As a new feature this year, AllSportsTucson.com is taking a look back at the top local developments monthly. With March 2021 now in the books, we recount the important events of the third month of the year.
MOST NEWSWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS
Arizona’s women’s basketball program ended a 16-year NCAA Tournament drought with its selection on March 15 as a No. 3 seed playing No. 14 Stony Brook in the first round. “We’ve come a long way,” coach Adia Barnes said. “When I took the job (in 2016), we were like a (No.) 300 RPI and we were always chosen 11th or 12th in the conference.” The Wildcats defeated Stony Brook and BYU in the first two rounds before beating Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 on March 27 and Indiana in the Elite Eight on March 29. “It’s a surreal moment,” said Aari McDonald, who produced 64 points in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins over Texas A&M and Indiana. “You make goals and to see yourself and your team achieve them like this, it’s crazy.” Added Sam Thomas, a senior like McDonald: “My goal was make it to the NCAA Tournament at least one year that I’m here. Now we made it to the Final Four. I mean, I’m speechless. This is incredible. We’re making history.”
Sunnyside High School wrestling legend Roman Bravo-Young added a national championship to all of his accolades on March 20. The Penn State junior, the No. 2 seed in the 133-pound bracket of the NCAA tournament, defeated top-seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State by a 4-2 sudden-victory decision at St. Louis. His quick takedown of Fix, an Olympic hopeful last year when he redshirted, in overtime brought him the title. “I was hanging on there at the end, but I just moved my feet and hit an angle,” Bravo-Young told ESPN2 about his takedown. “I don’t care what happened in that match. A national title is a national title. It feels amazing. I put a lot of work into this. It’s a lot of pressure sometimes but I got it done and now I’m a national champion forever.” Bravo-Young, who won four state titles at Sunnyside and went 182-0 in his career with the Blue Devils, also became a three-time All-American by advancing to the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Bravo-Young also earned his first Big Ten title defeating Iowa’s Austin DeSanto by a 5-2 decision on March 7 at University Park, Pa.
Sunnyside earned its 34th state championship in program history after scoring 198 points to 166.5 from Liberty in the Division 1 state competition. Anthony Leon coached the Blue Devils to a state title in 2013 at the Division I level but four straight years of finishing in second place followed. That kind of result would be a dream for lots of programs but the Blue Devils wrestle for the top and Leon brought them back there in 2018. That championship led to another one in 2019 and still another in 2020 at the D-II level and then the team was bumped back up to D-I for this season. Sunnyside distanced itself from Liberty after it was announced that Bravo-Young won the 133-pound national championship for Penn State that same day. “Today was a great day with Roman Bravo-Young winning the NCAA championship,” Leon said. “That really lifted our hopes. We love that guy and everybody on the team looks up to him. Quite frankly, everybody in Tucson looks up to that kid. When he won, I felt like it was pre-ordained (for his team to win the title).” Sunnyside’s state champs included James Armstrong (113 pounds), Sebastian Robles (160) and Rene Fragoso (182).
Sean Miller was charged with lack of head coach responsibility and the school and program were hit with five Level I NCAA violations when the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations were released on March 5. Arizona’s athletics department was charged with lack of institutional control for “failure to establish a culture of compliance within the men’s basketball program.” According to the report, Arizona “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and failing to cooperate. The allegations include improper recruiting inducements, a loan to a player and academic misconduct involving former assistant coaches Mark Phelps and Book Richardson. Miller was named in the document for failure to monitor his assistant coaches but was not tied to any of the listed violations. “Miller failed to demonstrate he promoted compliance by not establishing that compliance was a shared responsibility within the men’s basketball program, not setting clear expectations that his coaching staff comply with NCAA legislation and not require the immediate reporting of actual and potential violations to the compliance staff for an independent inquiry,” the NCAA notice of allegations said. Arizona is waiting word from the Independent Accountability Resolutions Process overseeing the investigation with its determination of whether the school should be penalized for the wrongdoing in the notice of allegations.
