As evident from how busy my staff was this school year, University of Arizona athletics was some story. Over the last nine months, Jim Livengood became AD, the gymnastics team witnessed the burning of its facility, the football team choked during its run for the roses, yet brought down Miami's mystique in the Fiesta Bowl, the volleyball team came from nowhere and made a run through the NCAAs, women's soccer was added, the baseball team bottomed out, the top-ranked softball team rolled on and the basketball team gave the campus one hell of a party. Not a bad way to break up life's monotony.
But every party must come to an end. So as I punch away at my keyboard for the last time as sports editor, what would be more fitting than to commemorate the year with awards?
Welcome to the second annual Willies.
So much has changed since these awards debuted last spring. The Willies were in honor of Wilbur Wildcat, who since has had reconstructive knee surgery after a skirmish with the Arkansas Razorback, Willie Morales, now playing Single-A ball for the Oakland Athletics, Corey Williams, who blossomed at the Final Four last month, and "Will I see you in the morning," well .
On with the awards:
One shining moment
Tough call. But in the tradition of Pac-10 officiat-ing, I won't make one. It's a tie between the basketball team's unbelievable run to the Final Four and that glorious New Year's Day under the sun at the Fiesta Bowl. The basketball team was supposed to have an off-year. Chris Mills was gone. Double-digits were possible. Who knew?
But one-by-one, Khalid Reeves & Co. knocked out opponents. The run to Charlotte put the campus in a frenzy, thousands of T-shirts were sold, thousands of pep rallies were held and thousands spent thousands to follow the UA squad to North Carolina.
The football team's 29-0 humiliating of Miami at the Fiesta Bowl might be the most significant accomplishment in UA football history. Before a national television audience, the Wildcats catapulted into national prominence. Chuck Levy, who after the game announced he was going pro, broke a 68-yard touchdown run that will never be forgotten in Tucson, and Miami, for that matter. Look for the Wildcats in everybody's top five in the fall.
One crying moment
Where there is joy, pain lurks nearby. The tears and unfinished sentences told the story of the basketball team's 91-82 loss to eventual national champion Arkansas at the Final Four.
"It's frustrating to know we had such a great year," usually fun-loving Joseph Blair said, this time with a blank stare. "And for it to end like this."
Man of the Year
Although Chad Carvin's name is well known in swimming circles, his name is rarely spoken in the same breath on campus as Khalid Reeves and Rob Waldrop. His accomplishments, however, are more impressive.
At the NCAA men's swimming championships in March, the Laguna Hills, Calif., native shattered two American, U.S. Open and NCAA meet records Ä swimming the 500-yard freestyle in 4 minutes, 11.59 seconds, and the 1,650 freestyle in 14:34.91.
Carvin's 500 mark surpassed Michael O'Brien's American record of 4:13.06, set nine years ago, and the 1,650 mark was a full three seconds better than the previous record.
Last year's recipient: Seth Pepper (swimming)
Runners-up: Khalid Reeves (basketball), Rob Waldrop (football) and David Loshonkohl (track)
Woman of the Year
Laura Espinoza doesn't need to say a word, her statistics say plenty. The shortstop of the defending national champion softball team shattered NCAA single-season records for home runs (25) and RBI (84) this year and she still has eight regular-season games and the tournament left. And she is only a junior.
Last year's recipient: Alix Creek (tennis)
Runners-up: Leta Lindley (golf), Brenda Sleeuwenhoek (cross country and track) and Susie Parra (softball)
Coach of the Year
A lot can be said for Lute Olson's efforts this year. Same goes for Dick Tomey. But no coach did as good a job as Dave Rubio.
Two years removed from a 4-26 overall and 0-18 Pac-10 record, Rubio led the volleyball team to the NCAA Sweet 16. His team also upset No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Stanford and No. 8 USC during the season before finishing 20-11.
Rubio's best move may have been employing wo-men's basketball coach Joan Bonvicini and Tomey as motivational speakers before the Wildcats' NCAA second-round match versus ASU. It worked, and the UA won in five games.
Last year's recipient: Frank Busch (swimming)
Runners-up: Mike Candrea (softball), Olson, Tomey excluding the Cal game
Freshman of the Year
Barb Bell took a year off from school before finally accepting a scholarship at the UA. She made the most of her return, leading the volleyball team in hitting percentage (.251) and finishing No. 2 in kills (417).
Bell's goal is to be an All-American. Before she is done, Bell will be Arizona's first since Melissa McLinden nine years ago.
Last year's recipient: Keisha Anderson (women's basketball)
Runners-up: Nancy Ev-ans (softball), Leah Braatz (softball) and Margarito Casillas (cross country)
Team of the Year
Another tough call. The softball team has dominated. The football and volleyball teams were among the best in school history. But if you combine record and excitement generated, then it must be the basketball team. Nothing united the campus like the Wildcats did in March and April. But enough has already been said about that.
Quotes of the Year
"I guess I have to give God some credit because I prayed my ass off at the end that something would happen." Ä place-kicker Steve McLaughlin, after kicking the game-winning 32-yard field goal against Washington State, Oct. 23.
"It was as if the wheels fell off the bus. We had pulled out of the station, then the wheels fell off and we crashed." Ä pitcher Ben White, after the baseball team collapsed against Arizona State, 15-4, less than two days after upsetting ASU.
"That's a lot of crap, student-athletes don't have it made." Ä Jim Rosborough, assistant basketball coach.
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