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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Top teams of the year

    1. Men’s and women’s swim

    In a year where virtually every Arizona sport struggled to find a way to get the job done, the Arizona men’s and women’s swim teams were the polar opposite of that trend.

    Both were models of consistency this year as the squads lost a total of one dual meet combined. The men’s side went a perfect 9-0 and the women finished 9-1 with the lone loss coming at No. 3 Stanford.

    The women won their third straight Pacific 10 Conference championship as they blew the rest of the competition out of the water, but that paled in comparison to how they dominated the NCAA Championships. The Wildcats won by 136 points over two-time defending national champion Auburn and became the first team ever to sweep all five relay events – 200-yard freestyle, 400y, 200y medley, 800y and 400y freestyle. In the process, the relay teams set meet records in all five events, American NCAA, and U.S. Open records in every event but the 800y freestyle, and pool records in both medley events and the 800y freestyle.

    “”That doesn’t usually happen at NCAAs,”” said senior Lacey Nymeyer. “”Usually it comes down to the wire in every single race and for us to dominate the way we did in the caliber of meet that it was, it was phenomenal.””

    The key to both titles was that no individuals stood out from the rest of the pack as each team had two individual NCAA national champions – Nymeyer won the 100y freestyle with junior Lara Jackson winning the 50y freestyle and senior Darian Townsend took home the 200y individual medley title to go along with senior Albert Subirats’ 100y butterfly championship.

    The men defeated Texas by 96 points to earn its championship, but posted an eye-popping 500 points overall, 16 points higher than the women’s side. Part of the reason for the high point total was the fact that a UA men’s swimmer finished at least in the top nine in every event the Wildcats’ had a representative with the 200y butterfly being the only event without an Arizona presence. In addition to the individual success, the men won three of the five relays (400y medley, 800y and 400y freestyle), but did place second in the other two events (200y freestyle and 200y medley).

    “”I’m a little speechless. I’m just so proud of the girls and the guys and to see the hard work pay off is really something,”” said UA head swim coach Frank Busch. “”One title is one thing, two titles is crazy. I’m just thrilled for them and thrilled for this athletic department.””

    – Brian Kimball


    2. Softball

    It’s one thing to win a national championship. It’s almost freakish to do it in back-to-back years.

    With so much pressure on their shoulders, the members of the Arizona softball team was almost expected to do it this season. But with the departure of three vital seniors, a pitching coach who has her number hanging on left-field wall of Hillenbrand Stadium and the season-long absence of head coach Mike Candrea because he’s coaching the U.S. Olympic team, the Wildcats would have to fight a lot harder than it did last season.

    This past season, Taryne Mowatt has proven that she was worth being the Women’s College World Series’ Most Outstanding Player last June but she’s still mortal.

    The Wildcats, who went 50-14-1 last season, were 36-16 through Saturday. They have a long way to go before they can three-peat, but anything’s possible, right?

    Arizona is a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Softball Championship, the first round of regional play, and will play in Long Island, N.Y., this weekend.

    – Lance Madden


    3. Men’s basketball

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill often referred to the 2007-08 Arizona men’s basketball season as “”The Saga,”” the kind of year that seems as lon as 10.

    “”How many years has it been since Nov. 4?”” he asked late in the season.

    On that day O’Neill found out about UA head coach Lute Olson’s leave of absence that put him in control of the program for the year when Olson decided to take the season off on Dec. 6.

    That started a series of ups and downs, beginning with a six-game winning streak during the nonconference schedule that included a comeback from 20 points down to beat then-No. 9 Texas A&M, sandwiched between competitive road losses to Kansas and Memphis, the two teams in the national title game.

    An injury to star freshman guard Jerryd Bayless, who led the team by averaging 19.7 points per game, led to a 1-3 slide and the first of two ugly losses to ASU.

    Arizona hit its stride once Bayless returned, winning five of six, including a win over then-No. 6 Washington State and an impressive road win at USC.

    After getting hammered at then-No. 2 UCLA, guard Nic Wise underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus and the Wildcats lost five of seven in his absence.

    The team barely sneaked into the NCAA Tournament by the virtue of playing the nation’s second toughest schedule, despite losing eight of its last 12 games.

    There Arizona lost a game that served as a microcosm of its season, as forward Jordan Hill got into foul trouble, forward Chase Budinger struggled defensively, Bayless got frustrated with his opponents’ physical defense, Jawann McClellan struggled to score and Nic Wise missed time with an injury. Also like the rest of the season, nobody else got any serious minutes.

    “”It was a rollercoaster ride for us. It really felt like that,”” Budinger said. “”It was really a grind-out season.””

    Arizona finished 19-15, snapping a streak of 20 straight 20-win seasons.

    But in a year fraught with chaos, the Wildcats can take pride in extending their nation-high consecutive NCAA tournament appearance streak to 24.

    “”Just getting to the NCAA tournament after what these guys went through I thought was an accomplishment,”” O’Neill said.

    – Michael Schwartz


    4. Baseball

    The Arizona baseball team built this season’s core team chemistry from last year’s successful squad, when the Wildcats reached the finals of a regional.

    As the No. 2 seed, Arizona lost its last two games to top-seeded host Wichita State on June 3-4.

    The Wildcats rolled through their first two opponents – Oral Roberts and New Orleans – as the first Arizona team (42-17) to win at least 40 games.

    Graduated senior Bill Rhinehart hit .538 with a double, triple, two home runs, seven RBI and four runs scored as the first player in school history to hit for a cycle in the post season.

    Then-freshman Jason Stoffel struck out 11 of the 16 batters he faced, allowing no walks and one hit in five innings with two saves.

    – Bryan Roy


    5. Gymnastics

    What could have turned into a lost season for the Gymcats, turned into a success. After moving into their home gym after the winter break, the Gymcats went to work trying to reach nationals after failing the year before by 0.05 points to Oregon State. Senior All-American Karin Wurm and sophomore Miranda Russell each earned Pacific-10 Conference Gymnast of the Week during the season and Arizona defeated ASU in Tempe for the first time in 21 years, also breaking a nine-game losing streak to ASU covering all sports. Arizona advanced to the regional finals for the 22nd year in a row, the longest active postseason streak at Arizona behind men’s basketball.

    – Michael Fitzpatrick

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