As a new feature this year, AllSportsTucson.com is taking a look back at the top local developments monthly. With July 2021 now in the books, we recount the important events of the seventh month of the year.
MOST NEWSWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS
Standout former Arizona player Chip Hale, an NCAA national champion player and a World Series champion coach, was named head coach of Arizona Baseball on July 5. Hale, the Wildcats’ career leader in games played, hits, and total bases during his time in Tucson from 1984-87, brings nearly two decades of professional coaching experience to Arizona. He becomes the sixth head coach in Arizona’s modern history and the 17th overall. Hale will received a five-year contract. He was officially introduced in a press conference on July 7. Hale’s salary structure with Arizona: $500,000 to $520,000 annually for five years in base salary not including APR and performance bonuses. Hale left his third-base coaching job with the Detroit Tigers to replace Jay Johnson, who departed in June to take the LSU job. “People always ask me what is your dream job? I got to do it, I got to be a big-league manager (with the Diamondbacks),” Hale said. “But like I told the coaches back at Detroit (his most recent big-league coaching job with the Tigers), my dream job was to be the coach at the University of Arizona. I’ve dreamt about this for years and years and years. My wife (Judy) knows. We live here in Tucson. This is our community. We’ve lived here for more than 30 years now. I grew up in California, but this is my home. I finally get to come home.” Hale kept Dave Lawn on his staff from the Johnson regime and hired Trip Couch as an assistant and recruiting coordinator.
2016 Olympian Jessica Parratto and 2019 World Bronze Medalist Delaney Schnell, a Tucson High graduate competing at Arizona, teamed up to win the silver medal in the Women’s 10-Meter Synchro Finals July 27 in Tokyo. It was the first-ever medal for Team USA in 10-Meter Synchro. Yuxi Chen and Jiaqi Zhang won gold for China. Schnell, 22, and Parratto, 27, joined up 10 days before trials after Schnell’s original partner, Tarrin Gilliland, pulled out with an injury. “When Tarrin eventually dropped out, Jess and I just ended up making it work,” Schnell said. “It really just took a lot of faith in each other and a lot of trust in each other, and I think that’s really what helped pay off.” Schnell scored a record 504.15 points to capture the AIA state diving championship as a freshman in 2013 for Tucson High. It is a point total that might never be broken. She is now excelling at Arizona.
Arizona’s track and field program lost heralded Alyssa and Johnnie Blockburger to USC it was announced July 21. The sophomore twins, who are Tucson High graduates, competed at Arizona during the 2020-21 season. Johnnie Blockburger was the 2021 Pac-12 400m dash champion with a time of 45.57 and was named the Pac-12 Men’s Freshman of the Year. He set the Arizona school record and posted a personal-best time of 44.71 to win the 400m title at the Jim Click Shootout on April 10. He also had PRs of 10.28 in the 100m and 20.70 in the 200m during the 2021 season. Blockburger ranked No. 6 among NCAA runners in the 400m during the regular season and was the only freshman to run a sub-45.0 time in the 400m dash. Blockburger was called “the 400m Find of 2021” by Track and Field News and finished 12th in that distance at the NCAA Championships, one of three freshman to reach the semifinals. Blockburger also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 400m. Alyssa Blockburger had a season-best time of 2:09.41 in the 800m to place sixth at the Desert Heat Classic on May 1. She finished in the top six in every regular season 800m race in which she competed. She did not reach the finals of the 800m at the Pac-12 Championships but did run a leg on the 4x400m relay which posted a time of 3:44.22 to finish fifth. She also competed with the 4x400m relay at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds which ran 3:36.08 to finish 13th. Johnnie and Alyssa are the children of Cynthia and Sheldon Blockburger. Sheldon Blockburger served as the USC assistant coach for jumps and multi-events for the 2016-18 seasons.
Arizona great Jason Gardner was named Arizona’s Director of Player Relations for new coach Tommy Lloyd on July 22. The hiring was in the works for more than a month. “We are excited to have Jason Gardner, an Arizona legend, back in Tucson and part of our program,” Lloyd said in a news release. “He unquestionably left his mark on this program as a four-time All-American and national player of the year. I know he is excited to be back in Tucson and give back to his alma mater as a member of our staff.”
