By Shane Bacon
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tueday, December 7, 2004
To give a grade to a team, you have to look at the entire season. First year head coach Mike Stoops came into a floored football program and brought the team to a somewhat respectable level in the Pacific 10 Conference. The team did finish 3-8, however, with a chance at running out a 5-6 record without having to break a sweat. By closing out wins against Washington State and Wisconsin, Arizona would have done in their first year what critics believed would have only come in 2006. Some would call those games moral victories, but moral victories are just for sentimental losers. As Arizona legend has it, however, if the Wildcats go 1-11, that one win better be against ASU.
The Cinderella story of the year lies solely with the darlings of the Arizona soccer team. The squad went from virtual nobody to a national powerhouse in just a few short months. The facts don't lie. Arizona made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, claimed a share of the Pac-10 title with NCAA national runner-up UCLA, and head coach Dan Tobias claimed Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. It wasn't just a breakthrough year for the Wildcats, it was a statement season. Look for freshman goaltender McCall Smith, one of five players to earn all-Pac-10 accolades, to build on her rookie campaign. The only bruise in the seemingly pure skin was the early first round exit in the NCAA tournament.
At this point in the season, most fans are thinking more positively after two stumbles in the first six games. Arizona dropped one to a team led by a kid right out of high school and another to the then-top-ranked team in the nation. This UA team is having a tough time in the second-half of games this season, folding like an 8-3 off-suit when the pressure starts to build. They did win against a top-15 team, but seemed to have a chance to blow the game open at one point and could never get it going. At least Channing Frye showed up Sunday and with more touches, could bring this team back to where it started the year.
So far, the UA women's basketball team has done what it normally does - roll over weaker opponents with complete ease and struggle against what are considered better teams. Two earlier wins in the Preseason WNIT against Saint Mary's and Rice defined the beginning part of the statement, before the Wildcats were blown out by a tough Ohio State team in the semifinals. The Wildcats have two players in Dee-Dee Wheeler and Shawntinice Polk that are shoe-ins for first team All Pac-10, but their bench play is a little spotty. Two monstrous wins in the Fiesta Classic - by 50 and 27 points - could provide the spark the Wildcats need to hang with No. 11 Georgia on the road this week.
With the loss of Chris Nallen this year, many thought Henry Liaw would follow suit and emerge as the new stud in an elite list of Arizona golfers. After the first two tournaments, however, it looked like the Wildcats were just hoping for a top-10. A win at the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate seemed to turn things around for head coach Rick LaRose's guys, even if they haven't broken the top-5 in three tournaments since the win. The Wildcats are known for peaking late, and with the play of freshman Travis Esway in his two starts this year, they might just make another late spring run.
Not much was expected after Erica Blasberg bolted for the pros this summer, but the women's golf team has made it interesting so far. After a fourth place finish in the Topy Cup in Japan, Arizona only cracked the top-10 once before this month's Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship. There, the Wildcat women beat Oklahoma State to claim third place outright, a positive for head coach Greg Allen to build on before a long run in the spring. Juniors Cassandra Kirkland and Lani Elston continue to battle for the top spot on the team and both have played superbly at times. All the Wildcats need is to mesh together before the postseason arrives.
The volleyball team was the second most successful team on campus this fall, behind the soccer team. Kim Glass and Jolene Killough were both named to the All Pac-10 team, and the only thing that kept the Wildcats from an A grade was their disappointing record against top tier teams. The Wildcats fell in three games against No. 7 Stanford in their last conference series and are 5-10 against NCAA tournament teams. The positives include finishing the regular season ranked No. 21 and making it to their ninth straight NCAA single elimination tournament.
Two runners for the cross country teams advanced to the NCAA Championships, and one finished with a bang. Sophomore Robert Cheseret advanced to the big show and finished ninth out of 242 other runners. On the women's side, Beth Hoge took individual honors at the Arizona State Invitational, again defining the truth that Wildcats step up larger when there are Sun Devils on the line. Both teams claimed titles at the ASU meet as well. Hoge was the lone women's runner to head to the big show, finishing 182nd overall.
Shane Bacon is a journalism junior. He can be reached at http://wc.arizona.edu.