Month That Was

Month That Was: Newsworthy local developments of April 2021


As a new feature this year, AllSportsTucson.com is taking a look back at the top local developments monthly. With April 2021 now in the books, we recount the important events of the fourth month of the year.

MOST NEWSWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS

1.

Adia Barnes embraces Aari McDonald during Arizona’s remarkable run through the NCAA tournament (Arizona Athletics photo)

The team that was overlooked looked over a fallen women’s basketball giant it knocked out. Arizona, fueled by being the only Final Four team omitted from an NCAA promotional video, dominated a UConn program in its 13th straight Final Four with a 69-59 victory on April 2 to advance to the national championship against Stanford. Arizona tried to complete an epic run beating two women’s college basketball giants — UConn and Stanford — in the Final Four to achieve the unthinkable. The Wildcats, in their first NCAA Tournament in 16 years, came an off-balance 3-point attempt by Aari McDonald at the buzzer from living out a dream. Stanford, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, escaped with a 54-53 win April 4 at the Alamodome at San Antonio. McDonald, drawing triple teams most of the game, could not get a good look on the 3-pointer but the ball did meet the back of the rim. The ball just didn’t fall. “Aari is a tremendous player,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said to ESPN after the game. “We’re fortunate to come out with a win.” The mighty Huskies with Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma also had their 18-game winning streak snapped by McDonald and the Miracles (line stolen from our own Steve Rivera) a la Danny Manning and the Miracles that won the national title for the Kansas men in 1988. “Arizona played amazing,” Auriemma said. “It was incredibly difficult for us to get anything done. and I thought the intensity level that they played with and the aggressiveness on the defensive end, we just didn’t respond.” Arizona returned to Tucson on April 5 after its Final Four experience and was welcomed by a large gathering of fans at Arizona Stadium.

2.

Sean Miller was 302-102 with three Elite Eight appearances in his 12 years as Arizona’s coach (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona announced on April 7 that it was parting ways with coach Sean Miller after 12 seasons as the head basketball coach. During Miller’s time at Arizona, he was 302-102 while winning five conference titles, three Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards with seven NCAA tournament appearances, including five Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights. Over the last three seasons, while dealing with the FBI investigation into the corruption of college basketball, Miller was 55-35, including missing the 2021 NCAA tournament due to self-imposed sanctions. “After conferring with Dave Heeke since the season’s end, it has become clear that our men’s basketball program – and our University – needs to write a new chapter in our history, and that begins with a change of leadership,” said Arizona president Robert C. Robbins in a release. “Arizona Basketball means so much to so many and, as stewards of the program, we must always act in the best interests of the university. I believe our future is bright, and I look forward to welcoming a new head coach to the Wildcat family.” Miller said in a statement, “It was an honor to be the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona. Over the last twelve years, Tucson, Arizona became our home. It’s where our three sons grew up and attended the University of Arizona. It’s also the place that we made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

3.

Tommy Lloyd at his first Arizona practice (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona hired longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, 46, on April 14 to replace Miller as the head coach. He beat out a host of former Arizona players for the job, including names like Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech), Damon Stoudamire (Pacific) and Miles Simon (Lakers assistant). Lloyd is the first assistant coach Arizona has hired since Fred Snowden in 1972. “While there are certainly potential obstacles ahead for our program, I embrace the challenge as we will build on the foundation in place to compete for Pac-12 and national championships,” Lloyd said in a statement. “I know how much Arizona Basketball means to the institution, its fans, its community and the state, and I cannot wait to get started. That works begin now. My family and I are excited to settle in Tucson and begin a new chapter.” Lloyd retained Arizona star Jason Terry on his staff as well as associate head coach Jack Murphy, an Arizona graduate who was the director of basketball operations under Lute Olson. Kerr Kriisa also removed himself from the transfer portal and announced he was staying with the Wildcats.

4.

