Month That Was

Month That Was: Newsworthy local developments of January 2021

As a new feature, will take a look back at the top local developments monthly. With January 2021 now in the books, we recount the important events of the first month of the year.

Most Noteworthy Developments


Rich Alday (Andy Morales/

Legendary Pima baseball and Ironwood Ridge softball coach Rich Alday passed away on Jan. 6 at age 71. Alday closed his Pima career with a record of 517-251 in 17 seasons when he retired in 2018. He coached the Aztecs for 16 seasons, from 1974 to 1989, before returning in 2017 aspiring to notch his 500th career victory with Pima. Alday coached at New Mexico for 18 seasons, becoming the Lobos’ most victorious coach, compiling 515 wins. He finished with a total of 1,032 wins in his collegiate career. Alday also was Ironwood Ridge High School’s softball coach from 2014 to 2017. He coached that team to state championships in 2014 and 2016. His record there was 107-33.’s Andy Morales wrote of Alday, “Without exception, his many friends and former players will use the words ‘decent’ and ‘good guy’ to describe him. I cannot think of another sports figure, or otherwise, in the Tucson area to have this kind of loving following. All kind words for such a kind man.” Alday’s brother Sammy, a former Tucson High and Pima baseball standout who went on to coach Sunnyside’s softball team, passed away eight days after his brother Rich on Jan. 14. Sammy played for Rich at Pima. He was a teacher in the Sunnyside Unified School District and local disc jockey for more than 30 years.


Ismael Arce (Andy Morales/

Former Tucson High School boys soccer coach Ismael Arce, who led the Badgers to the 2014 state title, passed away on Jan. 28. Andy Morales wrote of Arce, who was also a longtime social studies teacher: “Arce was a beloved teacher who held firm to his belief in making a better society today by teaching the wrongs of the past. He taught about issues such as the Holocaust and how the horrors of that past reflects on society today.”


Marana guard Gabriella Salazar (Andy Morales/

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board canceled winter sports on Jan. 8 following the recommendation of their health safety board because of COVID-19 transmission concerns. Boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls wrestling appeared to be lost for the school year. However, on Jan. 12, the executive board reversed its decision after a public backlash of the cancellation. Winter sports would go on but with restrictions such as the use of facemasks for all competition and only two parents or guardians allowed for the home team.


Pat Nugent (Javier Morales/

News broke on Jan. 5 of Pat Nugent’s hire as head football coach at Mica Mountain, a high school in the Vail School District that will play its first varsity season in 2021.  Nugent posted a 48-14 record at Cienega, and led the Bobcats to consecutive Class 5A state semifinal appearances between 2015 and 2020. Dennis Bene, who coached his alma mater Salpointe to a state title in 2013, removed his name from consideration for the Cienega job on Jan. 27.


Jedd Fisch (Arizona Athletics photo)

New Arizona football coach Jedd Fisch rounded out his football staff in early January. After hiring Ricky Hunley (defensive line coach) and Chuck Cecil (defensive backs coach) in December, he hired Brennan Carroll, Pete Carroll’s son, as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on New Year’s Day. Fisch completed his offensive staff on Jan. 4 with Brennan Carroll, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jimmie Dougherty, running backs coach Scottie Graham, tight ends coach Jordan Paopao and wide receivers coach Kevin Cummings. Fisch hired co-defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker on Jan. 6, defensive coordinator Don Brown on Jan. 7, linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski on Jan. 12 and strength and conditioning coach Tyler Owens on Jan. 13. Former Desert Swarm safety and successful Pueblo coach Brandon Sanders was hired by Fisch on Jan. 20 as the coordinator of football alumni and high school relations.


Adia Barnes (Andy Morales/

Arizona’s women’s basketball team beat No. 10 Oregon in its first ESPN national television broadcast at McKale Center on Jan. 14 and followed that up with a win over Oregon State on Jan. 17 to sweep the Oregon schools for the first time in 10 years. Adia Barnes was selected by ESPN on Jan. 18 as the Coach of the Week.