Audrey Jimenez won by fall in 3:53 over Valley Vista’s Brianna Reyes to claim the 113-pound girls wrestling state title at Gilbert Mesquite High School on March 6, becoming the first female from Sunnyside to achieve that feat. Jimenez, a freshman who attended Gallego Intermediate, is also the first female wrestler from Tucson to win a state title. “It’s a great accomplishment for me and others,” Jimenez said. “Hopefully this will be the start of growing girls wrestling at Sunnyside. I’m hoping that more girls follow in my footsteps.” Jimenez was selected the Roman Bravo-Young Southern Arizona Wrestler of the Year by AllSportsTucson.com on March 24.
Arizona’s senior point guard Aari McDonald was selected the Pac-12’s Player of the Year on March 1, joining her coach Adia Barnes in becoming the second player in program history to achieve that honor. McDonald was also selected the Pac-12’s co-Defensive Player of the Year on March 1. She became the first player in school history to win Defensive Player of the Year twice. She shared the honor this season with Stanford’s Anna Wilson. teammates Sam Thomas and Cate Reese were fellow All-Pac-12 selections. Also during the month of March, McDonald was chosen a second-team All-American by the Associated Press, her second consecutive All-American honor.
Led by solid defense, and a stellar performance from freshman midfielder Adrian Franks, Salpointe Catholic beat Walden Grove 5-1 on March 20 to capture the 4A state boys soccer championship. It is legendary coach Wolfgang Weber’s eighth state title and the 699th win of his 39-year coaching career. Sophomore forward Nico Valenzuela and junior defender Sergio Ruiz De Chavez each scored a goal, but it was Franks’ hat trick performance that stole the show. “It feels good to get some recognition for the 39 years that I’ve been there, but I tell you this is real special, I’m really happy for them,” Weber said. “Let me also say that it’s not just me, but it’s my associate head coach Luis Gonzalez, he has been there the whole year carrying the large burden of the daily training.”
Eight years into the Doug D’Amore era at Catalina Foothills, the coach and his veteran team cut the net down as the school’s first state champion at last. Catalina Foothills, playing in its first title game, made the historical achievement in the school’s 28th year of existence with the 59-45 win over Peoria Centennial on March 20. “Sometimes it feels like forever and sometimes it feels like a flash,” D’Amore said. “There’s so many kids, so many parents, and so many administrators that helped us get to this point. I don’t have enough time to thank everyone who helped us get to the point we’re at now.” Will Menaugh, a preferred walk-on commit for Arizona, was beset by foul trouble against Centennial. Trace Comeau picked up the slack in the interior with 17 points and seven rebounds. Ben Pinckney also dominated inside against Centennial’s smaller frontcourt with 11 points and seven rebounds. Senior point guard captain Carson Peabody, son of Pima coach Brian Peabody, tallied eight points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Cody Blumenthal and Dylan Hadley each had nine points.
Salpointe Catholic girls soccer who closed its 12-0-1 season with a 2-0 win in the 4A state title match March 20 over No. 1 seed Prescott, which suffered it first loss and finished 16-1. Salpointe alum Kelly Pierce, who won two state titles as a player in 1998 and 1999, has now coached the Lancers to three championships. The previous titles occurred with her first two teams in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The year before she returned to her alma mater, Becky Freeman coached the Lancers to the state title. The program has won seven state championships overall. “I think they are all unique and we had different strengths in each group,” Pierce said of the championship teams she has coached. “I really think the team chemistry with this group and how good they get along, especially having 26 girls on our roster, was tremendous.” Trinity Morales, a junior, and freshman Anjeli DesRosier each scored a goal for Salpointe and goalie Madison Smith helped keep Prescott scoreless.
Sahuaro senior forward Alyssa Brown finished her storied career as the No. 2 scorer in the state behind Catalina Foothills great Julie Brase, who scored 2,913 points from 1994-98. Brown ended with 2,680 points while leading the Cougars to the 4A state semifinals on March 17, when it lost at Salpointe. Sahuaro finished 17-2, about 10 games below its normal total of games. If COVID-19 protocol did not delay the season and wipe out those 10 games, Brown could have become the first 3,000-point scorer in state history.