Aari McDonald is the highest drafted player in Arizona history (Atlanta Dream graphic)

McDonald was selected as the No. 3 pick in the WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream on April 15. She is the highest drafted player in the history of Arizona women’s basketball. McDonald took Arizona from the depths of 12 losing seasons in 13 years and no NCAA tournament appearances since 2005 to its highest ground in her three-year career. Arizona achieved its loftiest ranking (No. 6) in program history this season and the Wildcats advanced to their first Final Four and national championship game. McDonald was not named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, but she certainly was worthy. Chris Paul tweeted: “Excited to watch Aari McDonald in the W(NBA)….watched her in the ncaa tournament and she is tough!!!!!” Hillary Clinton said after the national title game that McDonald is “amazing.” Said McDonald of what her lofty draft selection means to Arizona: “I’m paving the way for all the future Wildcats out there.”

5.

Tedy Bruschi and Rob Gronkowski made the Arizona spring game extra special (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona’s spring football game April 24 was a rousing success for new coach Jedd Fisch because of all the circumstances surrounding the event with Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi serving has honorary coaches. Our Steve Rivera wrote: “The only thing Jedd Fisch lost on Saturday afternoon was the water balloon fight he had with the Arizona students on the sidelines at Arizona Stadium. The rest, well, was a splash. It’s clear that Fisch has put the FUN back into the fundamentals when it comes to Arizona football. It was a world record-breaking weekend for the Wildcats. Literally. From Gronk’s epic 620-foot catch of a football out of helicopter to the 5,000 or so sunbaked fans in Arizona Stadium, it was like no Arizona Spring Game that I remember. Heck, it beat the alternative of the past few hum drum years.”

6.

Bruce Larson is one of five coaches in program history to win over 100 games at Arizona. He was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. (Arizona Athletics photo)

Former Arizona basketball coach Bruce Larson passed away at age 94 on April 14. Our Andy Morales wrote: “Sure, Coach led Arizona from 1961 to 1972 and, yes he was a former baseball and basketball player, but he was much more than that to the dozens, if not hundreds of students who were studying in the Exercise and Sports Sciences Department at Arizona in the early 1980s. We were all hoping to follow in his footsteps somehow. Many of us wanted to coach, some of us wanted to teach but most of us wanted a career where we could make a difference like Coach did. Larson taught us the theory of coaching basketball and handball/racquetball. He shot his free throws underhanded and we could earn a free grade if we could out-shoot him. No one ever did. In handball/racquetball, Coach would spot us 20 points and he would still win. McKale Center used to have racquetball courts on the outside facing where the pool is now and I always felt they built that part of McKale just for him as a gift.”

7. and 8.

Arizona won its first Pac-12 title in 17 years (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona men’s golf won the Pac-12 championship on April 28 by four strokes with a final score of 41-under par. The team title was only half of Arizona’s championship sweep as senior Brad Reeves won the individual title at 16-under after a tap-in birdie putt on the second playoff hole to defeat Stanford’s Henry Shimp. Arizona winning the team title ranks No. 7 this month and Reeves’ individual title is No. 8. “We’ve been able to share a couple of moments of celebration already as a team, and now we are just grinning from ear to ear,” said head coach Jim Anderson. “It’s such a special feeling to see Brad work so hard over his career to reach this pinnacle and for him to become a champion is an accomplishment we are all so proud of. For our team, led by this amazing group of seniors, to win a Pac-12 Championship is something we will look back of as a paramount moment for our entire program and in all of our careers.” The Wildcats’ team championship was their first conference title since winning the 2004 Pac-10 Championships while Reeves became the first Wildcat to win the inidividual title since Creighton Honeck was the 2008 Pac-10 Champion. A historic performance in the first of the early two rounds on April 26 set the tone for the Wildcats. The Wildcats finished that day at 24-under par. Arizona’s 16-under par performance in round one was the lowest single round score at the conference championships in program history, breaking the previous record of 14-under par during the 1984 Pac-10 Championships.

9.

