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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Leaders of the pack: UA’s top coaches

    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell looks upward during an 83-77 loss to California on March 5 in McKale Center. Pennell lead the Wildcats to a 21-14 record and guided the team to a berth in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell looks upward during an 83-77 loss to California on March 5 in McKale Center. Pennell lead the Wildcats to a 21-14 record and guided the team to a berth in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

    1. Pennell worked wonders for men’s hoops

    UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap turned down the opportunity to fill Lute Olson’s shoes after the head coach’s sudden retirement, leaving UA athletic director Jim Livengood in an embarrassing situation. Not only did the second-in-command turn down the job, but Russ Pennell, a first-year assistant, was next in line to take control of the downward-spiraling program.

    “”Mike called me and he just said, ‘Russ, I don’t feel comfortable taking the job,'”” Pennell said at the beginning of the year. “”He said, ‘they’re going to come your way next.’ I was like, ‘can we do this?’ And he said ‘absolutely.'””

    In just the span of a few months, Pennell went from radio commentator for ASU’s basketball team to head coach of the prestigious Arizona basketball program and the focus of a spoiled fan base with high expectations.

    Pennell kept egos in check and the locker room full of positive chemistry, even after the infamous Jamelle Horne fouls.

    Every time a reporter asked about the long-term future, Pennell insisted that his focus remained on the present task in Tucson while also shielding the team from an unprecedented amount of distractions.

    “”We’re in this thing together, and yes, it’s not easy right now,”” Pennell said at the start of the season, “”but you’ve got two choices: you can give up or you can fight. And I’m not going to let them give up.””

    – Bryan Roy

    2. Stoops guided football to bowl win

    When UA football head coach Mike Stoops was brought in five years ago, the main focus was to rebuild the Wildcat football program. After four seasons of falling short, naysayers were quick to call for Stoops’ head.

    However, in the 2008 season – even in the face of major preseason defensive question marks – Stoops and his Wildcats got it done as they took down then-No. 17 BYU 31-21 in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl.

    “”I love this team. All year they have been really special,”” Stoops said following the bowl win. “”They have embraced this challenge and played for me. … Four years ago, we were nothing. We were bottom of the Pac-10. We climbed ourselves out of the hole and it took so much, day in and day out, to turn the program around.

    “”(The bowl victory) was five years in the making,”” Stoops added. “”It all came together the last month of the season and I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors who brought Arizona back.””

    – Ari Wasserman

    3. Busch anchored solid swim squads

    Arizona head coach Frank Busch has now guided the

    Arizona swim and dive teams for two decades and has been nothing but consistent.

    After serving the country as an assistant coach with USA Swimming in the Beijing Olympics and watching the Michael Phelps show firsthand, Busch returned to guide this year’s women’s team to a third-place finish and then help the men to a sixth-place finish in the NCAA championships.

    “”I can honestly say I was a little tired this year,”” Busch said after the men’s NCAA meet. “”Not in a negative way, but from an energy standpoint. It was a long year, but these are great kids and it’s a privilege to work with them.””

    Last year’s championships, for both the men’s and women’s teams, were his first and only national titles, but that’s not to say his teams aren’t always in the hunt. For six years in a row, his women’s teams have finished no worse than third place. Meanwhile, his men have turned in 12 top-six finishes in his 20-year Wildcat career.

    – Kevin Zimmerman

    4. Candrea led softball back to excellence

    With eight NCAA softball titles under his belt, head coach Mike Candrea knows how to win. Candrea, who has led 19 teams to the Women’s

    College World Series, is looking to return Arizona to the pinnacle of college softball. In his 24th year as the Wildcats’ head coach, Candrea’s team finished the regular season with a 41-14 record overall and a 13-7 Pac-10 record, good enough for a No.6 national ranking.

    Candrea’s approach to encouraging younger players and relying on veterans for leadership has proven to be a winning system. With his stories and inspiring speeches, Candrea adds another demention to Arizona softball.

    “”Coach adds a really good emotional stability. He helps the younger girls a lot, to keep them stable,”” said junior K’Lee Arredondo. “”He helps the older girls, too; he just helps everyone. He’s a great coach to have around.””

    In his first year back from coaching the USA Olympic softball team, Candrea and the Wildcats will continue into the postseason in the Regional competition.

    – Nicole Dimtsios

    5. Icecats’ Golembiewski earned 600th win as head coach

    The 2008-2009 season was the 30th Anniversary season for the Arizona club hockey team and a year of milestones for Icecats head coach Leo Golembiewski.

    Despite a mediocre 14-13-2 record, Golembiewski had a season in which he captured his 600th victory and was nominated to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

    In a state where the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes are struggling to stay afloat, Golembiewski has been able to sustain success with the Icecats for three decades.

    In a season where youth and injuries resulted in a slow start, the second half of the season saw the team race to a 9-4-1 finish.

    “”It was the 30th anniversary of the team, 600 wins and a nomination in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame; there’s not many coaches that can say that,”” Golembiewski said. “”I was just happy that the guys ended up having a pretty good season. … I’m glad that I was blessed with a great wife, a great family and great players.””

    – Vincent Balistreri

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