Year That Was 2021

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



Chip Hale introduced by Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke (Troy Hutchison/

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.


Jessica Parratto (left) and Delaney Schnell (USA Olympics photo)

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.


(USC graphic)

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 graphic)

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.”


FC Tucson women’s team (Andy Morales/

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.

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

CLICK ON THIS LINK to access a complete rundown of the top developments of July 2021 in Southern Arizona

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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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