Richard Sanchez takes over at Tucson High after coaching at Santa Rita the last three years (Jet Sports Training graphic)

Richard Sanchez, the dean of Southern Arizona high school football coaches with the most wins among active coaches, is in the process of hiring his staff at Tucson High School after his official hire April 23 to lead the Badgers’ program. “I’m trying to get a staff together right now, and everyone I spoken to, they’re up for the challenge,” Sanchez said. “We want to compete and be a force in 6A.” Sanchez comes to Tucson with two state football championships at Sunnyside in 2001 and 2003 as well as five consecutive state titles as the Blue Devils’ wrestling coach from 1990-94. Sanchez’s career win total of 161 games, with a record of 161-77, is the most among active coaches in Southern Arizona, topping Mica Mountain’s Pat Nugent (138-57), Benson’s Chris Determan (134-82-1) and Mountain View’s Matt Johnson (120-67). His 21 years as a head coach makes him the dean of local high school football coaches. Benson’s Chris Determan is next at 20 years, followed by Nugent with 18 years. Sanchez is taking over at Tucson after Justin Argraves coached the Badgers for 10 years and compiled a 56-50 record. Argraves was hired by Cienega after Nugent left that program to become the coach at Mica Mountain, a school that will be in its second year of operation in 2021-22. “When you’ve got a good number of kids that are hungry to win and be in a championship game and possibly win it, I think the learning curve is not as long as if you went to a place where they have no idea that they want to win,” Sanchez said.

10.

The first all-female officiating crew to work an NJCAA Division I championship game — from left to right: Sandy Sundine, Nadi Carey and Kara Crossett (NJCAA photo)

— Almost a year after Nadi Carey made headlines becoming a contestant on NBC’s Titan Games (Season 2), she topped that accomplishment April 24 by making college basketball officiating history. Carey, a former standout basketball player at Flowing Wells, CDO and Pima College, was part of the first all-female officiating crew to work an NJCAA Division I championship game when Northwest Florida State beat Trinity Valley 67-60 at Lubbock, Texas. “Everyday I just try and be the best version of myself in everything I do, whether that’s officiating, personal training, competing in competitions, playing basketball and making my family proud,” mentioned Carey, who is the older sister of former CDO and Arizona running back standout Ka’Deem Carey. “At first I had no idea I was making history, I just put my head down, kept my faith high, worked hard and found myself making history.”

OTHER TOP DEVELOPMENTS

— Pima’s women’s volleyball team advanced to its first NJCAA Division II national tournament when the Aztecs won the NJCAA Division II South Central District Championship in Miami, Okla., on April 3. Pima defeated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in the fifth-set tiebreaker 25-19, 25-22, 21-25, 13-25, 15-12 to earn the district title. The Aztecs lost to Johnson County (Kan.) Community College on in the first round of the NJCAA Division II Tournament on April 13 in a hard-fought game that came down to a fifth tiebreaking set. The No. 13 seeded Aztecs fell behind in their match with No. 4 seed Johnson County 2-0, but rallied to force the fifth-set tiebreaker. Pima would drop the tiebreaking game and lose 3-2 (25-18, 25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 15-7) to the Cavaliers.

— Arizona’s soccer team lost 14 straight matches and did not beat Stanford since 2005 before upsetting the visiting Cardinal 2-1 on April 3.

— Arizona senior pitcher Alyssa Denham was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week on April 5. It was Denham’s second Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honor in her career and the sixth weekly conference honor by an Arizona player this season. Denham went 2-0 with two shutouts at Stanford, including her third career no-hitter in the first game of the series. In two complete games and 12 innings, she posted a 0.00 ERA and held Stanford hitters to just a .098 average.

Daniel Sainz, an offensive line coach at Sahuaro High School under Scott McKee for the previous eight seasons, was named the new head coach at Catalina Foothills on April 5. He replaced Darius Kelly, who moved on to coach the Sonoran Sidewinders, a team comprised of local junior college players. Sainz was a senior center listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds at Santa Rita when Jeff Scurran coached the Eagles to the state championship game in 2008.

Sam Thomas will be back for a fifth season with Arizona (Arizona Athletics photo)

— Arizona 6-foot senior forward Sam Thomas announced she will return for the 2021-22 season at the April 5 celebration ceremony at Arizona Stadium. Thomas made the announcement to a loud round of applause from the fans who attended the event welcoming back the Wildcats from their first trip to the Final Four and national championship game at San Antonio. “I actually knew for quite a while, it was just if my decision was going to change or not,” Thomas said of her decision. “I mean, why not take an extra year of college playing with Adia (Barnes), playing with my teammates? I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to change my mind.”

