PAC-10 TO PAC-12

Greg Hansen: Select breed of Wildcats

UA's top 10 athletes in Pac-10 era share one trait: dominance
2011-06-29T00:05:00Z 2011-06-29T17:44:08Z Greg Hansen: Select breed of WildcatsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 29, 2011 12:05 am  • 

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series on the transition from the Pac-10 Conference to the Pac-12, which happens Friday.

Today, we look back at sports columnist Greg Hansen's picks for the top 10 Arizona Wildcats in the 33-season history of the conference. Hansen has covered all 33 seasons of the Pac-10 era.

The credibility of any top 10 list is often determined by those who don't make it. So consider those who aren't among our list of top 10 Arizona Wildcats of the Pac-10 era, 1978 to 2011.

Robert Gamez was the 1989 NCAA Golfer of the Year. He won a school-record seven tournament championships. He didn't make it.

Kim Glass was an All-Pac-10 first-team volleyball selection in each of her four UA seasons, a consensus All-American and a future Olympian. Not on our list.

And what about Arizona's NBA lottery picks Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Khalid Reeves. No, no, no, no. What about Adia Barnes, the most accomplished UA women's basketball player in history? Zip.

Nor should you forget baseball pitcher Scott Erickson, who won a school-record 18 games for Arizona's 1989 Pac-10 champs. He's not on the list. Nor is Lacey Nymeyer, who helped win nine NCAA swimming titles and was twice the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year.

To make this top 10, you had to be better than that (Erickson was a one-year UA player). Better than UA career rushing leader Trung Canidate, better than seven-time NCAA swimming champion Albert Subirats, and better than Tanya Hughes, who won three NCAA high jump national titles and was selected as the NCAA Woman of the Year.

Such was the magnitude of success for UA athletes during the Pac-10's 33 seasons. Here are those who make our exclusive top 10:

1. Jennie Finch, softball. At one period during her softball career, Finch won 60 consecutive games. She twice was the national Player of the Year (2001, 2002), finished with a 119-16 pitching record and, as a sidelight, remains No. 9 on the school's career list for RBIs and home runs. Top that? You can't.

2. Sean Elliott, basketball. When he exited Arizona in 1989, he was the league's first two-time Player of the Year and its leading scorer, 2,555 points. No one has matched his back-to-back POY awards, and his 2,555 points are now No. 2 in UA history. After UCLA's ebb from the John Wooden days, Elliott was the one player responsible for returning Pac-10 basketball to national consciousness.

3. Terry Francona, baseball. In his final two seasons as a Wildcat, 1979-80, Francona was the national Player of the Year and twice had 80-plus RBIs in a season. Only one other Wildcat, Ron Hassey, can match that. Francona twice had 100-plus hits in a season; no other Wildcat in the long history of UA baseball ever did so. Francona hit .401 while leading Arizona to the 1980 national championship.

4. Ryk Neethling, swimming. You could make a case that Neethling was the top swimmer of the Pac-10's 33 seasons. He won nine individual NCAA championships and was the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year in all four of his UA seasons. He was a program-changer in this sense: The UA finished in the NCAA top six in Neethling's final three seasons. That began a streak that is now at 15.

5. Amy Skieresz, track and cross country. In the late '90s, Skieresz became America's top college distance runner and the top female runner in UA history. She won seven NCAA championships in a variety of races: the 5,000 meters, the 10,000 meters and in the NCAA cross country finals. She might have had 10 or more national titles but, after a cancer scare in 1998, was "just" second in the NCAA cross country meet and then bypassed her senior track season.

6. Ricky Hunley, football. The personality-blessed linebacker from Petersburg, Va., established many of the key "firsts" in Arizona's Pac-10 football years: first consensus All-American, first multiple-years All-Pac-10 player, first Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and first College Hall of Fame selection.

7. Tie, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, women's golf. It's almost impossible to separate the NCAA Golfers of the Year from 1991 and 2001, respectively. Sorenstam won a then-school-record seven tournaments, including the '91 national title, and was a two-time consensus All-American. Ochoa, also a two-time consensus All-American, won a school-record 12 tournament championships.

8. Nancy Evans, softball. The 1998 national Player of the Year, Evans was 124-8 as a pitcher (that's a .939 winning percentage), often batted third in the lineup and started at shortstop when not pitching, and was a two-time consensus All-American. Evans' pitching records were, in order, 17-0, 31-4, 36-2 and 36-2. At another school, she might have been No. 1 on this lit.

9. Tedy Bruschi, football. The face of Arizona's Desert Swarm years, Bruschi left Arizona in 1995 as the NCAA's career sacks leader. Bruschi was a two-time consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.

10. Dana Burkholder, volleyball. Arizona reached the 2001 women's Final Four of volleyball behind Burkholder, a first-team All-America setter in 2000 and 2001. She was the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2000 and is considered the top volleyball player in school history.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Latest Video

More videos

Election 2014: Arizona governor's race

Reporters Becky Pallack and Joe Ferguson discuss the governor's race, including two scheduled public appear…


Follow Star Sports reporters

Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily