Year in review: Top 10 Arizona Wildcats storylinesby Anthony Gimino on Dec. 14, 2010, under Sports
The “best of the year” lists are always tricky.
For the calendar year that was in Arizona Wildcats athletics, do you pick specific games, specific moments, or do you go with larger themes?
Do you choose only the good things? How do you balance the happenings in football and men’s basketball with the success in other sports?
When our Gannett big brother, the Arizona Republic, asked us to come up with a top 10 list of storylines for UA, we muddled through all that and came up with the following Top 10 list.
You can see the Republic’s Year in Review slideshows for all the state-wide sports topics on azcentral.com.
Before you click on that link, vote in our poll and let us know what you you think is the biggest storyline of the year for the Wildcats.
(What did we miss? I’ll get us started: I think basketball coach Sean Miller signing a Top 5 recruiting class in November is potentially worthy of the list as the clearest signal yet that he can restore the program to its previous heights.)
Anyway, on to the Top 10 storylines …
No. 10: King of the Ks
Kurt Heyer became the Friday starting pitcher for coach Andy Lopez, setting a school freshman record with 109 strikeouts in 102 innings. Heyer finished 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA, coming up with the victory over Baylor as the young Wildcats won their first game in an NCAA regional in Fort Worth, Texas. Heyer will lead a promising team in 2011 after Arizona finished 34-24 in 2010.
No. 9: Excellence in the pool
The men’s swimming team finished third at the NCAA championships and had two individual champions — Cory Chitwood (200-yard backstroke) and Clark Burckle (200 breaststroke). The women finished fourth nationally, winning the 400 medley and 200 medley relay events, and Annie Chandler won the 100 breaststroke in NCAA record time. The men and women, who each won NCAA titles in 2008, are poised for more championship runs in 2011 for coach Frank Busch.
No. 8: Fabulous freshman
Post player Derrick Williams, who wasn’t even on Rivals.com list of the top 150 incoming recruits, emerges as a Freshman All-American and the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, averaging 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. A fast start to the 2010-11 season made Williams a strong candidate for the conference player of the year award.
No. 7: Rising and falling
It was a tale of two seasons for the Arizona football team. The glass-half-full crowd will focus on the 7-1 start, the program’s first top 10 ranking since 1999 and a third consecutive bowl game, tying the longest streak in school history. The glass-half-empty crowd will grouse about the four-game losing streak to end the regular season. Through it all, the Cats created quite a buzz either way.
No. 6: Series thriller
Arizona, led by a power-hitting lineup and freshman ace Kenzie Fowler, advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the 22nd time in 23 years. The Series was packed with drama, as the Wildcats dropped their opener 9-0 to Tennessee before reeling off four consecutive victories to reach the championship series against rival UCLA. The Bruins rallied to win the first game in extra innings … and Fowler, battling a forearm injury and illegal pitch calls, ran out of gas as UCLA took the title.
No. 5: NCAA sanctions
The NCAA ruled in July on recruiting violations that occurred under the watch of former basketball coach Lute Olson. The NCAA placed the program on two years of probation, vacated 19 wins from the 2007-08 season and took away one scholarship from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, giving coach Sean Miller a little less margin of error as he tries to restore the program.
No. 4: Blocked!
Arizona appeared to have pulled out a victory against Arizona State with a late touchdown drive, but the Sun Devils blocked Alex Zendejas’ low extra point attempt, leaving the game tied with 27 seconds left. Then, ASU blocked another low PAT attempt at the end of the second overtime to win 30-29 in a wild Territorial Cup matchup that will be long remembered on both sides.
No. 3: Woman of the Year
For the third time in four years, the Arizona swimming program produced the NCAA Woman of the Year. This time it was Justine Schluntz, a 16-time All-American who is now studying in England as a Rhodes Scholar. She follows in the UA footsteps of Whitney Myers (the 2007 winner) and Lacey Nymeyer (2009) as winners of the NCAA’s top award for female athletes, honoring athletic achievement, academics, service and leadership.
No. 2: No tournament
First-year coach Sean Miller — the program’s fourth head coach in four season — never talked about the NCAA Tournament as a goal, and with good reason. The young, rebuilding Wildcats went through growing pains and finished 16-15. Despite the low expectations for the season, it was still a sad end to Arizona’s 25-year streak of advancing to the Big Dance.
No. 1: Greg Byrne era begins
When athletic director Jim Livengood resigned in December 2009 to take the same position at UNLV, Arizona went through a patient search and landed one of rising stars in the business — 39-year old Greg Byrne. Byrne, the social-media-loving former AD at Mississippi State, brought new energy and ideas — a preseason tour of the state, the pregame “Wildcat Walk” — while making progress toward the construction of football facilities in the north end zone of Arizona Stadium.