Trinity Baptiste, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech who was instrumental in Arizona’s run to the national championship game, announced April 6 that she will move on from the program after earning her master’s degree in Entrepreneurship this spring. She was selected in the second round of the WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever on April 15. Baptiste, who played some of her best games of the season in the magical NCAA Tournament run, was taken as the 24th pick overall. With McDonald going to Atlanta as the No. 3 pick, it was the first time two players from Arizona were taken in the same WNBA Draft since 2002, when LaKeisha Taylor and Elizabeth Pickney were selected in the fourth round — Taylor by Indiana (49th pick) and Pickney by Sacramento (60th pick).

— Arizona freshman outside hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, the conference announced April 7. Maldonado Diaz is the first Wildcat to win the award since Kim Glass in 2002. The freshman was also named to the all-conference team as well as the all-freshman team. She is also the first Arizona freshman to be named all-Pac-12 since Glass in 2002. Junior middle blocker Merle Weidt was named all-Pac-12 honorable mention. Maldonado Diaz finished the regular season as the top freshman in the Pac-12 in both kills/set (3.63) and aces/set (0.37). Her 272 total kills ranked fourth most in the Pac-12 and her 28 aces were tied for most in the Pac-12. The Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico native posted double-digit kills in 16 of 21 matches — including a pair of 20-plus-kill outings — and led Arizona in kills in 15 of the last 19 matches. In her fourth career match, Maldonado Diaz had 25 kills on .439 hitting, the most kills by an Arizona freshman since Nov. 7, 2007, and the first 25-kill, .400 hitting match by any Wildcat since Oct. 8, 2010.

— Arizona right-handed pitcher Chandler Murphy was selected as the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week on April 6. Murphy worked five hitless innings of relief and earned his third win of the year in the Wildcats series-opening victory over rival Arizona State. Murphy struck out a career-high eight batters and issued just one walk while the Arizona offense worked to complete a comeback victory. At one point, he struck out six consecutive Sun Devil batters, all against an offense that entered the game hitting nearly .300. The honor marked the first time an Arizona pitcher has been tabbed as the conference’s Pitcher of the Week since Cody Deason earned it in May 2018.

Koi Love, a 6-foot sophomore forward who was an SEC All-Freshman selection at Vanderbilt in 2019-20, announced her transfer to Arizona on April 7. Love averaged a team-high 20.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in eight games this season for the Commodores, who discontinued their season because of COVID-19 opt-outs and injuries that depleted the roster. Her acquisition will help the transition of losing Baptiste at the power forward spot.

Pima coach Todd Holthaus and his 2020-21 played a meaningful 10 games this season (Pima photo)

— The Pima women’s basketball team advanced to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament on April 8, marking the seventh time in Todd Holthaus’ 14 years as coach that the Aztecs went that far. Pima reached the tournament with a dominating 79-51 win over Dallas College-Mountain View in the Southwest District Championship game at Dallas. “It’s a credit to a lot of things, probably assistant coaches, recruiting, type of kids we get, the effort our kids give,” Holthaus said of his impressive rate of going to the national tournament. “It’s a junior college, so you’re essentially swapping out half your team every year (because of two-year eligibilities). For us to stay that consistent, it comes from a lot of different areas. The fact that we’re doing something right, and being consistent, I am so proud of that.” Pima eventually finished eighth at the national tournament, ending 5-5 in a season drastically affected by COVID-19 protocols.

