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Who were the Arizona Wildcats’ brightest stars in 2018?

Lainey Burdett
Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

2018 is winding down, so we are recognizing the Arizona Wildcats who had the most memorable years in their respective sports.

J.J. Taylor, football

While Arizona’s quarterback situation was tenuous at times, Taylor was the constant that kept the offense in gear.

The diminutive running back played in all 12 games, rushing for 1,454 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He also caught 16 passes for 133 yards, and returned 24 kickoffs for 540 yards and a touchdown.

Those all-around numbers made him an all-conference player and Third-Team Associated Press All-American. Arizona led the Pac-12 in rushing yet again.

Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP

The plan was to only honor one player per sport for this piece, but it’d be remiss to not recognize Foles, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl title, being named the game’s Most Valuable Player, after taking over for injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz late in the regular season.

And don’t look now, but Foles is making history repeat itself this year, as the Eagles are 2-0 and pushing for a playoff berth since the former UA QB took over for an injured Wentz for the second straight year.

Deandre Ayton, men’s basketball

Ayton earned these individual accolades (and others) in his lone season in Tucson:

  • Consensus First-Team All-American
  • Pac-12 Player of the Year
  • Karl Malone Award
  • First-Team All-Pac-12
  • Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
  • Pac-12 All-Defensive Team
  • Set a new Pac-12 record for double-doubles by a freshman with 24 for the season, which was also the most double-doubles in a season by any player in UA history.

Ayton led Arizona to both a regular season and conference tournament championship, then became the first Wildcat to ever be selected No. 1 in the NBA Draft.

While Ayton’s UA career did not end on the best note — a first-round exit against Buffalo — he is probably the most talented player the school has ever had, and maybe ever will.

Aari McDonald, women’s basketball

The wait was worth it.

McDonald sat out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules, and is quickly making up for lost time in her first season with the Wildcats.

The swift point guard is the nation’s third-leading scorer at 24.6 PPG, the highest mark in the Pac-12. Better yet, McDonald does plenty of other things to boost the Wildcats, who enter conference play with a 10-1 record, their best start since 2011-12.

The redshirt sophomore is a tireless defender, precise passer, and averages over 6 rebounds per game, despite her slender, 5-foot-7 frame.

Arizona is in the third year of Adia Barnes’ tenure, and the future is bright so long as McDonald is leading the way.

Lainey Burdett, soccer

The four-year starter finished her career as Arizona’s all-time shutouts leader, anchoring a UA program that made the NCAA Tournament three times during her career, winning four postseason games.

In 2018, she led the Pac-12 in minutes played, was third in shutouts (9) and fourth in goals-against average (0.87). Burdett was also the only UA player to win a Pac-12 Player of the Week nomination this season.

The senior showed a penchant for making big saves throughout her career (her teammates called it “star-fishing” as you can see in the photo above) and was the voice of Arizona soccer, guiding the backline in front of her and occasionally talking some trash to UA opponents.

Burdett will be difficult to replace, and how well the Wildcats do it will be a big determinant in their success in 2019. In the meantime, Burdett has entered the 2019 NWSL Draft and on Jan. 10 could become the first Wildcat ever selected.

Kendra Dahlke, volleyball

Dahlke had shown flashes of brilliance throughout her UA career, and she put it all together as a senior, posting one of the best seasons by an outside hitter in school history.

Dahlke, who missed some time with a concussion and foot injury, averaged a Pac-12-best 4.77 kills per set, seventh most in a season in Arizona history.

For her career, Dahlke posted 1,408 career kills (7th in Arizona history) and 3.55 kills/set (7th in Arizona history).

Haley Moore, women’s golf

Moore produced Arizona’s best moment of 2018 in May, sinking a short putt on 18 that gave UA its first national championship since baseball took home the trophy in 2012.

Moore was no one-hit wonder, either. She had the best stroke average on the team (72.20) and was named to the Pac-12 All-First Team. Moore finished in the Top 20 in seven of the 11 events she competed in. In five of those, she finished Top 10.

Alfonso Rivas, baseball

The left-handed junior first baseman was a hitting machine, batting .342/.425/.529 with seven homers, 15 doubles, three triples, and 52 RBI.

A two-time All-Pac-12 selection, Rivas was rewarded by being selected in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics.

Arizona had six players drafted in the first ten rounds of the draft the first time in program history, and Rivas was the headliner.

Alyssa Palomino, softball

Palomino became UA softball’s 100th All-American, after leading the Pac-12 in homers (19) and slugging percentage (.750), all while transitioning from outfield to first base after two ACL tears the previous two seasons.

Palomino was the only player in the Pac-12 to hit .360 or better with 12 or more homers. She was also named the Arizona Athletics Sophomore Female Athlete of the Year.

Jordan Geist, track and field

Call him the Deandre Ayton of track and field because this is what Geist accomplished in his freshman year:

  • 2018 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
  • 2018 Pac-12 Championships Athlete of the Meet
  • 3x Pac-12 Men’s Field Athlete of the Week
  • 2018 First Team NCAA Indoor All-American (Shot Put)
  • 2018 First Team NCAA Outdoor All-American (Shot Put)
  • 2018 Second Team NCAA Outdoor All-American (Discus)
  • NCAA Indoor Freshman Record Holder (Shot Put)

Honorable mentions: Allonzo Trier (basketball), Colin Schooler (football), Julia Patterson (volleyball), Cody Deason (baseball), Amanda Porter (soccer), Taylor McQuillin (softball)