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WILDABOUTAZCATS.NET Arizona Wildcats Best of 2013


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Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez, already an inspirational figure, will have a tremendous impact on his team as a survivor of open-heart surgery

Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez, already an inspirational figure, will have a tremendous impact on his team as a survivor of open-heart surgery

WHY I PICKED ANDY LOPEZ’S OPEN-HEART SURGERY and subsequent recovery as the top story of 2013 …

Lopez is one year removed from coaching Arizona to the national title. He is one of the most successful coaches in the history of college baseball.

He is only one of two NCAA Division I head coaches to win a title at two schools (Arizona and Pepperdine). He is one of just three coaches to lead three different schools (Pepperdine, Florida and Arizona) to the College World Series. Further, he is one of just four coaches to take two schools to Omaha on multiple occasions (Arizona and Florida).

He is to the resurgence of Arizona baseball what Sean Miller has meant to the Arizona basketball program.

Match that success with a serious life-threatening procedure such as open-heart surgery and that story is hard to top. Moreover, Lopez is recovering after October’s surgery to take on the coaching responsibilities in 2014.

Ka’Deem Carey’s accomplishments, Brigetta Barrett’s sixth NCAA title in the long jump and Nick Foles’ unbelievable emergence as an NFL quarterback each merit consideration.

One story not on the bracket that deserves mention: The completion of the Lowell-Stevens football facility. That, however, is more like an ongoing story of the last five years. The facility is already paying dividends with recruiting. Perhaps it will take Arizona to a higher level so it won’t have to rent a band, such as the Northwestern State ensemble, to represent the Pride of Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., tomorrow.

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WHY I PICKED BARRETT AS THE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Brigetta Barrett became a six-time NCAA long jump champion in outdoor and indoor competition

Brigetta Barrett became a six-time NCAA long jump champion in outdoor and indoor competition

It’s difficult to top the kind of season Carey had with the Arizona football program. He broke two significant records — career rushing yardage and career rushing touchdowns — and became Arizona’s first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Carey’s season, however, was not as productive overall as last season when he led the nation in rushing. One reason was his one-game suspension for off-the-field tribulations. He corrected himself and became a model teammate and player for Rich Rodriguez and that is to be commended.

Barrett is a model student-athlete for any coach. The fact that she did not win the Bowerman Award, the highest honor given to the most outstanding male and female student-athletes in collegiate track & field, is an absolute joke. It’s worse of a snub than Carey got when he was left out of the Heisman presentation.

Barrett, an Olympian, is the most successful female high jumper in collegiate history. She swept the indoor and outdoor NCAA Division I high jump titles for the third consecutive season. She also set the outdoor collegiate record and the all-time dual meet record in the event, all while going unbeaten against collegians in 10 event finals between the indoor and outdoor seasons.

She was named the 2013 Pac-12 Women’s Field Athlete of the Year for the first time in her career. She ended her career at Arizona by winning her last 25 straight collegiate competitions.

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WHY I PICKED JAMES LI COACH OF THE YEAR …

James Li coached Arizona's women's cross country team to a Pac-12 title in his 12th season

James Li coached Arizona’s women’s cross country team to a Pac-12 title in his 12th season

Be honest: Did you know much about Arizona’s women’s cross country program until this season?

The Wildcats won the Pac-12 title for the first time and finished runner-up to Providence in the NCAA championships.

Sean Miller’s Sweet 16 appearance and achieving No. 1 status for the first time in 11 seasons for the program is worth winning this honor.

Li, in his 12th season, has withstood the test of time and molded the program into one of the nation’s best. He has also built what looks to be a promising future for the Wildcats.

Providence finished second in 2012 and won it all this time. Can Arizona do the same next season?

It will be difficult without Elvin Kibet, who earned All-America honors for the second-straight season, before exhausting her eligibility. She led the Wildcats with a 15th-place finish in the NCAA meet. Nicci Corbin, a junior who earned All-America honors by finishing in 22nd place, will return.

Li also has freshman Maria Larsson back. Larsson took 42nd place, two spots from achieving All-American status. Kayla Beattie (sophomore), Stephanie Bulder (junior) and Hanna Peterson (junior) also return.

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and TucsonCitizen.com.

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