The FC Tucson Women beat SC del Sol 3-0 on July 7 at the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix to clinch the second conference championship for the program over the last three years of competition. Former head coach Amy Garelick led the team to the Pac South championship in 2018, with current head coach Kelly Pierce by her side. Pierce used some of her own magic to lead her 2021 squad to Desert Conference title this summer. Pierce was one of the original players in the inaugural 2013 season along with current players Priscilla and Laura Pimienta and then Brianna Barreiro joined the program in 2014. That foundation proved to be a solid one and it became the cornerstone of a program that demands strong leadership on the pitch. “Our chemistry is important and, as you know, vocal leadership is something I’m very passionate about,” said Pierce, who also coached Salpointe Catholic to a state title in March. “We have that with our experienced players and players that came in from other programs and they respond as a team to that leadership.” Former Catalina and Pueblo soccer standout Luz Duarte scored 12 goals to help lead FC Tucson to an undefeated 7-0-1 record. Duarte was named team MVP at a celebration held July 30 at Frog and Firkin where the championship trophy and individual medals were presented to the program by Pierce and club president Amanda Powers.
Audrey Jimenez returned to Tucson from the 2021 Cadet World Championships at Hungary, Budapest, with a bronze medal in the 49 kg (108-pound) weight class after her technical fall win July 22 over Romania’s Delia Voiculescu. Jimenez, a Sunnyside High School sophomore, defeated Voiculescu in 1:45 after generating a leg lace and operating two turns to reach the 10-0 victory. Jimenez earned her second international medal — she won the U15 gold in the 2019 Pan Am Games — after rebounding from an 8-6 loss in the semifinals to Svenja Jungo of Switzerland.
Arizona’s outfield was well represented in MLB Draft’s second day July 12 with three players taken — Ryan Holgate, Branden Boissiere and Donta’ Williams. Left-hander Gil Luna was also drafted. Holgate was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals at No. 70 overall in the Competitive Balance Round B between the second and third rounds. Boissiere was selected by the Washington Nationals with the No. 82 pick. Williams was selected by the Baltimore Orioles at No. 106 in the fourth round. Luna was chosen by the Chicago White Sox at No. 275 in the ninth round. Arizona’s number of players drafted in the MLB draft increased to seven with the selections of right-hander Chase Silseth in the 11th round by the Anaheim Angels, second baseman Kobe Kato in the 13th round by the Houston Astros and right-hander Austin Smith in the 18th round by the Atlanta Braves. Silseth was taken as 321st pick overall after MLB.com project him as the 157th-best prospect. Kato (a former walk-on who was a utility player before this season) was the 388th player selected in the draft and Smith was the 547th pick.
Former Canyon del Oro standout Spencer Packard was taken by the Seattle Mariners in the ninth round (264) of the MLB Draft on July 12 out of Campbell University in North Carolina. Packard also attended Arizona Western. Packard is played for the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park (Indiana) where he made the All-Star roster for the league and he was drafted during one of his games. “Honestly I am very excited to be a Mariner but I don’t think it will hit me till I report for my physical and everything,” Packard told AllSportsTucson.com. “It was awesome to get the call today and it’s awesome to see the hard work has finally payed off but I’m not done yet.”
Little League softball and baseball returned to Southern Arizona after operations were cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19 and many local organizations experienced success in district and state tournaments in July.
— San Xavier Little League on the southeast side of Tucson captured the District 12 title on July 2 with a victory over Sunnyside and it went on to claim the state championship July 29 with a 7-3 victory over Nogales. The state championship is the first in baseball for San Xavier since 2001 when the Majors team that included future Tucson High and Arizona player Chris Moon reached the semifinals of the West Regionals at San Bernardino, Calif. Moon sacrificed his life for this country in the war against terrorism at Afghanistan. Carlos Alvarez and George Acuña each went 2 for 4 for San Xavier. Acuña hit a double and triple and scored a run and Alvarez had two runs. Francisco Navarro also had a double and a run. San Xavier added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out RBI single hit by Damion Murrietta.
— Rincon Little League of Vail had a highly successful summer. It won the District 12 championship in the 8-9-10 division on July 2 with a 13-1 win over Cactus. Its 9-10-11 all-star team also claimed the District 12 title by defeating Copper Hills 14-2 in the championship July 5.
— Seven players from the 2019 Sunnyside Majors team that captured the attention and support of Tucson during its deep run toward Williamsport, Pa., were on hand at Field of Dreams on July 12 to support this year’s team in the District 12 title game with Rincon. Izaiah Moraga, Damian Lorta, Juan Abril, Aciel Guillen, Juan Hernandez, Jordan Mayboca and Jorge Zazueta stood behind Sunnyside after the 9-4 win over Rincon while the champs held the District 12 championship banner.
— Nogales’ E.J. Mayer struck out 10 batters without a walk in 6 2/3 innings and also had two hits and two runs to lead his team to the Arizona Little League Intermediate 50/70 State Tournament championship on July 22 with an 11-3 win over Continental Ranch. Ruben Celaya also went 3 for 4 with a run, triple and RBI in the game played at Fleischer Park in Nogales.
— Sierra Vista took home the Seniors state championship trophy with its win over Winslow on July 14.
