UA interim athletic director Rocky LaRose completed her five-month term Friday with a sense of accomplishment and by saying "change is good; I want to be part of a new era."
LaRose was hardly a caretaker after replacing Jim Livengood in December. The athletic department raised $4.5 million from private donors in that period, surpassing the yearly goal of $4 million before May. But perhaps more importantly, she restored a sense of calmness to a department that had been rocked by the bumpy departures of Livengood and Lute Olson.
"Overall, it was a thrill, but I'm ready to step back and take a breath," said LaRose, who will return to her role as senior associate athletics director when Greg Byrne reports to work Monday. "I sincerely want to be here for the transition. With a new understanding and appreciation of what it takes to run an athletic department of this scope, I'm very excited to work with Greg. We've got so much to do."
The 38-year-old Byrne, who had been Mississippi State's AD for two years, will spend most of his first week on the job at Pac-10 and donor functions in Phoenix.
LaRose has been part of the UA athletic department for 30 years, but the demand of time required to be the AD made an impact on her.
"It's just endless," she said. "The volume and the responsibility was a big surprise to me. People talk about the job of a director of athletics as a 24-7 thing. Well, it's true. It is really intense."
LaRose, a former UA homecoming queen, was at times so occupied by the job that she was bushed.
"I once wore the same outfit three days in a row," she said with a laugh. "I got out of bed and just didn't feel up to doing some ironing before work."
Crier, Criner appear to be Cats' top 2011 draft picks
Depending on how the 2010 football season goes, UA punter Keenyn Crier could be Arizona's top NFL draft selection. Or not.
Crier slumped somewhat in his junior season, 2009, but has the size and leg strength that sometimes prompts an NFL team to make a rare draft of a punter.
It's possible that UA receiver Juron Criner could be chosen in the first 50 or 100 picks of the 2011 draft as a junior. Of course, it would require Criner to catch 60 or 70 passes and become an impact player in the Pac-10. Few have more physical talent than Criner.
Beyond the Crier-Criner twosome, Arizona center Colin Baxter projects as a top 150 choice. He'll battle USC's Kris O'Dowd, a Salpointe Catholic grad, to be the Pac-10's top center. O'Dowd has already been projected as a first-round choice in some mock drafts.
Trujillo leading Pima into softball playoffs
ACCAC regular-season champion Pima College opens the softball postseason at home next weekend with 30-game winner Jordan Trujillo as starting pitcher. Trujillo, who played at Sierra Vista Buena High School, ranks favorably with the top pitchers in PCC history. When Pima won the 2004 national championship, it used 27-3 Veronica Ralston and 22-1 Nikki Johnson in the regular season, and in 2006 PCC relied on 20-3 Dana Alcocer and 26-5 Ashley Monceaux en route to a national title. Trujillo is more of a solo act for coach Armando Quiroz's No. 4-ranked Aztecs. … Cienega High's bid for a state softball championship spins around pitcher Alexa Cash, who is 21-3. But Cienega has six players hitting better than .350, including incoming UA recruit Ashlee Brawley, Valerie Luera, Emily Pohl, Brandi Klein, Morghan Doughty and Stephanie Tatham. Brawley has some impressive athletic genes. Her grandfather Norman "Pete" Brawley was a UA basketball player two generations ago who left school to run a ranch near Duncan. That's where he became acquaintances with 1955 Kentucky Derby-winning (Swaps) owner Rex Ellsworth and trainer Mesh Tenney. Brawley has been inducted into the Arizona Ranching and Farming Hall of Fame. … Sabino High grad Nate Tyler earned $5,500 Friday upon finishing second in the Gateway Tour's event at Tonto Verde near Phoenix. That gives the ex-Arizona standout $57,404 this year, with two wins and two second-place finishes.
Pusch Ridge poised for another state title run
After winning the state 2A baseball title last year, Pusch Ridge Christian coach Doug Jones, a former major-league All-Star relief pitcher, became the pitching coach at San Diego Christian College. His replacement, first-year coach Mark Frithsen, has been spotless (20-0) as Pusch Ridge begins a bid for back-to-back state titles on Friday. Pusch Ridge is averaging 13 runs per game behind a group of standouts that includes Aaron Vaughan, Alec Erceg, Matt Horrigan and Owen Bertelsen. Unfortunately, all of Pusch Ridge's state playoff games will be staged in Peoria. … Oro Valley's Jordan Brown returned to the lineup of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers on Thursday, two months after injuring a knee in spring training. It was almost as if he was back in his Arizona Wildcats uniform. The Clippers started ex-UA slugger Shelley Duncan and former Wildcat shortstop Jason Donald on Thursday. On the bench was Arizona's 2005 first-round draft pick Trevor Crowe, who has an ankle injury. Brown won the International League batting title last year and Duncan was the league's MVP. All are battling to be recalled by the Cleveland Indians. … Bobby Wade, Arizona's single-season pass-catching leader, will be working for yet another NFL team this fall. He signed with the Washington Redskins last week after a year in which he caught 36 passes for Kansas City. … After reaching Triple-A for the Kansas City Royals last season, former Pima College and Flowing Wells left-hander Gilbert de la Vara has been released by the Royals.
UA football maintains American Samoa pipeline
Arizona wisely continues to work the potentially rich recruiting connection in American Samoa. Defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo was in Samoa last week to evaluate potential recruits for 2011 and beyond. The Wildcats signed defensive tackle Aiulua Fanene from Tafuna High School in February, a few weeks after CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast a feature on the uncommon number of top football players on the small island. … For the first time since leaving Ohio in 2003 to swim for Frank Busch at Arizona, Whitney Myers, the NCAA's 2007 Woman of the Year, has left the nest. She is now swimming and training in Southern California with two of America's leading individual medley performers, Katie Hoff and Ariana Kukors, living two blocks from the beach. Myers will continue to train for the 2012 London Olympics. Incoming UA swimming recruits Sarah Denninghoff of Sabino High and Matt Barber of Houston, were chosen team captains for the ongoing international all-star swimming competition in Dublin, Ireland. … Tucsonan Vern Roberts, a Hall of Fame handball player of note, won yet another national championship last week. He was the champion of the USA Handball Association's 55-over singles event in Albuquerque. … Kate Wilczynski, a key part to CDO's 2005 state championship softball team, was chosen as the Mid-American Conference Player of the Week last week. The Ball State junior infielder is hitting .313 for a 35-13 team with hopes to go deep in the NCAA postseason.
MY TWO CENTS
Seattle, aka NBA Prep, suddenly a recruiting rival for Wildcats
College basketball recruiting has never been more tricky and unpredictable. There is not a better example than Arizona's attempt to sign 6-foot-11-inch Miami Dade JC center Eloy Vargas.
Sean Miller was swift in getting a visit (next weekend) from Vargas, a former Florida Gators freshman. The catch is that after touring Arizona, Vargas tentatively plans to visit Seattle University, of all places.
Arizona or Seattle? Are you kidding? Not in this generation of college basketball.
Some now view a year at Seattle as better preparation for the NBA draft. This year, Seattle used 6-10 power forward Charles Garcia for one season of NBA prep. Garcia, from Los Angeles Dorsey High School, signed with Washington in 2007 but didn't qualify academically. After two years at a SoCal junior college, he became Seattle's featured player, averaged 18 points, left school and declared for the NBA draft. He is projected as a late second-round pick.
The choice is this: Get the ball at Seattle and fill it up in almost total anonymity - or be part of Arizona's team-first system, with every game televised before crowds in excess of 14,000?
That didn't use to be much of a choice. Now it's a tough one.