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Greg Hansen: Forget the bad, there was still plenty to cheer about during Tucson's sports school year
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Greg Hansen: Forget the bad, there was still plenty to cheer about during Tucson's sports school year

A few moments after Arizona was denied entry into the 2018 NCAA baseball tournament Monday, my phone pinged. Here is the tweet from a colleague:

“… and the UA sports year that we never thought would end, ends.”

Orlando Bradford. Rich Rodriguez. Book Richardson. Craig Carter. A first-round NCAA basketball loss to, ugh, Buffalo.

That’s 0 for 5 right there.

But overall, the Tucson year in sports, 2017-18, had more good than bad. Here’s the roll call:

Athlete of the year: Bianca Pagdanganan, UA women’s golf. She might’ve topped this list by finishing No. 2 in the NCAA individual championships. But the junior transfer from Gonzaga went far beyond that.

Her 30-foot eagle putt at the 72nd and final hole of the NCAA championships dramatically put Arizona into a tie for the final spot in the “Elite Eight”. Pagdanganan then won a quarterfinals match against the nation’s No. 5 golfer, UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit. Later that day, Pagdanganan beat Stanford’s Andrea Lee, ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in the nation.

Runner-up: Roman Bravo-Young, Sunnyside wrestling. He was ranked No. 1 in the nation, finished his prep career 182-0, and led the Blue Devils to the state championship. Can’t beat it.

Team of the year: Pima College’s men’s basketball team. The Aztecs went 31-5 and finished second in the NJCAA Division II finals, the best season in school history. And they didn’t just grind it out; Brian Peabody’s team averaged a nation-leading 102 points per game.

Runner-up: Salpointe Catholic High’s girls soccer team, under first-year coach Kelly Pierce, went 19-1-1 to win the state championship.

The Lancers were so good in the clutch that they won their four state tournament games by a combined score of 22-0.

Coach of the year: In his first season as coach of the Tucson Roadrunners, Mike Van Ryn produced a 40-20-6 record, which was the highest winning percentage in the wickedly difficult American Hockey League Western Conference, putting the second-year Roadrunners franchise on the map.

Runner-up: Andy Fetsis, Pusch Ridge Christian High. Try to keep this straight: Fetsis coached the Pusch Ridge boys and girls tennis teams to state championships, with a combined 33-3 record. There’s much more: Pusch Ridge also swept the boys and girls singles and doubles championships, and to make it more rewarding, his son, Christian Fetsis, won the state doubles title, and his daughter, Sofia Fetsis, won the state singles title. And there’s this: In the fall, Fetsis was the defensive coordinator for Pusch Ridge’s football team, 13-1, that reached the state championship game.

Game of the year: New Mexico State had not played in a bowl game for 57 years, but when it was invited to the second Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29, the exodus west across Interstate 10 to Tucson was unprecedented. Attendance: 39,132. It was a festive atmosphere like few others in the bowl season, and NMSU added a fairy-tale touch by scoring in overtime to beat Utah State 26-20, which prompted an impromptu field-rushing scene and a flood of happy tears.

Runner-up: One of the true nice guys in pro sports, Steve Stricker, arrived at the 18th tee at Tucson National with a one-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly in the Champions Tour’s Cologuard Classic. It was electric. The grandstands and fairway around the 18th green were full to overflowing as Stricker made a clutch par to win his first-ever Champions Tour event. As the Conquistadores’ helmet was placed on Stricker’s head, he broke down and wept. It was a moment to remember.

Performance of the year: In the final two games of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament, Arizona center Deandre Ayton crushed UCLA and USC by scoring 64 points and grabbing 32 rebounds. In a century of basketball at Arizona, it might’ve been the most dominating weekend by any Wildcat.

Runner-up: Arizona freshman Jordan Geist won Pac-12 championships in the shot put and discus, becoming just the fourth man in the last 35 years to do so. He enters next week’s NCAA championships with the top throw, 70 feet, 4½ inches, in the nation.

Performance of the month: Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became Mr. October when he was finally unleashed and given a chance to play. In four victories over Colorado, Washington State, UCLA and Cal, Tate rushed for 840 yards, scored eight touchdowns and became the first Pac-12 football player ever to win four consecutive offensive player of the week awards. He also completed 71 percent of his passes for 743 yards. Need convincing? Tate’s touchdown runs were from 76, 75, 71, 58, 49, 47, 45 and 28 yards. Not a cheapie in the bunch.

Runner-up: Pima College’s men’s soccer team went 8-0-2 in September, climbing to No. 7 in the NJCAA poll as All-Americans Julian Gaona and Chris Cooper combined to score 13 goals en route to the NJCAA finals, finishing third with a 19-5-3 record.

Most forgettable 52 hours of the year: No. 2 Arizona was swept by North Carolina State, SMU and Purdue in three days at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, setting the stage for a colossally unfulfilling basketball season.

Sports administrator of the year: Salpointe Catholic athletic director Phil Gruensfelder ran an athletic program that won three state championships, was runner-up in three more and won nine region championships. That’s a good decade (or more) at most schools.

No. 1 sports figure of 2017-18: Haley Moore, UA women’s golf. Yes, she won two individual championships along the way. Yes, Moore was No. 3 in the Pac-12 finals. And, yes, in upsets of Stanford, UCLA and Alabama at the NCAA championships, Moore was the only golfer who was undefeated, 3-0, taking down formidable opponents from the Bruins, Crimson Tide and Cardinal.

But mostly, Moore is No. 1 because in the moment of a golfer’s lifetime — with the national championship at stake — she was up to it. Moore made a 5-foot putt that will live for posterity in UA sports history.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711


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