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Ten things Tucson sports fans can look forward to in 2021

Ten things Tucson sports fans can look forward to in 2021

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If UA fans get their way in 2021, Aari McDonald will lead the Cats to (at least) the Elite Eight and then be a high pick in the WNBA Draft.

Now that that’s over, we have plenty to look forward to in 2021.

The Arizona women’s basketball team is poised to go on its deepest postseason run in program history. The Wildcat baseball program brought in a gold rush on the recruiting trail and should contend for a conference title.

UA football welcomes a new coaching staff into the fold, hoping to turn around what was a woeful year. Oh, and the school just so happens to boast perhaps the best slugger in NCAA history.

May the year ahead be a rebirth of sorts.

And a rebirth of sports.

Here are the 10 things we’re looking forward to in the year ahead.

A return to normalcy

Our biggest wish for 2021 is a simple one: Let’s get back to the world we once knew, one where the success or failure of an Arizona sports team was the worst part of our days. After shutting down for what felt like eons, we deserve something to cheer for in the year ahead.

Cats go dancing

While the Arizona men’s basketball team serves a self-imposed one-year postseason ban, the Wildcat women will be chasing the first Elite Eight experience in program history. Arizona advanced to its one and only Sweet 16 in 1998, but with Adia Barnes leading a seasoned and talented squad, expectations are for a sustained run. That would go at least a little towards making up for last year’s disappointment.

The Fisch era begins

This is going to be the real test: Can the 32nd head coach in Arizona football history do what the previous 31 have failed to do, lead the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl? To be fair, Stuart Forbes, H.B. Galbraith and a host of other former Arizona head men predated the Rose Bowl by decades, and Arizona wasn’t in the now-Pac-12 until 1978, but the point remains: Pasadena has remained elusive. It’s not that we expect Fisch, a first-time full-time head coach, to quickly do so, but what else is there to do but hope? If anything, the hiring of a new head coach can be a shot in the arm for a college football team.

Arizona’s hiring of Jedd Fisch upset many fans who believed athletic director Dave Heeke was targeting someone with UA ties.

El Tour gets a late start

After the Coronavirus pandemic took the air out of local cyclists’ tires during the annual Thanksgiving fitness fest, El Tour de Tucson is expected to take place on April 10, 2021. Want to recapture the fun of the missed weekend? Easy — cranberry sauce and turkey a week after Easter.

Aari goes early

Aari McDonald would have likely already taken her talents to the WNBA had a stress fracture not curtailed the latter part of her junior year and doomed her chances to showcase her skills for professional general managers. Her return vaulted the Wildcats into the stratosphere, or at least the upper echelon of the Pac-12. Wherever she goes in the 2021 WNBA Draft, she’ll deserve to go higher.

Cat cubs take the bat

Jay Johnson has retooled the Arizona baseball team into a contender, especially as he’s gotten bolder on the recruiting trail. The Wildcats landed the fourth-best recruiting class in the country, and left relatively intact by the shortening of the Major League Baseball Draft, return plenty of star power. Under Johnson, Arizona has gone 16-14, 16-14, 14-16 and 15-14 in Pac-12 play. It’s time the Cats take a step forward with a loaded roster. A trip to Omaha is the main prize.

Abdi heads to Tokyo

By the time Arizona’s legendary long-distance runner Abdi Abdirahman finally takes part in his fifth Olympic games, he’ll be 43 years old, the oldest runner ever to qualify for Team U.S.A. Good luck slowing him down. Undaunted by the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the ex-Wildcat and Pima College hero will be looking to make up for the 2016 Olympics, when he was sidelined by myriad lower-body injuries.

Roadrunners heat up

The AHL is notoriously fickle, as the primary goal of a minor-league hockey team is to supply talent to the NHL squad. That’s a big reason the Tucson Roadrunners fell from first place in the Pacific Division in 2017-18 to fifth just a year later. After leading the division through 58 games last year, the hope is Tucson can avoid a similar drop yo-yo as the season prior.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson ran wild in the Alamo Bowl last week, putting up numbers similar to what he did at Salpointe Catholic High.

Bijan turns it on

Sting as it may to see Bijan Robinson torch all of college football in the burnt orange of the Texas Longhorns, we must not begrudge a local star his just due. Robinson was sizzling at Salpointe Catholic High School, but he’s been somehow even better at UT, hearkening back to the days of Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell. He turned on the afterburners late in the season, racking up three 100-yard games in his last five. It’s a shame that Robinson isn’t pulling off this wizardry in his own backyard, but it’s great to see a Tucson product burst onto the national stage.

Harper finds her groove

How lucky are Arizona softball fans to get one more glimpse of Jessie Harper? The two-time All-American returns with 76 career home runs, 19 shy of the NCAA record. Considering she swatted 29 in 2019, that number is well within her reach. Harper leads a talented Wildcat squad that has its sights on a national championship, which would be the first for the program since 2007.

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