Looking back on the best Southern Arizona sports moments in 2019

Looking back on the best Southern Arizona sports moments in 2019

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UA’s Dominique McBryde, left, Sam Thomas and forward Tee Tee Starks celebrate the Wildcats’ WNIT championship in March. A capacity crowd watched the UA top Northwestern.

It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Tucson sports scene, which has been left wanting for meaningful titles.

But there have been some pleasant surprises.

The sudden surge of the Arizona women’s basketball team, which finds itself off to its best start ever. The regrouped recruiting of the Wildcats’ men’s basketball team, which has found its way after a year in the muck. A handful of great teams and one superstar recruit.

The Star takes a look back at the highlights of the final 12 months of the 2010s.

Arizona women's team surges

Arizona forward Dominique McBryde (20), left, and forward Sam Thomas (14) grab handfuls of confetti from the McKale Center floor as the team celebrates their 56-42 win against Northwestern in the championship game of the WNIT, Saturday, April 6, 2019, Tucson, Ariz.

Off to an 11-0 start and ranked No. 18 in all the land, Adia Barnes and the Arizona women's basketball team are giving Sean Miller and the men's basketball a run for its money in terms of local support. The Wildcats are surging behind Aari McDonald, off to the best start in school history, and have taken another step after taking home the Women's NIT title last season in a 24-win season.

After that 18-game improvement from 2017-18, the Cats look even better this year. 

Wildcats sign No. 11 recruiting class

Arizona’s coach Jay Johnson says the 2020 signing class is as good a class as he’s had “at any point at any school.”

The Arizona baseball team lost a pair of impctful infielders to the Major League Draft in second-round picks Cameron Cannon and Nick Quintana, and they were dealt a blow when incoming star Andrew Dalquist chose to sign with the Chicago White Sox after being drafted in the third round. But the Wildcats brought in the country's 11th-best recruiting class in November, including eight players from talent-rich California and the prospect, Queen Creek High School's Jacob Berry, whom head coach Jay Johnson called "the best player in the state of Arizona."

They'll be expected to help the Wildcats get back to the standard Johnson set early in his Arizona tenure, as program failed to advance to the postseason in 2019.

Mannion, Green sign on to resuscitate Cats

Arizona's Nico Mannion, left, and Josh Green speak during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Just when it looked like Miller and the men's program might be fading, Nico Mannion and Josh Green arrived to inject some life into the program.

Mannion, the No. 9-rated player in the class of 2019 according to 247Sports.com Sports, and Green, the No. 13-ranked prospect, instantly put the Wildcats back on the map. Their 2019-20 season hasn't gone off without a hitch — Arizona heads into the new year losers of three of four after a 9-0 start — but brighter days do appear in the making.

Wildcats softball makes it back to WCWS

The Arizona bench doesn’t like the call on their batter in the late going against Alabama in their elimination game on day three of the NCAA Women’s College World Series, Friday, Saturday, June 1, 2019, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The drought had lasted so long, the Tucson desert was appearing more like the Sahara. Mike Candrea and the Wildcats softball team hadn't appeared in the Women's College World Series since 2010, unfathomable around these parts. But a 19-5 record in Pac-12 play belied the Wildcats strength, and Arizona landed a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament and — crucially — home-field advantage for the Super Regionals.

The Wildcats capitalized, advancing to the Supers with a win over Harvard and a pair of wins over Auburn. Hosting Ole Miss, the Wildcats scored a pair of huge wins, securing their first WCWS berth since 2010. Star pitcher Taylor McQuillin led the way with a 24-8 record, taking home first-team All-American honors for her efforts.

Salpointe’s Robinson sets record

Salpointe Catholic Lancers running back Bijan Robinson (C) (5) reacts after breaking a record for most yards run by a 4A player in Arizona during a game against the Sahuaro Cougars at Sahuaro High School Friday night, Oct. 4, 2019.

Tucson has been blessed with some terrific running backs over the years. Two-time NFL Pro Bowler Paul Robinson (Marana High School) and Canyon Del Oro’s iconic Kadeem Carey come to mind.

But what Bijan Robinson did over his four-year career at Salpointe Catholic was nothing short of otherworldly. Arguably the top football recruit in the city’s history – the nation’s No. 2 running back ranking and a No. 13 overall position – Robinson finished his Lancers career with a state-record 7,036 rushing yards and 103 touchdowns. After a sensational senior season with 2,235 yards and 38 scores on 126 attempts, Robinson recently signed with the Texas Longhorns, hoping he’ll become the next Ricky Williams or Earl Campbell.

Or the first Bjian Robinson.

Roadrunners off to the races

Center Jeremy Gregoire, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Jalen Smereck in the first period against Ontario at the Tucson Convention Center, Tucson, Ariz., December 21, 2019.

After dropping back down in the standings to fifth in the AHL's Pacific Division last season, the Tucson Roadrunners are off to the best start in the franchise's young history this year.

Led by a trio of sensational scorers in center Lane Pederson and left wings Michael Bunting and Brayden Burke, the Roadrunners enter the new year having won eight straight and nine of their last 10, good enough to build a seven-point lead in the standings before January.

Sunnyside boys soccer scores first state title

Sunnyside players celebrates their 4-0 win over Campo Verde to win the 5A State Championship game in Scottsdale, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.

The story of the Sunnyside boys soccer program is almost too good to be true.

A coaching novice before inheriting the program in 2017, head coach Casey O'Brien has taken the Blue Devils to a 59-10-5 record in three years. The team went 24-0-2 season in 2018-19, earning its first state championship. The team won the title in breathtaking fashion, taking down No. 2 Gilbert Campo Verde 4-0 in late February.

Led by superb scorer Manny Quiroz, who scored 39 goals as a senior and 61 in his final two years for the Blue Devils, Sunnyside had far too much firepower to be contained.

Sugar Skulls make their debut

Sugar Skulls quarterback Jake Medlock tosses a pass to running back Shad Thornton in the first quarter against the Strike Force at the Tucson Arena, Saturday, May 4, 2019, Tucson, Ariz.

It was a season of firsts for the Tucson Sugar Skulls Indoor Football League franchise. The first win (March 3, 65-44 at the San Diego Strike Force), the first loss (March 16, 63-28 at the Arizona Rattlers). The first losing streak from Weeks 5-8, and the first winning streak from Weeks 12-14.

Overall, it was a solid first season for the franchise, which finished 7-7 in Year 1 and lost in the playoffs at the Sioux Falls Storm, 50-47.

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