My colleague Adam Green recently wrote a column about how we are entering an interesting era of Arizona Athletics because the UA hired new coaches in its three most prominent sports—football, softball and men’s basketball.
And while, yes, it will be fascinating to see how those hires shake out as they undoubtedly will have a significant impact on the health of the department, we mustn’t overlook the excellence that is already abound in Tucson.
The 2021 spring has been one to remember. Here’s a look at some of the highlights. If we missed any (there are so many to count!), please add them in the comment section below!
Arizona women’s basketball made an unprecedented run to the national championship game
Led by Adia Barnes and Aari McDonald, the Wildcats reached their first Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship game ever, where they fell one point short of winning the whole dang NCAA Tournament.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats became America’s team by playing every possession like it was their last, upsetting the Goliath of the sport (UConn) and Barnes emerging as a national role model for the way she balances coaching and motherhood (while literally giving the finger to the people who doubted her and her team).
The good times should continue as Arizona reloaded its roster with recruits and transfers and Barnes received a mega-money extension that will pay her a base salary over $1 million a year.
McDonald, meanwhile, was selected No. 3 overall in the WNBA Draft, Arizona’s first first-round pick ever.
Arizona baseball and softball reached the College World Series
The UA is the only school in the country to put its baseball and softball programs in the College World Series this year, as well as the first to do it since 2018. It marked UA softball’s 24th trip to the College World Series and second straight. This will be UA baseball’s first time at the College World Series since 2016 but its 18th all-time. This is the first time both programs have reached the College World Series in the same season.
While both had successful regular seasons, too, UA baseball captured its first Pac-12 championship since 2012, the same year it won its last/fourth national championship.
The bittersweet moment of the spring was the legendary Mike Candrea retiring after 36 years of coaching Arizona softball, though Caitlin Lowe, his former player, being handed the reins is pretty exciting.
Women’s golf reached the NCAA semifinals...again
For the third straight season, Laura Ianello’s program finished fourth or better in the NCAA Championships. This season, they lost to Ole Miss, the eventual national champions, in the NCAA semifinals but pulled off an impressive upset over No. 1 Stanford to get there.
Gile Bite Starkute produced the moment to remember, sinking a long putt to down the Cardinal.
Gile Bite Starkute for the win!— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) May 25, 2021
Arizona women's golf upsets No. 1 Stanford to advance to the NCAA semis. pic.twitter.com/4UOjHe0KMp
UA women’s golf is responsible for UA’s most recent national championship, winning one in 2018.
Arizona’s men’s golf won first Pac-12 championship since 2004
Jim Anderson was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Brad Reeves was named Pac-12 Player of the Year after Arizona secured its first conference title since 2004.
Arizona men’s tennis reached first-ever Sweet Sixteen
Speaking of Pac-12 Coaches of the Year, Clancy Shields won the award for the second straight season after the Wildcats finished with a program-record 21 wins and second in the Pac-12, the best finish in program history.
Arizona went on to beat Michigan and Kentucky in Lexington in the NCAA Tournament to reach its first-ever Sweet Sixteen. Senior Alejandro Reguant broke the Arizona record for most overall wins.
This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan for Shields’ squad, either. Arizona returns its top four seeded singles players next season, including No. 45 Gustaf Strom. The Wildcats also bring in Colton Smith, the highest-ranked American signee in program history.
Shields has been extended through the 2026 season.
Arizona soccer swept Stanford and Cal for first time ever—and continued its dominance of ASU
After seeing its season get postponed for several months due to COVID-19, the Wildcats went 9-5-1 to post their fourth-straight winning season. That should have been enough to earn their fourth-straight strip to the NCAA Tournament, too, but the field was condensed from 64 to 48 teams this season due to the pandemic.
Regardless, Arizona picked up a pair of signature wins in April when it swept Stanford—the defending national champions—and Cal for the first time in program history. The Wildcats also beat ASU twice to extend their winning streak to six over the Sun Devils.
Unfortunately, head coach Tony Amato was hired away by Florida, leaving the program in a state of flux moving forward.
Delaney Schnell won Pac-12 titles and qualified for Tokyo Olympics
Tucson’s own Delaney Schnell was the Pac-12 Diver of the Year and won Pac-12 titles in platform dive and the 1-meter dive. She then punched her ticket to the Tokyo Olympics after winning the 10-meter synchronized platform event and the platform dive at the U.S. Olympic Swimming and Diving Trial.
Schnell is a three-time All-American in the 1-meter dive and a two-time All-American in the platform dive.
Arizona track and field won multiple Pac-12 championships
Tucson native Johnnie Blockburger was named the Pac-12 Men’s Track & Field Freshman of the Year and won a Pac-12 championship in the 400m with a 45.57 time, which was an Arizona school record as well as an Olympic Trials qualifying time.
Junior Jordan Geist was named Men’s Field Athlete of the Year for the second time in his career and won a Pac-12 championship in shot put. So did Samantha Noennig on the women’s side. She then finished top-8 in at NCAA Championships, earning her First Team All-American honors.
Justice Summerset won a conference in the men’s high jump and Shannon Meisberger finished as the national runner-up in the 400m hurdles.