OTHER TOP DEVELOPMENTS
— Arizona’s men’s basketball program ended its season March 1 with an 80-69 loss at Oregon. The Wildcats placed a self-imposed postseason ban that eliminated them from playing in the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament. They finished 17-9 overall and 11-9 in the Pac-12. “I believe we can return back to the top of the mountain,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”
— Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis on March 1 was chosen the Pac-12’s freshman of the week for the second consecutive week. In wins against Washington State and Washington, he averaged 12.5 points and 12.0 rebounds.
— Sam Thomas, a senior forward, was named the school’s first Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in school history on March 4. The award, which is presented in each of the 24 sports the Pac-12 sponsors, was established to honor collegiate student-athletes who are standouts both academically and in their sports discipline. Thomas carries a 4.00 grade-point average (GPA) while pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership after completing her undergraduate studies with a 3.97 GPA.
— Arizona sophomore first baseman Branden Boissiere was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week on March 2. In five games that week (all wins), Boissiere combined to go 13-for-20 (.650 batting average) with 10 runs, one double, one triple, two home runs, eight RBIs and more walks (three) than strikeouts (two). He had a 1.100 slugging percentage and a .696 on-base percentage.
— Former Tucson High standout Carlie Scupin earned Pac-12 Freshman and Player of the Week honors for Arizona on March 2. The 2019 Arizona High School Gatorade Player of the Year hit .438 with four home runs and 15 RBI to help lead Arizona to a 5-0 record at the Wildcat Invitational. Scupin drove in 15 of Arizona’s 44 runs scored that weekend, including a grand slam and two three-run shots.
— Former Salpointe and Pima standout Robby Wilson was selected on March 2 to the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) All-Conference team playing for Arizona Christian. Wilson helped lead the Salpointe football team to a state championship in 2013 and then played briefly for Adams State. He came back to Tucson and played basketball for Pima, helping lead the Aztecs to two ACCAC championships and a national runner-up finish. Wilson averaged 13.5 points a game for the Firestorm this season. He also pulled down 6.9 rebounds an outing.
— The Tucson Youth Football & Spirit Federation announced March 2 it will have a full season in the fall after having to cancel the 2020 season due to COVID-19. On March 6, TYFSF announced that it will partner with Phoenix-based National Youth Sports this fall for the first time to schedule intrastate competition. The TYFSF and NYS will schedule games in the preseason and regular season and compete in a postseason tournament. The TYFSF and NYS are charter members of the American Youth Football organization. They will provide tackle, flag (5 to 7 year olds) and cheer for youths in Tucson area and Phoenix.
— A few Tucson organizations decided to leave TYFSF to joing Arizona AYF, which is based in Phoenix. The Southern Arizona teams joining that league are the Southwest Rams, Tucson Scorpions, Tucson Heatz, Marana Broncos, Tanque Verde Cowboys, Sahuarita 49ers, Sierra Visa Colts and Douglas Chargers.
— Former Arizona lineman Chris Schultz, who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys and became a Canadian Football League star, passed away March 4 from a heart attack. He was 61. Schultz became a television celebrity in his native Canada as a CFL analyst. He came to Arizona in 1978 from Aldershot High School in Burlington, Ontario, to join Tony Mason’s program although Mason or his staff did not recruit him in person. After redshirting as a freshman, he became a starter as a defensive tackle in 1979. He played on defense until moving to offensive tackle as a fifth-year senior in 1982 because of a rash of injuries. He was 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds when the Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round in 1983.
— Arizona reached the Pac-12 tournament semifinals on March 5, when it lost to UCLA 58-49. The Wildcats shot 31.6 percent from the field and made only 3 of 17 shots from 3-point range. Aari McDonald was Arizona’s only scorer in double figures with 24 points and she shot 8 of 24 from the field, including 2 of 6 from 3-point range. Despite being 5-foot-6, she also led the Wildcats with eight rebounds.