— Barnes was announced as an assistant coach to Dawn Staley on the 2021 USA AmeriCup Team on April 9. “I am incredibly honored to represent the United States and assist coach Dawn Staley and USA Basketball for the 2021 AmeriCup,” said Barnes. “This has been a basketball dream of mine and I can’t wait to represent my country. The opportunity to work alongside coach Staley and coach (Jennifer) Rizzotti and the most talented basketball players in the world is an honor. I cannot wait to get in the gym with these athletes and represent USA Basketball with pride.” The USA team that will compete in the AmeriCup will be comprised of current collegiate athletes and invitees. Ten nations from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean will take part in the 2021 AmeriCup, held June 11-19 in Puerto Rico. The top four finishing teams will advance to compete in one of four 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournaments in hopes of earning one of the 12 spots in the 2022 FIBA World Cup field. “Adia Barnes has quickly proven herself to be one of the top coaches in our country, and Jen brings a wealth of international experience to the staff. I’m also excited to be able to work with a younger group of athletes this summer,” said Staley.

— The Pima College men’s basketball team rallied from a 22-point deficit in the first half to take an 11-point lead in the second half but lost 101-99 on a last-second shot by Dallas College-Eastfield on April 10 in an NJCAA Division II Southwest District semifinal game at Dallas. Hard to believe but Pima’s season ended after only five games — with a 3-2 record — after a four-month delay to the season starting March 18 because of COVID-19 protocol.

— Former Surprise Valley Vista standout Taylor Chavez, who played for Kelly Graves the last two years at Oregon, announced on Twitter on April 11 her transfer to Arizona. Chavez averaged 4.1 points, 2.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds a game in 19 games this season. She played 19.0 minutes a game. She started nine times this season. She earned the Pac-12’s Sixth Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, averaging 6.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range and 49.7 percent from the floor in 32 games (with one start).

— Former Tucson High and Pima standout Shakir Smith was named MVP of the Taca De Portugal after he led Sporting CP to the championship game over Imortal 83-59 on April 11. Smith scored 24 points with four assists in the win.

Turner Washington during his CDO days (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

— Also on April 14, former Canyon del Oro standout Turner Washington was named Pac-12 Field Athlete of the Week for the second time this year for Arizona State. He won the discus at the Jim Click Shootout with a third attempt of 211-10 (64.57 meters), besting his previous school record by 13 inches. The throw leads all collegians by six feet this season and is sixth in Pac-12 history. Washington also earned his second U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Male Athlete of the Week honor on April 20 for his performance at the Eugene, Ore., edition of the West Coast Classic. His plate-throw went 217-5 (66.26 meters), a 6-foot improvement on his program-leading personal record. The throw also moves Washington to seventh on the USTFCCCA career list and is the best throw by a collegian since 2016.

— Tucson High grad Johnnie Blockburger on April 14 was named Pac-12 Track Athlete of the Week for the second time this year for Arizona. He won the 400 at the Jim Click Shootout with a program-record time of 44.71. The performance ranks No. 2 in the NCAA in 2021 and is a U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifying time. He was also was part of the Wildcats’ winning 4×100 (39.68) and 4×400 relays (3:05.86), which are 19th and 13th in the NCAA this season, respectively.

— Arizona’s Israel Oloyede broke his second school record on April 14, throwing for 72.91 meters (239-2) on his final attempt to win the hammer throw contest at the Jim Click Shootout. Oloyede’s PR is also an Olympic Trials qualifying mark.

Samantha Noennig of Arizona earned Pac-12 Women’s Field Athlete of the Week on April 14. Noennig won the shot put contest, throwing for 18.14 meters (59-6.25). This gives her the NCAA-leading mark and ranks her fourth in school history. She also finished second in the discus with a mark of 53.18 meters (174-5).

Louie Ramirez, the head football coach at Marana High School the last three years, announced on April 16 he is leaving for an undisclosed coaching opportunity in the Phoenix area in the fall. Marana posted a letter written by Ramirez on Twitter in which he mentioned, “My time at Marana has come to an end, as my family and I venture on a new chapter. Moving forward, I wish nothing but the best for Marana High School as the next coach will have a phenomenal pool of talent to be successful. The culture is here and the kids are hungry.”

