go. We always say, ‘One play could really change a story.’ We’ve seen that so many times, whether it’s through walk-off wins, whether it’s through buzzer-beaters. Even when you’re so caught up in the moment, I think it’s to embrace the moment but to also kind of expect the unexpected because you just really never know what’s going to happen. So if you can try and do both those things to embrace it, but then to be ready for really what’s ever gonna happen, that’s gonna be a key thing.”

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