— Former Ironwood Ridge wrestling standout Danny Vega qualified for the NCAA tournament by advancing to the semifinals of the Big 12 wrestling meet in Tulsa on March 6. Vega, the No. 5 seed in the 125-pound competition, reached the semifinals by pinning No. 4 Killian Cardinale of West Virginia in 5:25. Vega’s semifinal appearance automatically qualified him for the NCAA tournament in St. Louis.
— Amphi won the Partner Stunt state championship in the spiritline competition on March 6 with Vanessa Medrano, Hector Carbajal and Gissel Ramos. They were coached Kayla Jordan. Benson earned the Four All-Girl Stunt and the Four Show Cheer state championships.
— Former Pima College standout Jacqulynn Nakai was named Newcomer of the Year by the Big Sky Conference on March 7. Nakai averaged 14.8 points a game (fourth in the Big Sky) and 2.9 (13th) for NAU. Nakai scored 17 points against Arizona in McKale Center in a 76-63 loss in November. She also earned a spot on the All-Big Sky Team in the honorable mention category as a guard.
— Arizona guard James Akinjo was named to the All-Pac-12 first team and forward Jordan Brown was named the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year as voted on by the league’s coaches on March 9. Tubelis and Bennedict Mathurin were also named to the All-Freshman team. Brown is Arizona’s first-ever recipient of the Sixth Man of the Year honor. He came off the bench in 14 of the Wildcats’ 20 games, averaging 8.8 points on 51.5 percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds in just 18.8 minutes per league game. Akinjo became the first Wildcats since T.J. McConnell in 2015 to lead the Pac-12 in assists in league play with 117. In league games, he ranked seventh in scoring (15.9), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (43.9), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.39), and fifth in 3-point field goals made per game (2.15). Akinjo announced on March 31 that he is going to test the NBA draft process to determine if he returns next season.
— Arizona junior thrower Samantha Noennig was named West Region Women’s Field Athlete of the Year in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s regional athlete of the year honors on March 4. Noennig punched her ticket to the NCAA Indoor Championships and held the best shot put mark in the country with 18.25m (59-10.5), which also gave her the best mark in school history and the Texas Tech Shootout meet record. She was the nation’s shot put runner-up on March 11, throwing a mark of 17.69m (58-0.5) to earn her spot as a First Team All-American. Her performance closed out her successful first season as a Wildcat where she tallied a school record, four event wins, two meet records and was named USTFCCCA Women’s Field Athlete of the Year.
— Arizona junior thrower Israel Olovede competed in the weight throw contest at the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 11, capping off his school record-breaking season with a national runner-up finish, a PR of 23.79m (78-0.75) and first-team All-America honors.
— Canyon del Oro grad and former Arizona track and field athlete Turner Washington, now a redshirt junior at ASU, won the NCAA indoor shot put championship on March 12 with a throw of 70 feet, one inch at Fayetteville, Ark. Washington is the USTFCCCA West Region Field Athlete of the Year after shattering the NCAA indoor record for the shot put earlier this season at the Texas Tech Shootout. Washington went 71-8.25 on his final attempt in that meet for the record.
— After a sixth-place finish at the Pac-12 cross country championships, Victor Ortiz-Rivera qualified to compete at the NCAA championships on March 15. The NCAA Selection Show on March 7 picked 31 teams and 38 individual athletes to compete in the national competition and Ortiz-Rivera was one of them. Ortiz-Rivera earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors on March 17.
— The Arizona Interscholastic Association executive board voted unanimously on March 15 to not sanction the Southern Arizona High School Football All-Star Showcase game, originally scheduled May 8 at Tucson High School. The AIA board discussed a bylaw that states an all-star event can’t take place with school personnel and use of school facilities during the school year. Southern Arizona’s lone representative on the executive board Jim Love — a Flowing Wells Unified School District governing board member — was one of two board members who motioned to deny AIA sanctioning the game. Love made the argument that getting liability coverage in time for the football game, which might include the possibility of a serious injury was too much of a concern. The game was set up to help local senior football players get one last chance to play a game after their seasons were cut short by COVID-19. It was rescheduled by organizers to June 4 at Tucson High and it will include senior spirit-line members.