— Marana hired former Houston standout Phillip Steward, who played under former Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin with the Cougars, to replace Ramirez on April 30. Steward is from Missouri City, Texas, a suburb of Houston, where he was an all-state linebacker. He was with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 and 2014 after signing as a free agent following his career at Houston. He also played in the Fall Experimental Football League and the Canadian Football League. He came to Arizona to join former Arkansas standout and NFL player Alonzo Highsmith Jr. at Willcox. He coached with Highsmith (who resigned before last season) for three years before joining Ramirez’s staff in 2020. He coached outside linebackers and running backs. Steward moved to Tucson because his fiancée is attending pharmacy school at the University of Arizona.

Malia Hargrove qualified for the NCAA Championships on the floor exercise (Arizona Athletics photo)

— — Arizona sophomore gymnast Malia Hargrove qualified for the 2021 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships as an individual competitor on floor. She competed at the NCAA Championships in Forth Worth, Texas, on April 16. Her 9.8625 score was good for 27th place overall. She is the first GymCat to make it to the NCAA Championships as an individual qualifier since Lexi Mills competed on beam following the 2016 season.

— In less than 48 hours after Arizona hired Lloyd the new coach was already making waves on the recruiting trail. On April 16, Lloyd landed his first recruit in 7-foot and 215-pound center Dylan Anderson for the 2022 recruiting class. Anderson is from Gilbert out of Perry High School. Anderson was originally recruited by Miller and decided to commit to the Wildcats once Lloyd was named head coach. Anderson had offers from Gonzaga, Kansas, and Michigan among others.

Rishard Davis, who made history by becoming the first African-American high school football coach to win a state title in Arizona, announced April 17 he is leaving the Eloy Santa Cruz program to return to his home in Alabama. Davis is from Maplesville, Ala., which is within a 100-mile radius of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Montgomery. “The decision was to be closer to my parents,” Davis said. “I have a coaching and teaching team opportunity.” Davis, 36, was also the athletic director at Santa Cruz. He was 58-21 in his seven seasons as head coach, including a victory over Benson for the 2A state title in December. It was the first state championship for the Dust Devils since 1990. Davis commuted to Eloy from his home in Oro Valley.

— Arizona’s Kaelyn Shipley broke Julie DeMarni’s 2002 school record javelin throw with a mark of 51.02 meters (167-4) to win the event on April 17 at the West Coast Classic in Eugene, Ore.

— Pima’s Holthaus earned his third consecutive NJCAA Division II district coach of the year honor as voted by fellow coaches on April 18 at Hickory, N.C., site of the national tournament. Holthaus has seven district coach of the year honors overall. He won the District A Coach of the Year honor in 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2015-16, 2018-19 and 2019-20. He was voted the Southwest District Coach of the Year this season. “I think more than anything (the coach of the year honor) is a reflection of diligence and perseverance through what’s been a very physically and emotionally grinding year,” Holthaus mentioned. “A lot of effort by many people made all of this possible for our student-athletes to be able to compete. And that to me is what is most important.”‘

— Lloyd’s former big man at Gonzaga, Oumar Ballo, announced his transfer to Arizona on April 19. Ballo, who had been in the transfer portal since April 11, is a 7-footer who was a redshirt with the Bulldogs. Ballo is from Mali. Former Arizona forward Mohamed Tangara was a native of Mali. Ballo averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in just six minutes a game this past season. He was a redshirt freshman in 2019-20.

Jay Dobyns keeps loading his Tanque Verde staff with former Arizona players (Tanque Verde photo)

— Former Sahuaro and Arizona standout receiver Jay Dobyns added two former Wildcat alums to his coaching staff at Tanque Verde on April 20 — Chris Lopez and Scooter Sprotte. Lopez played for the Wildcats from 1991 to 1994 and he was a starting linebacker in his senior season. He was part of the famed “Desert Swarm” defense. Sprotte was the Ed Doherty Player of the Year in high school when he rushed for 2,961 yards at Blue Ridge in 1994. Sprotte started as a tailback at Arizona but he transitioned to a starting spot on the linebacking crew in 1998. Dobyns’ staff already had four former Wildcats — David Adams, Jeff Kiewel and Van Brandon.