Jason (left) and Jalen Harris, sons of former Arizona athletes Sean and Cha-Ron Harris (Harris photo)

Arizona football attracts in-state players as high-profile transfers. Gunner Maldonado, a safety, and Drake Anderson, a running back, both Chandler High School grads announce their transfer from Northwestern on Jan. 4. Jason Harris, brother of Arizona defensive end Jalen Harris and son of Desert Swarm linebacker Sean Harris, transferred from Colorado on Jan. 6. Gunner Cruz, a quarterback at Washington State who is a Queen Creek Casteel High School product, transferred to Arizona on Jan. 23.


Jemarl Baker (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona announced on Jan. 11 that senior guard Jemarl Baker Jr., one of the team’s leading scorers and a top 3-point shooting threat, was lost for the rest of the season because of a broken wrist that required surgery.


Jamarye Joiner (Arizona Athletics photo)

Former Cienega quarterback Jamarye Joiner, who went on to Arizona as a receiver, announced his return to the Wildcat program on Jan. 7 after he put his name in the transfer portal following Kevin Sumlin’s firing in December. Tucsonan Stanley Berryhill III, an experienced receiver with the Wildcats, also reversed his decision and took his name out of the transfer portal on Jan. 12.


Kailyn Gilbert (Gilbert graphic)

Arizona women’s basketball landed a commitment from high-profile Class of 2022 recruit Kailyn Gilbert of Tampa, Fla. on Jan. 4.  Gilbert led the state of Florida and finished fifth nationally in scoring in 2019-20 with an average of 32.1 points per game. She also averaged 11.2 rebounds per game. She is arguably the most talented recruit in the program’s history.

Other Top Developments

— Arizona’s men’s basketball team won with late heroics at Washington State in double overtime on Jan. 3 and at ASU on Jan. 21. Terrell Brown Jr. banked in a 3-pointer against the Cougars two days after his grandfather passed away in Seattle. Azuolas Tubelis tipped in a missed 3-pointer by James Akinjo at the buzzer to beat the Sun Devils on Jan. 21.

— Four days later, on Jan. 25, Arizona completed the season sweep of the Sun Devils behind 34 points from Brown and Akinjo in an 80-67 win at McKale Center.

— Ironwood Ridge girls golf coach Doug Kautz was selected the Arizona Golf Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) on Jan. 4.

— Former Sahuaro standout Nate Renfro, who went on to have a stellar career at San Francisco, signed with the G-League’s Austin Spurs on Jan. 7.

— Arizona senior All-American guard Aari McDonald was named to the John Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list on Jan. 7.

Hunter Ogle (Andy Morales/

— Eloy Santa Cruz running back/linebacker Hunter Ogle, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards for the Class 2A state champion Dust Devils, was named one of the five finalists for the Ed Doherty Award on Jan. 9. Other Southern Arizona standouts who were nominated for the award, given to the state’s top player, were Salpointe quarterback Treyson Bourguet, Marana receiver/defensive back Isaiah Roebuck, Cienega running back Gabe Levy and Pusch Ridge running back/defensive back Evan Lovett.

— Amphi coach legend Vern Friedli was inducted posthumously into the Arizona Football Coaches Hall of Fame during the Ed Doherty Award ceremony at Scottsdale.

— Salpointe grad Lathan Ransom played in the national championship game as a safety with Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ loss to Alabama on Jan. 11.

— Former Arizona guard Alonzo Trier was selected in the G-League draft on Jan. 11 as the fourth pick overall by the Iowa Wolves, the affiliate of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

— Freshman guard Madison Conner left AZ Compass Prep during her senior season after achieving entrance requirements into Arizona and joined the Wildcats on Jan. 15.

Madison Conner (Arizona graphic)

— Ironwood Ridge’s Celia Schrecker shot an 8-over-par 148 to win the Girls 15-18 Division of the Tucson City Junior Series No. 1 held at the El Rio Golf Course on Jan. 16-17. Canyon del Oro’s Beckett Carlson led the Boys 15-18 Division from beginning to end to outpace the field by 17 strokes. Carlson finished with a 4-over 144 that weekend.