— Pima’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and volleyball team ended a wait of more than a year when they finally were cleared to play March 16. The end of the basketball seasons were canceled last March because of the COVID-19 outbreak. “I was excited for the players because I just wanted this game so bad for them,” Pima women’s coach Todd Holthaus said. “This group of kids has done everything they’ve been asked to do, and they finally got a reward for it.”
— Arizona senior pitcher Mariah Lopez was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the second time in her career on March 16. Lopez received the award after a dominant performance at 15th-ranked Florida State, tossing a three-hit shutout against the Seminoles. Lopez struck out nine over seven innings. The senior allowed just three singles and allowed a runner to reach scoring position just twice all game. Florida State went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position in the game with two strikeouts.
— Arizona and Adia Barnes agreed to a contract extension through the 2025-26 season on March 17, pending approval from the Arizona Board of Regents. Barnes has built Arizona into a nationally recognized program. “The university has made a commitment to women’s basketball with this contract, and I intend to work tirelessly and with great passion to honor that commitment daily by coaching teams that compete with the intensity and pride that are foundational to our success,” Barnes said in a statement.
— Walden Grove boys soccer advanced to its first state championship game when the Red Wolves upset No. 2 seed Prescott 1-0 on March 18. For the Red Wolves dedicated the season to Raul Alvarado and Matthew Parks. Alvarado, father of senior Adrian Alvarado and a monitor at Walden Grove, passed away in December from COVID-19. Parks, a standout soccer player who graduated from Walden Grove in 2018, passed away from an automobile accident last summer.
— Arizona’s Johnnie Blockburger clocked 45.83 in the 400m dash at the Willie Williams Invitational on March 20, giving him the fifth-best time in school history and the Arizona freshman record. The time is also the best in the nation this spring. He was named the Pac-12 Men’s Track and Field Athlete of the Week for his performance in the Willie Williams Invitational.
— Salpointe Catholic girls basketball, under the guidance of first-year coach Joseph Luevano, reached the 4A state championship game where it lost 70-62 loss to the top-ranked reigning champions Seton Catholic on March 20. “We’ve had talent the last three or four years I’ve been here as an assistant, but this team put together the mental toughness that you needed to get here… I don’t know if anyone thought we were gonna be here, but their work and their fight brought us here,” Luevano said. Jaya Nelson’s successful career at Salpointe came to a close. Junior Kylee Callahan and sophomore Bria Medina form a good young nucleus returning next season for Luevano and his staff.
— MiLinda Arguellez’s storied career came to an end March 20 at Flowing Wells with a 62-39 loss to Goodyear Millennium, but she will leave a lasting impression on one of the best sophomore trios in the state the next couple of years. “I learned that you always have to bring the energy because she always has energy,” sophomore power forward Navine Mallon said of Arguellez. “She knows how to pass. You always have to be ready for the ball because she’ll make those risky passes and you’ve got to catch them to finish just for her. She taught me to always be alert and ready.” Arguellez was the driving force as the veteran of a team with promising young talent, including Mallon and fellow sophomores Leamsi Acuña and Sydney Lomeli-Capen.
— Arizona standout diver Delaney Schnell, a Tucson High grad who was the Jet Sports Training Female Athlete of the Month for February, scored 334.45 points to claim fourth place in the 1-meter dive at the NCAA Championships held in Greensboro, N.C., on March 18. The redshirt junior followed that up with a second-place finish in the platform dive with a score of 331.80 on March 20. Schnell collected two All-American honors for her efforts at the championships. “NCAA didn’t go exactly how I had hoped, but overall I’m going to be stronger for it,” Schnell wrote on social media. “This past year has been full of ups and downs and I’m so proud of the growth I’ve shown in the last year and so grateful to have the opportunities I have been given! Now on to Olympic trials! Thanks for everyone’s ongoing love and support! Love you all!”