The Santa Rita Warthogs came alive at the right time of the season and the clinching 9-8 victory over the Catalina Aztecs on July 15 at Kino Stadium for the Sun Belt College Baseball League championship. The league is operated by Bill Leith’s Kino Baseball League, a non-profit organization that has benefited the development of youth baseball locally in the last decade. A two-out walk-off single from Jacob Wiltshire (Sabino/New Mexico State) in the bottom of the ninth clinched the comeback championship and the Most Outstanding Player in the series trophy for Wiltshire. The Sun Belt College League is Arizona’s piece of summer baseball for college commits, prospects and current college athletes hoping to improve their game before they head back to their various campuses. The Aztecs came into the championship series with a 17-4 record with five of those victories being lopsided tilts with the Warthogs by an average score of 15-1. The Warthogs had an 11-9 record, barely passing the Old Pueblo Kings (10-11) and the Desert Vaqueros (9-11) for the chance to play the Aztecs in the best-of-three championship series.
OTHER TOP DEVELOPMENTS
— Arizona’s in-state football recruiting received a boost with commitments from two prominent defensive linemen. Edge rusher Russell Davis II of Chandler Hamilton committed on July 3. He is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. Isaiah Johnson, a 6-2, 275-pound defensive lineman out of Chandler High School, committed on July 13. Both are listed as three-star prospects by 247Sports.
— Former Catalina Foothills standout Maya Benita of Arizona was named an All-American Scholar by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) on July 15. Benita won the 2019 AIA Division II state championship.
— Former Canyon del Oro standout Turner Washington, an NCAA champion shot put and discus thrower at ASU, earned a spot on the CoSIDA Academic All-District on July 12 and he was also named a finalist for “The Bowerman.” The Bowerman is awarded each year to the top male collegiate athlete and to the top female collegiate athlete in the sport of NCAA track & field. He also earned National Scholar Field Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) twice over for both Indoor and Outdoor competition.
— Tanque Verde High School’s emerging status as a football contender was enhanced July 13 with the hiring of assistant coaches Jack Dobyns and Matt Vinson by the Class 6A program at Odessa (Texas) High School. Dobyns and Vinson, former teammates at Chadron (Neb.) State and part of the Hawks’ staff under Jack’s dad Jay starting in 2020, will coach at the highest level of high school football in the talent-rich state of Texas. Jay Dobyns, a former Sahuaro High School and Arizona standout at wide receiver in the Larry Smith era, mentioned that he told his Class 2A team this message about his son and Vinson heading to Texas to coach this fall: “Small school coaches are often looked down on. This was not the case for us. Odessa shares Ratliff Field (19,000 capacity) as a home stadium with (powerhouse program) Permian. The big boys came in and were smart enough to see these ‘small school’ coaches are as good as anyone, anywhere, any level, any state.”
— Former Tucson High standout Alexis Cortez announced on July 16 she signed with the U.S. Colomiers Basket professional club located just west of Toulouse in southern France. Cortez scored 2,479 points in high school before finishing her college career with Utah Valley where she averaged 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Colomiers finished a shortened fall season in 2020 in fourth place in Group B action with a 3-2 record.
— FC Tucson started 2-0-1 in the first three games in July under interim coach Jon Pearlman after John Galas was let go at the end of June. The club lost its last two games of the month but by close scores of 2-1 to Union Omaha at Kino North Stadium and 1-0 at the Richmond (Va.) Kickers.
— Incoming Arizona sophomore forward Lauren Ware, who can still classify as a freshman because of COVID-19 affecting last season, was named to the 2021 USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team on July 19. She is one of 12 athletes to be named to the team and is one of two Pac-12 players on the team. Te-Hina Paopao of Oregon is the other. UCLA coach Cori Close is the head coach of the team. Ware and Team USA will start the U19 World Cup in Hungary on Aug. 7.
— Former Salpointe standout Bijan Robinson of Texas was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List on July 19. A total of 80 players from 65 colleges made the preseason list that honors the potential college football player of the year. Robinson (6-0, 222) gained 703 yards on 86 attempts last year for an average of 8.2 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He is the only 2-time Ed Doherty Award winner, given to the top high school football player in the state of Arizona.
— Suns center Deandre Ayton, formerly of Arizona, made it to the NBA Finals series, in which Phoenix lost in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks after taking a 2-0 series lead. Ayton averaged 14.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists in the series, which concluded July 20.
— Former Sahuaro and Arizona pitcher Gina Snyder coached the Bradenton Slice to a third place finish in the Florida Gulf Coast League. Bradenton is one of 10 teams in the collegiate summer league located in Florida. Seeded No. 7 in the playoff bracket, Bradenton went 4-2 in the playoffs including three victories in the elimination bracket. The regular season ran from June 16-July 14 and the playoffs took place from July 17-20. Snyder is also a volunteer assistant coach with North Florida.