— Former Nogales kicker Luis Aguilar repeated as an All-Big Sky first-team selection April 21 after connecting on 9-of-10 field goals this spring for NAU. Aguilar’s long of 48 yards came on the road at Eastern Washington, with the senior also extending his consecutive extra points made streak to 64 after hitting all eight attempts.

— Barnes hired April Phillips and Erin Grant as assistant coaches on April 21. Phillips returns to Arizona after spending two seasons at California and was an assistant coach on the 2018-19 Arizona team that won the WNIT. Grant has been an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at USC the last two seasons. They were hired to fill the vacancies left by Jackie Nared Hairston (who went back to Oregon as an assistant) and Tamisha Augustin (hired at Mississippi State).

— Walden Grove alum Sal Silva, who attends North Idaho College, captured the NJCAA wrestling championship at 149 pounds on April 22 with a 3-1 decision over Jacob Beeson of Pratt (Kan.) at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Silva, who won the 138-pound state championship to help pace Walden Grove to a Division III second-place finish in 2018, took third place at the NJCAA national champions last year in the 149-pound weight class. Silva announced in February his commitment to continue studies and wrestling career at Arizona Christian in Glendale. Silva’s title comes a month after Sunnyside great Roman Bravo-Young won the NCAA title at 133 pounds while with Penn State.

— Barnes continued to shore up her frontcourt with Baptiste moving on to the WNBA with the addition on April 22 of 6-foot-3 forward Ariyah Copeland of Alabama. Copeland originally transferred to LSU on April 8 but requested out of that scholarship after Nikki Fargas stepped down as the Tigers’ coach on April 15. Copeland was a four-year player for Alabama who accumulated 16 career double-doubles. She is No. 2 on the Crimson Tide career field goal percentage list at 55.8 percent. She shot 60.9 percent from the field in 2020-21, which ranked third in the nation and first in the SEC. It was the top single-season field goal percentage in Alabama history.

— Former Ironwood Ridge center Tristan Shehorn earned a spot on the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC) First Team playing for Ottawa in Suprise.

— Arizona’s All-Pac-12 guard James Akinjo announced April 23 he will transfer to Baylor. Akinjo is also testing the NBA draft waters to see if he can get drafted. Freshman forward Tibet Gorener also entered the transfer portal. In only eight games, he averaged 1.1 points in 3.8 minutes a game.

Chris Moon’s mom Marsha throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Chris Moon Memorial Appreciation Game (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

— The Chris Moon Memorial Appreciation Game returned to Cherry Field on April 23 after it was canceled last year because of COVID-19. Tucson High hosted Rincon/University and the Badgers won 10-0 in a six-inning game. Chris Moon and Pat Tillman sacrificed their sports careers and a life with their families to fight in the war against terrorism. Much is embraced about Tillman’s sacrifice because he was in the NFL, but Moon’s giving of his life was just as meaningful. Tillman, always modest in his approach, would echo that sentiment. “You want your kids to grow up, and you want them to be respectful, you want them to be responsible, you want them to be successful in life, and, even at a young age, with his passing, because of the sacrifice he showed honoring his country, not just anybody is willing to do that,” Marsha Moon said minutes before Tucson High School honored her son. “It takes a certain individual to want to serve your country and for him to do that, and then also be recognized here at Tucson High for his character, we did a very good job raising him.”

— Sunnyside Class of 2021 wrestler Sebastian Robles made a commitment on April 25 to Iowa’s national championship wrestling program, joining former Blue Devil teammate Jesse Ybarra. Robles is a two-time state champion, at 145 pounds last season and 160 pounds this season. He was 12-0 this year after putting together a 44-4 record last season. Robles projects as a 157- or 165-pound wrestler for Iowa. Big Ten wrestling will be something to follow closely over the next few years with Bravo-Young, Anthony Echemendia (Ohio State), Ybarra and Robles all hailing from the Sunnyside program that has won four straight state titles and 34 overall.

— Former Catalina Foothills standout Gavin Cohen was named Male Athlete of the Year for Loyola Marymount on April 26. Cohen was also named West Coast Conference Golfer of the Month for March. Cohen was also recognized for being part of the “Best Moment of the Year” after winning back-to-back tournaments with record breaking scores.