— Arizona freshman outside hitter Sofia Maldonado-Diaz was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the third time this season on March 23. In the shortened 2020-21 season, Maldonado Diaz received a weekly conference recognition three times, more than any player in Arizona history.
— Arizona started its first spring football practice under new coach Jedd Fisch and his staff March 23. “I liked our energy,” Fisch said. “I liked our enthusiasm. Now we just have to improve upon what we’re trying to get done.”
— Pima sophomore guard Fama Thiam, who has signed with New Mexico State, was named the ACCAC Division II Player of the Week on March 23. Thiam scored 33 points and had 16 rebounds, 15 assists and six steals in the three games the previous week.
— Arizona graduate transfer Terrell Brown Jr., Jason Terry’s Godson, announced March 25 he is transferring to Washington for a chance to return to his hometown of Seattle.
— Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star reported on March 25 that redshirt junior guard Jemarl Baker Jr. is expected to transfer from the Wildcats after graduating this spring. A significant loss for Sean Miller inasmuch as Baker had a career-high 33 points against NAU and 29 in a loss at Stanford. He missed the final 14 games of the 2020-21 due to a broken bone in his wrist.
— Former Arizona forward Ira Lee announced on March 26 he will transfer to George Washington to conclude his college career.
— Arizona’s men’s tennis team got off to a 4-0 start in Pac-12 play with a 4-1 win over UCLA on Senior Day on March 28. Gustaf Strom maintained a perfect singles record of 14-0 heading into April.
— Arizona catcher Daniel Susac was been selected as the Pac-12 Player of the Week on March 30. Across four games, Susac posted a .556 (10-for-18) batting average with six runs, three doubles, four home runs, 10 RBIs, a 1.389 slugging percentage and a .556 on-base percentage.
— Arizona senior centerfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week on March 30 marking her second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor this season. Palomino-Cardoza led Arizona’s offense, which scored 33 runs in a four-game sweep of Oregon State. She batted .727 (8-for-11), with five extra-base hits. The senior posted a pair of doubles, a triple and two home runs, good for a 1.636 slugging percentage on the weekend.
— Salpointe boys basketball coach Jim Reynolds, who coached the Lancers to their first state championship last season, retired at the conclusion of the season in order to spend time with his family in Denver. Reynolds, who is 66, stepped down after four seasons with the Lancers. Reynolds had 536 career victories dating to his 29 years of coaching in Cincinnati at Wyoming and Madeira high schools. He coached four years at Wyoming (1985-89), 25 years at Madeira (1990-2015) and the last four seasons at Salpointe (2017-21). His record with the Lancers was 90-23. He started 3-14 in his first season in 2017-18, which means his record since is 87-9, including the state title last season over Peoria in overtime. His team reached the 4A state semifinals this season. “It’s been four really fun years,” Reynolds said. “I wish I could have been in these circumstances (at Salpointe) earlier in my life, but you know, that’s how life goes sometimes.”
— D-II Southern Arizona wrestling champions on March 19:
Enzo Spina (Ironwood Ridge) 10-1
Daniel Miranda (Mountain View) 16-1
Brandon Paredes (Mountain View) 18-0
Austin Scott (Mountain View) 18-0
Chris Lopez (Mountain View) 9-0
Rudy Acedo (Mountain View) 16-0
— D-IV Southern Arizona wrestling champions on March 18:
Wyatt Ogle (Santa Cruz) 5-0
Ote Allsup (Willcox) 5-0
Diego Chavez (Santa Cruz) 5-0
— Marana linebacker Matteo Campos to Carroll University on March 1.
— Pusch Ridge stong safety/wide receiver Kannon Jewell to Randoph-Macon on March 7.
— Tucson High running back/linebacker Martin Barreras to Chadron (Neb.) State on March 16.
— Sabino basketball sisters Laney and Riley Shepherd to Friends University on March 23.
A LOOK BACK
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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.