— Ironwood Ridge volleyball standout Rumur Rouille was chosen in a final round between four applicants for the AllSportsTucson.com 2021 Southern Arizona Student-Athlete of the Year on July 24. A Long Island University commit, Rouille has a 4.2 GPA, was Student Body Historian for two years, NHS Historian, member of Rho Kappa, member of the Student Advisory Council for two years, earned an academic letter both senior and junior year, earned an athletic letter both senior and junior year, and was on the AZ All-Academic Girls Volleyball Team-1st Team for 5A 2019 and 2020. She was also an All-Southern Arizona All-Star. Fourteen graduating seniors submitted an application and those were judged on academics, athletics, leadership, service to their school and on a one-page essay on who influenced them most in their lives. This year, the award came with a scholarship worth $750 from the Old Pueblo Abuelo Morales Foundation.
— Cadence Beck, a member of Marana Little League’s Majors team team this summer, advanced to the Little League Home Run Derby at Williamsport, Pa., next month after qualifying during the West Regional Finals in Seattle on July 25. Beck was one of the top 10 home run hitters invited to compete in the regional finals at T-Mobile Stadium in Seattle, and she started strong with five home runs in Round 1 that put her in first place heading into Round 2. She hit two home runs in Round 2, giving her enough cumulative home runs to advance to Round 3, which included the final four competitors. The top four from the region advance to Williamsport for the home run derby on Aug. 24 during the Little League World Series.
— Tucson’s Arizona Storm captured the 2021 Women’s Wheelchair Basketball National Championship held in Arlington, Texas, on July 25. Team USA Paralympian Courtney Ryan scored 20 points and was named tournament MVP in the 51-31 victory over the Dallas Lady Mavs at the Toyota NWBA Women’s National Tournament presented by ABC Medical.
— Former Sabino standout Kelsey Harshman and Team Canada beat Mexico 3-2 at Yokohama Stadium on July 27 to capture the Bronze Medal in the softball competition of the Tokyo Olympics. It is the first softball medal for Canada. Canada went 3-2 in pool play with both losses coming 1-0 to Team USA and 1-0 to China. Harshman hit a game-winning sacrifice fly to score Janet Leung from third base to make it 3-2 in the fifth. Canada took an early 2-0 lead but Mexico tied the game up in the top of the fifth.
— The Indoor Football League announced July 28 that Tucson Sugar Skulls linebacker Jajuan Harley, a Tallahassee, Fla., native who played for the Florida State Seminoles for part of his college career, was awarded Week 14 Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in Tucson’s 34-27 win over the Bismarck Bucks on July 24. Harley, who had recently switched positions from defensive back to linebacker, finished with 11 total tackles (10 solo), with 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Late in the first half, Harley recovered a fumble in the Bucks’ territory that set up the Sugar Skulls offense for a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
— Former Canyon del Oro baseball standout Tristan Peterson signed to play professionally with the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League (an Independent Professional Baseball franchise) on July 29. The Wild Things are located south of Pittsburgh. Peterson was a member of the Dorados state championship squad of 2015 before moving on to play for Kansas. He transferred to Howard Junior College as a sophomore before graduating from New Mexico State where he was an All-WAC selection and an Academic All-American. He was an All-Pac-12 selection this past year when he completed his graduate season with Washington State.
— Former Cienega standout Juan Gamez was moved up to Triple-A Iowa on July 30. A reliever in the Chicago Cubs organization, Gamez was elevated from the Tennessee Smokies. Gamez was a catcher for Cienega before taking the field for Pima College. Gamez finished his college career with North Dakota State (playing for former coach Tod Brown, who graduated from Sabino and Arizona). Gamez was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 31st round of the 2016 MLB Draft but he switched to pitching in the Mexican League. The Cubs signed Gamez in December of 2019 after a great outing in Mexico.
— Former Cienega standout Andre Jackson was elevated form the Tulsa Drillers to the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers on July 31. Jackson was a standout at Utah and he was taken in the 12th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was named to the MLB Futures All-Star Game roster as a pitcher.
— Former Mountain View receiver Jeff Cotton was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars on July 31. Cotton played for Pima College and Idaho. He signed a rookie contract with the Chargers and was placed on the team’s practice squad. According to reports, head coach Urban Meyer is seeking more receivers for his offense.
— Salpointe infielder Mason White to Arizona on July 14.
— Salpointe and Pima outfielder Daniel Durazo to Arizona Christian on July 22.
— Sisters Kiana and Aaliyah Ortiz of Palo Verde and Pima to Culver-Stockton on July 22.
— Sunnyside receiver Ruben Peralta to Graceland on July 28
— CDO defensive tackle Chase Randall to Valparaiso on July 29.
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.