— Former Tucson High standout Carlie Scupin was named Pac-12 Softball Player of the Week on April 26. Scupin led Arizona to a four-game sweep over Utah, reaching base in eight of her 11 plate appearances. She recorded a double and two home runs. Scupin had at least one hit and one RBI in all four wins, including the game-tying RBI single in the series finale. She finished the weekend with six RBI, three runs and a 1.625 slugging percentage.

— Arizona golfer David Laskin was named the 2021 Pac-12 Men’s Golf Scholar Athlete of the Year on April 28. He is the second Wildcat ever to win the award, following Alex McMahon in 2015. Laskin has been a fixture in the Arizona lineup since arriving on campus in 2016 as this year’s Pac-12 Championships marks his 53rd career event played for the Wildcats. The California native has posted eight top-ten finishes in his career and 19 top-20 showings. His career best finish was second place at the 2018 Huntsman Springs Invitational after shooting 11-under par. The senior has been a key fixture of the elevation of the program, marked by its ascension to No. 1 in GolfStat’s national rankings earlier this year and its first Pac-12 championship.

— The Pima Community College men’s and women’s track & field teams claimed NJCAA Division II Region I titles on April 29 at Mesa Community College. The region titles mark the first for the men’s team since 1983, and the first for the women’s team since 1996. The men’s team claimed five individual Region I championships. Sophomore Mikhail Browne won his second championship after taking first in the triple jump with a mark of 14.71 meters (48-feet, 3-inches). He took home the long jump title on April 27. Freshman Cody Rennaker took first place in the high jump as a best-jump of 1.93 meters (6-4). The women’s team took home four individual championships. Sophomore Eliza Littlewood was named the Region I Athlete of the Meet after she scored 42 points for the Aztecs. She won the heptathlon with a total of 3734 points, and claimed the triple jump title with a mark of 10.74 meters (35 feet, 3 inches). Freshman Dominique Acosta won the high jump with a mark of 1.63 meters (5-4). Sophomore Raelynn Fair won the long jump event on April 27.

APRIL COMMITMENTS

— Sunnyside linebacker Andrew Gonzalez to Muskingum on April 6.

— Tucson High defensive end Thomas Mann to Concordia (Minn.) on April 6.

— CDO quarterback Montana Neustadter to Adams State on April 12.

Ikaika Piña is headed for Nebraska Wesleyan (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

— Sunnyside defensive back Ikaika Piña to Nebraska Wesleyan on April 19.

— Salpointe linebacker Emiliano DeCortez to Presentation College on April 21.

— Sahuarita wrestler Gabe Elias to Dixie State on April 21.

— Cholla wide receiver/defensive back Moses Nelson to Hamline on April 22.

— Cienega distance runner Ayden Schilb to Arizona on April 23.

Gabby Salazar with her Marana coaches Jen Ball (volleyball), Tory Perez (basketball) and George Corona (softball) (Marana photo)

— Marana softball player Gabby Salazar to Scottsdale Community College on April 24.

— Cholla basketball player Ruben Cazares to Phoenix College on April 24.

— Nogales pitcher Roman Bracamonte to New Mexico State on April 25.

— Sunnyside wrestler Sebastian Robles to Iowa on April 25.

— Sunnyside receiver Dominic Murrieta to Southwest Baptist on April 28.

Sabino QB A.J. Skaggs will play for NCAA Division II power CSU-Pueblo (Skaggs photo)

— Marana baseball and football athlete Isaiah Roebuck to Jamestown on April 28.

— Sabino quarterback A.J. Skaggs to Colorado State-Pueblo on April 30.

— Salpointe running back David Cordero to Hawaii on April 30.

— Pueblo wrestler Mozes Smith to Concordia (Neb.) on April 30.

A LOOK BACK

JANUARY 2021

Click on the photos to access the top local developments in January 2021

FEBRUARY 2021

Click on the photos to access the top local developments in February 2021

MARCH 2021

Click on the photos to access the top local developments in March 2021


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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