Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: March’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona



Arizona celebrates its Elite Eight win over Indiana on March 29 (Arizona Athletics photo)

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.” 


Roman Bravo-Young won his first NCAA title on March 20 (Penn State photo)

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 after it won its 34th state wrestling title (Andy Morales/

Sunnyside earned its 34th state championship in program history on March 20 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 points out directions (Arizona Athletics photo)

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 is a high school girls wrestling pioneer (Andy Morales/

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 on March 24.

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of April 2021

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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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