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Arizona Wildcats to watch in 2019

Keep an eye on these student-athletes as the calendar flips to 2019

arizona-wildcats-utah-utes-final-score-highlights-analysis Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The new year is right around the corner, so it is time to take a look at some Arizona Wildcats student-athletes to watch in 2019. If you missed it earlier, we profiled the student-athletes who shined in 2018. That article can be read here.

Chase Jeter, men’s basketball

After two tough years with Duke, Jeter is making a name for himself in Tucson, emerging as Arizona’s most valuable player in the 2018-19 season. The big man is averaging 12.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 66 percent shooting heading into the new year, a major upgrade from the numbers he posted with the Blue Devils. Jeter‘s ability to draw charges has been second to none, too.

It will be interesting to see how Jeter closes the year against Pac-12 competition, and he could have a difficult decision to make once the season concludes.

Jeter, a redshirt junior, is graduating this academic year, so it would not be surprising to see him forgo his fifth and final year of eligibility to pursue professional opportunities. Jeter is unlikely to be drafted into the NBA — no mock drafts currently include him — but he would likely garner some sort of interest from the pros, whether that be as an undrafted free agent in the NBA or from clubs overseas.

Arizona does not have a clear cut replacement for Jeter should he leave, so keeping him on campus for another year will be paramount for the 2019-20 squad, which will have legitimate Final Four aspirations.

Honorable mentions: G Brandon Williams, G Nico Mannion

Cate Reese, women’s basketball

2018 was kind to Reese, who averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the non-conference portion of her freshman year, looking like everything she was hyped to be as the program’s first-ever McDonald’s All-American. We knew the high-energy forward could rebound and score inside, but she has also shown the ability to handle the ball and shoot 3s.

That said, 2019 will provide a more realistic look at Reese’s talent, since it will mark the first time she will play against major-conference competition. Some growing pains are to be expected, but she and speedy sophomore point guard Aari McDonald are forming a duo that should be fun to watch the next several years.

Honorable mentions: PG Aari McDonald, F Sam Thomas

Khalil Tate, football

Tate’s 2018 campaign was disappointing, but he is returning for his senior season with a chance at redemption.

It will be Year 2 of the Tate-Kevin Sumlin pairing, and perhaps the familiarity will yield better results. Tate also dealt with an ankle injury early in the 2018 season, and looked like a much better player in the second half of the season after he took a week off against UCLA.

Still, he was never able to recapture the rushing ability he showed as a sophomore, and getting that aspect of his game going again will be crucial for the Wildcats in 2019, as they look to compete in what should be a wide open Pac-12 South race.

Maybe true freshman Grant Gunnell or rising redshirt freshmen Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle can push Tate for the starting job, but it is the senior’s spot to lose.

Honorable mentions: DT PJ Johnson, RB J.J. Taylor

Paige Whipple, volleyball

Star senior Kendra Dahlke will not be back in 2019, so Arizona will need someone to claim the role as the team’s primary outside hitter.

Whipple, a soon-to-be junior, looks like the obvious candidate, finishing second on the team in kills in 2018 with 347.

Whipple’s hit percentage was a little low (.173), but she also dealt with some adversity to begin the season, when she suffered an umbilical hernia in the spring, which required surgery and set back her development.

But Whipple continually improved as the 2018 season wore on and, assuming she is healthy in 2019, appears on track for a breakout season.

Honorable mentions: S Julia Patterson, MB Devyn Cross

Amanda Porter, soccer

On the first day of the 2018 season, assistant coach Paul Nagy told me that Porter looked like a completely different player as a sophomore.

His claim turned out to be true.

By the end of the season, Porter finished tied for the team lead in points with 15 after posting six points as a freshman.

The Littleton, Colorado native tallied four goals and poured in seven assists in 2018, using her left foot to carry Arizona’s offense for stretches at a time. Porter did not score her first goal until Oct. 13 against Cal, but then scored four times in the final eight matches, plus recorded a pair of assists during that span. Early in the season Porter was an assist machine, tallying five in Arizona’s first eight games.

And it wasn’t just the numbers that made Porter’s sophomore season impressive. She also played several positions, shifting from forward to midfield to defense when the team needed her to, like the time she moved to outside back for a couple weeks when starter Sabrina Enciso went down with an ankle sprain during the meat of Pac-12 play.

Porter, known for her pink hair, is also the one who takes free kicks for the Wildcats when they are within shooting range. She netted one in the NCAA Tournament against Denver that was an absolute rocket:

Honorable mentions: F Brooke Wilson, GK Kendyll Humphreys

Randy Labaut, baseball

Labaut’s sophomore season was quite the roller coaster. The southpaw was terrific when healthy, posting a 1.60 ERA in 33.2 innings of work, including five starts. The problem is Labaut missed nearly the entire second half of the season after having emergency surgery in March for compartment syndrome in his left leg.

Labaut was initially ruled out for the year, but wound up returning in the final weekend of the season, logging two 1-2-3 innings.

Arizona’s pitching will be a big question mark in 2019 after it lost several of its top arms to the MLB Draft, so Labaut figures to be an important piece for the Wildcats, who are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it in 2018.

Honorable mentions: 3B Nick Quintana, IF Cameron Cannon

Marissa Schuld, softball

Led by Taylor McQuillin and Alyssa Denham, UA softball had great, but not elite, pitching in 2018, ranking a notch below schools like Washington, Oregon, ASU and UCLA in ERA. That, plus some inconsistent situational hitting, prevented the Wildcats from reaching the Women’s College World Series for the eighth straight year.

McQuillin, a senior, and Denham, a junior, return in 2019, so there is hope those two can take a step forward and join the conference’s elite arms.

But perhaps it will be the pitching staff’s lone addition, freshman Marissa Schuld, who can make the Wildcats’ rotation one of the best in the Pac-12.

Schuld, FloSoftball’s National Player of the Year, led Phoenix’s Pinnacle High School to the 6A state championship as a senior, going 11-1 with a 0.74 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 76 innings.

She might be able to boost UA’s offense, too. Schuld hit .574 with 16 home runs and 57 RBI at Pinnacle last season.

Honorable mention: 1B Rylee Pierce, OF/1B Alyssa Palomino