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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Four years to remember

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    Four years ago we set foot on the University of Arizona campus with dreams of bowl games and Final Fours.

    I even made sure to take my free Birthright trip to Israel during my freshman year of 2004 so as to clear my schedule for future bowl trips.

    So much for that.

    Although this is supposed to be a happy goodbye column, the main themes concerning the big-money sports the past four years can succinctly be summed up like this: disappointment, disappointment, disappointment and more disappointment.

    This trend started early for us – March 26, 2005, to be exact – when we watched in horror as the Arizona men’s basketball team blew a 15-point lead with four minutes left in the Elite Eight against Illinois. I’ll never forget the scene in my dorm, as shell shocked fans could barely utter a word the rest of the evening.

    But at that time, at least we had hope we’d see the Wildcats on the precipice of the Final Four once again.

    That never happened and the Illinois game now represents the seminal moment in the program’s recent history. Since then the Wildcats have won a single game in the NCAA Tournament and have never been seeded higher than No. 8.

    With the program now in turmoil after head coach Lute Olson’s leave of absence and a subsequent year featuring more drama than my ex-girlfriend, these past three underwhelming seasons – in which Arizona has set countless low-water marks of the Olson era – may be just the start.

    Football has been even more disappointing because it teases us more than the most beautiful coeds who stroll around campus in bikinis any given Saturday.

    The past four years, the Wildcats have pulled off a string of improbable upsets, such as the 2006 team’s field-rushing win over then-No. 8 California, after which I mistakenly took part in an end-zone conversation about flights to Hawaii for bowl season.

    Oops.

    Every year is supposed to be “”the year,”” every year there’s reason to believe that season will be different than the last one, and every year we’re left to wonder “”what if,”” particularly the last two when one more play would have ended the drought.

    Of course, not everything has been doom and gloom.

    Before the Illinois collapse, Salim Stoudamire brought us the greatest moment of the past four years, a last-second shot in the Sweet 16 that led to an impromptu celebration on campus with a move imitated time after time by worshipping fans at the Student Recreation Center.

    Even this past year, the Wildcats knocked off a pair of top-10 teams and McKale Center rocked during conference play.

    Football has been just bad enough but good enough at the right times to pull off five upsets worthy of field rushes. Nothing can compare to the 2005 Homecoming upset of then-No. 7 and undefeated UCLA, the one that brought the most boisterous sea of red onto the field.

    Then when talking about Arizona success, nobody won more than the UA softball team.

    The two-time defending champions have made the Women’s College World Series must-see TV the past two years, particularly last year’s thrilling run in which pitcher Taryne Mowatt’s arm nearly fell off after throwing over 1,000 pitches in less than a week.

    These four years have also seen men’s and women’s swimming titles this year, volleyball coming within a spike of the 2005 Final Four and soccer going from bottom feeder to conference champion in 2004.

    They have also brought us the dominance of athletes like Robert Cheseret, Trevor Crowe, Whitney Myers, Karin Wurm, Kim Glass, Alicia Hollowell and certainly the late Shawntinice Polk, whose death crippled the women’s basketball program on and off the court. That’s not to mention more heralded stars like Antoine Cason and Jerryd Bayless.

    But the best part of the past four years in Arizona Athletics has nothing to do with disappointments, accomplishments or top-level players.

    It’s the moments like the Wisconsin rain game in 2004, when Zona Zoo could care less about the drenching downpour and nearly cheered the Wildcats to a soggy upset.

    It’s the chills you get when the marching band turns to the student section and plays “”Bear Down, Arizona!”” with 10,000 students belting out the tune in unison.

    It’s showing up four hours early (or camping out all night) to sit in the bottom of the Zona Zoo section, wasting away the time with body painting and good friends.

    It’s taking a fan bus to the Rose Bowl to see an Arizona-UCLA football game and watching the 52-14 game on the way before making sure to remind every Bruin fan within ear shot of that glorious day.

    It’s living and dying on every play in McKale Center and Arizona Stadium.

    It’s taking in a game in the Hot Corner, and counting the opposing manager’s steps to the mound.

    It’s traveling from Boise, Idaho, to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to support the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, as I know one fan has done on his own dime.

    And of course, it’s rushing the field at least once a year.

    Every graduating sports fan would have liked to see the Wildcats in a bowl game or make another run at a Final Four.

    But despite those disappointments, it’s sure been one hell of a ride, one that I’ll never forget.


    Michael Schwartz is a graduating journalism senior. He is currently petitioning the NCAA for a fifth year of Daily Wildcat eligibility and can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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