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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pro/Con: Should Joan Bonvicini be Wildcat Coach of the Year?

    For what she dealt with, Bonvicini’s the choice

    If you look strictly at the numbers, Frank Busch is the slam-dunk choice for the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s Coach of the Year award.

    The Arizona men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach racked up a laundry list of achievements this year: women’s swimming Coach of the Year honors, a second place finish at the men’s National Championships and third in women’s and Pacific 10 Conference championships in both men’s and women’s meets.

    On the other hand, Arizona women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini took home no such honors, finishing with an 8-22 mark that was the worst in Bonvicini’s 27 years as a head coach, winning just three conference games in the process.

    Why is this even a debate?

    Because while Busch coached the winningest team on the Arizona campus this year, with a few Olympians swimmers on his side, Bonvicini did the best coaching job.

    This was an Arizona squad originally built to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, evidenced by last year’s win in the first round over Oklahoma and the fact that McKale Center hosted the first and second rounds this season. The Wildcats had three-time All-Pac-10 center Shawntinice Polk entering her senior season and a roster of athletic wings like senior guard Natalie Jones and junior transfer guard Joy Hollingsworth to complement her.

    That all changed on Sept. 26, when Polk died of a blood clot that traveled to her lungs.

    Not only did that leave the Wildcats with a gaping hole in the middle that they never filled, exacerbated by the back injury to junior forward Shannon Hobson that caused her to redshirt, but Arizona lost its emotional leader.

    Polk was arguably the greatest player in the history of the program and was very close with all her teammates. Forget the lack of size in the middle; Bonvicini and her staff did a heck of a job just to keep everyone from jumping ship on the program.

    After starting the year 4-5 after a road trip that included a stop in Polk’s hometown near Fresno, Calif., Bonvicini was frustrated with the team and realized she had to become a different coach for this season than she had all others, which she did.

    This season was not about wins and losses, it was about helping the women’s basketball program get through the loss of Polk.

    While there was no other tragedy like Polk’s death, the team’s bad luck continued throughout the year. Besides Hobson, freshman forward Amina Njonkou missed 22 games, guard Linda Pace missed 19 and sophomore forward Che Oh missed 10, leaving Arizona with virtually no size and no chance against most conference rivals.

    For Feb. 4’s game against UCLA, an injury to freshman guard Malia O’Neal left the Wildcats with just seven healthy players – and one of them was walk-on sophomore forward Jessie Robinson, who usually only plays during garbage time.

    While Pac-10 play was a disaster, Bonvicini and co. turned it around in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, gutting out a win over Oregon that Bonvicini called as important a win as this program has had.

    Somehow Bonvicini got her team through the year, and there’s a bright future ahead, with a two pairs of stud twins in the 2006-07 recruiting class, including the tallest female twins in the world, set to take Arizona back to its usual high level starting next year.

    While Busch was clearly the most successful coach as far as awards go, Bonvicini always stayed positive and helped her team through one of the most difficult times in their young lives.

    As much as college sports are about winning and losing, what Bonvicini did for her team is really what being a college coach is all about.

    Michael Schwartz
    assistant sports editor


    Bonvicini should win many awards for this past season, but top coach isn’t one of them

    The Courage of the Year award, the woman of the year award, the coach who faced the most obstacles of the year award. Arizona women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini is deserving of all three honors and many more relating to the difficult year she has faced and the way she nurtured and led her basketball team.

    But coach of the year? I don’t think so; not for a team that went 8-22, won just three Pacific 10 Conference games, lost nine straight games at one point during the season and lost eight games by 20 or more points.

    This was a team with expectations of advancing deep in the NCAA Tournament, but with the loss of its best player, team leader and all-around uplifting human being, those expectations were ultimately lessened. On the court, Bonvicini did not exceed expectations, and a coach of the year either exceeds expectations with inferior talent or molds talent into champions.

    The sports world has been hit with tragedies all too often, but when NBA players Bobby Phills and Malik Sealy died, their respective coaches weren’t handed coach of the year trophies.

    On the court, Bonvicini did not exceed expectations, and a coach of the year either exceeds expectations with inferior talent or molds talent into
    champions.

    When Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court during Loyola Marymount’s West Coast Conference semifinal game, head coach Paul Westhead wasn’t celebrated that season.

    If there were no other deserving candidates, I can possibly see Bonvicini receiving the award as a way to honor “”Polkey”” and a chance to remember her life, as well as reward Bonvicini for serving as a mother figure to women who may have been lost without her guidance.

    But there is a coach on this campus who has taken his athletes to another level, a coach who has taken talent and molded it into championships and has maintained national excellence in his program. This coach won the NCAA’s women’s swimming Coach of the Year award, took his teams to second-place (men) and third-place (women) finishes at the NCAA Championships, and helped a male and female athlete win Pac-10 Player of the Year awards.

    The coach’s name is Frank Busch, and his accomplishments with the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams cannot be understated. His male athletes broke nine school records at the NCAA Championships, and the women broke another eight.

    As much as you feel for Bonvicini and her team and as much you want to see the women’s basketball succeed because of what it has had to overcome, awards are won on the court, on the field or in the pool.

    Busch’s team did just that. It won. Although sometimes winning isn’t the most important thing, when it comes to coach of the year, it is.

    Roman Veytsman
    assistant sports editor

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