— Catalina Foothills senior post player Will Menaugh announced on Jan. 18 he was entering Arizona’s program in 2021-22 as a preferred walk-on.

— Former Cienega standout Nick Gonzales was rated in January as the No. 2 second base prospect by and the No. 3 player in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system by Baseball America.

— The local high school winter season officially began on Jan. 20 with Pusch Ridge’s boys and girls basketball teams hosting Gilbert Christian.

— Two local football standouts received preferred walk-on scholarship offers to Arizona — Marana athlete Isaiah Roebuck on Jan. 21 and Salpointe lineman Brees McCraren on Jan. 25.

Isaiah Roebuck (Marana graphic)

— Arizona football landed Western Michigan linebacker Tre Hayward, the 2019 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, from the transfer portal on Jan. 25.

— Former Tanque Verde standout Emma Wall, one of the top Class of 2022 prospects in the state, transferred to Sabino on Jan. 26 after the Hawks determined they will not play this season because of a lack of participants. Wall scored 16 points in her Sabercat debut on Jan. 29 in a 74-33 loss to Salpointe and guard Jaya Nelson.

— Arizona’s softball program earned a No. 3 ranking nationally by the NFCA and USA Softball on Jan. 26.

— Arizona football landed its first Class of 2022 commitment on Jan. 29 and it was a significant one. Grayson Stovall, an offensive lineman from powerhouse Chandler Hamilton, gave Fisch and Dougherty his pledge to play for the Wildcats. Dougherty’s dad Tim is the defensive coordinator at Hamilton.

— Mountain View grad Andy Litten, who coached Marana into a state playoff contender from 2012-17, was hired to be a head coach again at Scottsdale Horizon on Jan. 29.

— Arizona’s quarterback situation for 2021 got more of an influx of talent on Jan. 30 with South Florida’s Jordan McCloud announcing his transfer and Los Angeles Loyola High School’s Brayden Zermeno giving his commitment.

Sofia Maldonado (Arizona Athletics photo)

— Arizona freshman volleyball player Sofia Maldonado had a breakout performance in a loss to Washington on Jan. 30.  The Guadalajara, Mexico native posted a match-high 25 kills on a .439 hitting performance. She had 11 digs for her first career double-double and added three blocks, an ace and two assists. Her 25 kills are the most by an Arizona freshman since Tiffany Owens had 25 against Arizona State on Nov. 7, 2007. Her 20-plus kill double-double is the first by an Arizona freshman since Madi Kingdon in 2011. She is the first Wildcat, of any class, to have 25 or more kills on .400 hitting since Owens’ 32 kills on .426 hitting as a senior at Oregon State on Oct. 8, 2010.


— Sunnyside soccer player Michelle Dicochea to Park University on Jan. 6.

— Tucson High and Pima soccer player Brianna Lewis to Caldwell University on Jan. 12.

— Nogales baseball player Brayan Espinoza to Glendale Community College on Jan. 15.

— Salpointe soccer player Sienna Gonzales to SMU on Jan. 15.

— Catalina Foothills basketball player Will Menaugh to Arizona on Jan. 18.

Will Menaugh (Andy Morales/

— Pusch Ridge football player Evan Lovett to Minot State on Jan. 19.

— Buena football player Dominic Avant to Sioux Falls on Jan. 19.

— Buena football player Isaac Benoit to Sioux Falls on Jan. 20.

— Cienega football player Charles Hamm III to Jamestown on Jan. 20.

— Tucson High soccer player Savannah Gutierrez to Pima on Jan. 21.

Savannah Gutierrez (FC Tucson photo)

— Salpointe football player Fernando Torres to St. Olaf on Jan. 22.

— Cienega football player Gabe Levy to Mary on Jan. 23.

— Nogales football player Ricky Hanlan to Western New Mexico on Jan. 27.

— Empire and Pima soccer player Chloe Kunnemann to Northwestern Oklahoma State on Jan. 27.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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