Year end: The Day's Top 10 sports stories
It was another year of triumph and controversy, achievement and disappointment. History was made and tears were shed in victory and defeat.
In other words, all the storylines and emotions that make sports so great.
This is the time every year The Day's sports staff votes on its top stories of the year. One rule: Only stories The Day covered are eligible. Here are the opinions of sports editor Chuck Banning, columnist and assistant sports editor Mike DiMauro, scholastic sports editor Vickie Fulkerson, UConn men's beat writer and local college sports writer Gavin Keefe, Connecticut Sun beat writer and high school football savant Ned Griffen and editor Dave Davis:
No. 1: Dallas is wonderland
It was the run nobody ever saw coming, except, perhaps, for Kevin Ollie, who took the UConn men on a tour of AT&T Stadium during a regular-season trip to Texas. A few months later, the Huskies, in a New York Giants-like postseason run, won the NCAA men's national championship. UConn defeated Kentucky in the title game, touching off a celebration in North Texas.
No. 2: Tennessee Titans
One night after the UConn men won their fourth national title, the UConn women won their record ninth, right under the noses of time-honored rival Tennessee in Nashville. The Huskies turned a highly anticipated showdown with undefeated Notre Dame into an anticlimactic clinic. Breanna Stewart won another Final Four MVP and coach Geno Auriemma eclipsed Pat Summitt for most national titles by a women's head coach.
No. 3: Hey, Kerrianne
New London is awash in basketball history. Boys' basketball history. But the girls? Not so much. Not until former Waterford High (and Central Connecticut) great Kerrianne Dugan took over as head coach. Dugan and senior Lexus Childs-Harris led the Whalers to the program's first state title during a memorable day at Mohegan Sun. Dugan, who was married in the offseason, left the program and moved out of state, but left new coach Holly Misto starters Jada Lucas, India Pagan, Charee Osborne and Deanna McCarvell.
No. 4: A Crown For King
It was a formidable deficit: 20-7 to knightly Ansonia, the state's perennial No. 1 football power. And yet the Valley Regional/Old Lyme football team did the unthinkable, rallying to defeat the Chargers and capture the program's first state championship. Coach Tim King, a graduate of St. Bernard and native of Old Lyme who runs one of the state's most consistent programs, joined the pantheon of coaches with a state championship to his name.
No. 5: We Do Baseball Here
Fitch graduate Jesse Hahn (Padres) and NFA graduates Eric Campbell (Mets) and Dom Leone (Mariners) made their Major League Baseball debuts, adding to the already impressive list of alumni from the Eastern Connecticut Conference in the majors. In addition, several UConn grads, including George Springer, also made their debuts, leaving Connecticut as a most deceptive producer of baseball talent.
No. 6: Don't Walk Away, Chiney
The Connecticut Sun discovered a new franchise player in sunny-dispositioned Chiney Ogwumike, who was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft and later was named the league's Rookie of the Year. Ogwumike helped Connecticut win 12 games, a two-game improvement from the previous season, and give Sun fans some hope of recapturing the form that led them twice to the WNBA Finals.
No. 7: Coooooooooop
It's a story made for the front pages: Local kid comes home, coaches the sport she loves at her alma mater … and wins it all. That's Arielle Cooper, once a player on Fitch's state championship softball team, who returned this past season as an interim coach and led the Falcons to the Class L title. Cooper, took over for Kate Peruzzotti (maternity leave) and with the help of all-state pitcher Caroline Taber, delivered the second title in seven years at Fitch.
No. 8: Ugliness
A postgame fight resulting in two arrests marred one of the best football games of the season within the ECC: Plainfield's upset of New London. Several New London players reported hearing racial slurs after the game on their walk to the bus, creating an ugly postgame scene. A group of Plainfield athletes posted a video to YouTube a few days later denouncing the behavior.
No. 9: Decorated Conn Man
Connecticut College's Michael LeDuc won his second national championship of his senior year in May, capturing the 3,000-meter steeplechase title. LeDuc graduated with three national championships and nine All-America honors, leaving Conn among the most decorated athletes in the history of the school.
No. 10: No. 20
Ledyard High School's wrestling program earned state championship No. 20, adding to a total which already served as the most in state history. Ledyard, down by as many as 39 points to ECC rival Waterford during the semifinals, came back to top Waterford 193-168. Devon MarcAurele and sophomore Daric Johnson led the rally for Ledyard, whose gym is nearly running out of space for all the wrestling banners.
• Also receiving votes:
Ledyard's football team finished the regular season unbeaten and made the state title game. … East Lyme's Carl Reichard was named the National Track Coach of the Year. … Waterford Babe Ruth teams made the World Series in the 13- and 15-year-old divisions. … Stonington won the state girls' lacrosse title with many of the same players who helped field hockey win the state title the previous fall. … The Conn College women and Coast Guard men made the NCAA tournament in soccer. … Four local track athletes combined for seven State Open titles in indoor and outdoor track. Indoor: Ledyard's Chenoa Sebastian (55 hurdles), Waterford's Julio Gil-Martinez (55 dash) and Fitch's Tyler Latham (55 hurdles). Outdoor: Fitch's Latham (300 hurdles, javelin), Ledyard's Sebastian (100 hurdles) and NFA's Andris Vital (100). … Latham won Gatorade Player of the Year in boys' track. ... Ledyard (Crosby) and Waterford (Notre Dame) earned upsets on the road in the state basketball quarterfinals to reach the semifinals. ?… Uncertainty over the future of the Waterford Speedbowl. … Two NFA football players, Jawaun Johnson and Khaleed Exum-Strong rushed for 303 yards apiece in the same game, a Thanksgiving Day win over New London.