The Day's Top 10 sports stories of 2017: It was the year of the Whaler
It was during the compilation of a Top 10 sports stories list that Chuck Banning, sports editor of The Day, observed, "we had a pretty good year here at the ole Day Paper."
The list of Top 10 stories covered by The Day sports staff always feels impressive by year's end. But there's something even more special about 2017. It was, as Sinatra once sang, a very good year.
Here is a list of the Top 10 stories as voted on by Banning, editor Dave Davis, scholastic editor Vickie Fulkerson, Sun beat writer and Lonesone Polecat proprietor Ned Griffen, UConn men's beat writer and college writer Gavin Keefe and yours truly.
The list pertains only to stories covered by Day staffers:
No. 1: They are (New London) women ... hear them roar
The largest crowd to ever witness a high school girls' basketball game in Connecticut — 8,186 at Mohegan Sun Arena — saw New London defeat Trumbull 42-36 to win its second championship in four years, the first for coach Holly Misto.
The Whalers, who needed Rosi Nicholson's buzzer-beater to advance from the quarterfinals, finished the season ranked No. 1 in the state and sent two players — Jada Lucas (Hartford) and India Pagan (Stony Brook) to Division I programs.
"These kids really, really care about each other," Misto said after the game. "They play for each other. They do have heart. And they really wanted to bring (a state title) back to their town and their city."
No. 2: Dallas not wonderland for UConn women
Two wins shy of winning a fifth straight national championship, UConn's run ended in Dallas at the Final Four, thanks to a buzzer-beater from Mississippi State's Morgan William.
The Huskies (36-1) had won an NCAA record 111 straight games and a record 28 straight NCAA tournament games.
"We were playing way above our years and way above our experience level," a gracious coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. "It caught up to us. When we really needed to be a little more mature with what we're doing we didn't have it. They deserved to win. They beat us. We had our chances. They beat us.'"
No. 3: Tis the season for Gleason
Maddie Ouellette scored the game-tying goal with 24 minutes left in regulation and Mya Johnson headed in the go-ahead goal late in the first overtime, leading Old Lyme to a 2-1 win over Holy Cross and the Wildcats' third straight Class S state girls' soccer title.
It was the 100th win for Old Lyme coach Paul Gleason, whose team also defeated his alma mater St. Paul in the semifinals.
Johnson, who scored 33 goals and was named All-New England, was selected as The Day's Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
No. 4: His kind of town, Chicago is
New London High school graduate Kris Dunn was part of a major offseason trade in the NBA, sending him from Minnesota to Chicago.
Dunn's playing time — and production — have soared for the Bulls, who have been one of the NBA's pleasant surprises. He finished the year averaging 13.2 points, 5.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, starting at point guard.
No. 5: Here comes the Sun (finally)
The Connecticut Sun, mired in an interminable string of low to last-place finishes, rebounded with a WNBA playoff trip for the first time since 2012.
Not even an estimable rash of injuries, including to Chiney Ogwumike, could derail a 21-win regular season and home game in the playoffs.
Coach and general manager Curt Miller was honored as the WNBA Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year (he was also rewarded with a contract extension), while 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones blossomed into a WNBA star in just her second season, earning a trip to the WNBA All-Star Game and winning the league's Most Improved Player Award.
No. 6: Show 'em the way, AJ
Boston College's AJ Dillon, a true freshman running back from New London, became the first player in BC history to be named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.
Dillon rushed for 1,432 yards during the regular season, the second-highest total by any freshman in ACC history and ranked second among all freshmen nationally this season. Dillon and the Eagles won five of their last six games in the regular season, including a 35-0 win over Florida State and made the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
No. 7: A work of Art (Peluso)
Waterford High School baseball ended its 12-year state championship drought by winning a state-record 10th. The Lancers blanked Lewis Mills 4-0 in the Class M title game, behind pitcher Michael Burrows, who struck out 15.
It was Waterford's first state title since 2005.
Burrows, who is headed to play at UConn, was later named The Day's Player of the Year.
No. 8: A grand night at Mohegan
UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma won his 1,000th game in December at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Auriemma and the Huskies defeated Oklahoma, adding another chapter to the considerable novel Auriemma has already written. Auriemma has led the Huskies to 11 national titles and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"We gave everything we had to this," Auriemma said. "We try not to leave anything on the table. ... We have gotten back far more than we deserve."
No. 9: Son of a gun, it was a great season at Fitch
Fitch High School football coach Mike Ellis, feted during the season for his penchant not to curse, led the Falcons to the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Fitch's undefeated regular season (10-0) featured wins over Notre Dame of West Haven, Norwich Free Academy, East Lyme and New London. The Falcons lost to Masuk in the Class L playoffs.
No. 10: This is the dawning of the age of ... Darius
Coast Guard Academy's Darius Adams capped a tremendous junior season by winning a national title in the long jump during the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Adams won the title with a leap of 24 feet, 1.5 inches.
Adams, from Nassau, Bahamas, was the first Coast Guard athlete to win a national title in an individual sport since Christian Brindamour won the 50 freestyle at the 2014 NCAA Division Swimming and Diving Championships.
Also receiving votes:
Ledyard High School wrestling added another banner, winning the Class S title, its state-record 23rd. ... St. Bernard tennis player Alex Zuczek won his fourth straight Eastern Connecticut Conference title (he never lost an ECC match) and went on to win the Class S championship ... Former UConn great Rebecca Lobo was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ... Waterford High graduate Adily Martucci led Quinnipiac women's basketball to an improbable run to the NCAA Sweet 16 ... East Lyme won its first boys' state cross country title since 1970 ... Three local college soccer programs (Connecticut College men and women, Mitchell College men) all qualified for the NCAA tournament ... Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun came out of retirement to take over the new men's basketball program at St. Joseph College in West Hartford ... Montville cross country coach Steve LaBranche completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, finishing four 100-mile races in four months this summer and becoming only the second person in Connecticut history to do so ... UConn men's basketball endured its first losing season since 1986 ... Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer, who saved New London-Waterford Speedbowl from dire financial straits a year earlier, faced allegations that he was part of an alleged prostitution ring involving drug-addicted and mentally disabled young men. George Whitney took over as the track's general manager and the 2017 racing season opened in June, completing a successful season in October.
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