USF sports: The year in review
When Bulls triple-jump virtuoso Matthew O'Neal fouled on his final attempt at Friday night's NCAA Championships, the 2015-16 season for USF athletics formally concluded. Until football season kicks off with the American Athletic Conference's media sessions Aug. 1 and 2, Bulls fans are confined to summer's dog days, the sports calendar's most barren stretch. Because we know most of you dread the coming doldrums, we felt it our duty to postpone them at least one more day. Here's our comprehensive look back at the 2015-16 Bulls sports season.
Team of the Year
While men's tennis and men's golf repeated as conference champs, and women's hoops could almost taste the saccharin in the Sweet Sixteen, our nod goes to Willie Taggart's resuscitated bunch. With talk about his job security percolating after a 1-3 start, Taggart removed the shackles from his offense and watched it respond with a historic spurt. The Bulls (8-5) won seven of their last eight regular season games, and set school records for total yardage (5,741), rushing yards (3,205) and offensive TDs (54). With essentially every skill guy back, USF enters '16 as the overwhelming favorite to win the AAC's East Division.
Male Athlete of the Year
Henceforth, we're calling this the Matthew O'Neal Award. A first-ballot USF Athletic Hall of Famer if there ever was one, O'Neal earned All-America status for the fifth and sixth times (most by any Bulls athlete) with a runner-up finish in the triple jump at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March, and a third-place showing at the outdoor meet. As for his school-record catapult (55 feet, 9.75 inches)? Skip Holtz likely will be grand marshal of USF's homecoming parade before anyone touches that.
Female Athlete of the Year
You know someone has left an indelible imprint when their very name becomes part of their program's vernacular. Next winter, we can just hear someone saying a torched defender just got Courtney-ed, or a Bull on a mid-range shooting tear is pulling a Courtney. Such was the blurring effect made by Courtney Williams, who set the USF women's single-season scoring record (710 points), notched eight double-doubles, nearly averaged a double-double (20.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and led USF in assists (3.3 per game). Her value was no more glaring than in the first round of the NCAA Tournament opener against Colorado State, when she was benched the first five minutes for an off-court infraction. With Williams watching, CSU jumped out to a 10-1 lead. Upon entering, she nearly outscored the Rams by herself (31 points) the rest of the way in USF's 48-45 triumph.
Male Single-Game Performance of the Year
Before arguably the most raucous USF baseball home crowd of the season (2,794), senior RF Luke Maglich provided the game-winning RBI and game-saving snag in the final two innings of a 5-4 win against UCF. Maglich, who hit a two-run homer in the first, ended things with a one-out, two-run double to the left field warning track. In the top of the eighth, with one out and the bases loaded, Maglich made a diving catch of a liner to right, then caught Matt Diorio off the first-base bag for a double play, keeping the score tied at 4-all. "I think the best play of the year, and maybe the best play I've seen in the last five years," Bulls coach Mark Kingston said.
Female Single-Game Performance of the Year
With her team short-handed, Bulls freshman Kitija Laksa became hot-handed on an early-January Sunday afternoon. The 6-foot Latvian scored 38 points -- second-most in an AAC game -- in the USF women's 83-56 romp of SMU. A 33-percent long-range shooter entering the game, Laksa, recruited for her proficiency behind the arc, hit eight of 12 3-pointers.
Performance of the Year No One Saw
On a windy New Orleans day, Bulls senior Roberto Cid rallied from an opening-set defeat for a 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 1-0(3) triumph against Tulane's Dominik Koepfer in a third-set super-tiebreaker. Making Cid's comeback more notable: It was Tulane's senior day...and Koepfer was the nation's top-ranked singles player.
This one might contend for worst call of the decade. Trailing UCLA by three with 33.9 seconds to go in the NCAA Tournament's second round, fifth-year Bulls senior Shalethia Stringfield -- trying to save the ball from going out of bounds under UCLA's basket -- made a one-handed flick that clearly bounced off the hand of Bruins F Lajahna Drummer. Even after a lengthy review, officials gave the ball to the Bruins, who held on for a 72-67 win. Dishonorable mention to Western Kentucky RB Anthony Wales' 13-yard TD run in the Miami Beach Bowl, though he appeared to fumble the ball out of the end zone as he dove for the pylon.
A shout-out to the NCAA -- which doesn't get much of them -- for overturning its ban on satellite camps shortly after shutting them down. While more regulation is needed (and forthcoming), they provided an opportunity for hundreds of local kids to be seen -- and recruited -- by coaches from USF and Michigan for a minimal expense two weekends ago. The NCAA also snags the honorable mention for granting a sixth year of eligibility to Bulls DL Daniel Awoleke.
Sound Bite of the Year
"I'll sit here and tell you now," Taggart said, "we're going to have ourselves a good season, but we've got to get some things corrected and it starts (today)." -- Taggart following the Bulls' abysmal effort in a 35-17 loss at Maryland (USF won seven of its next nine games)
Mute-Button Moment of the Year
"Sometimes you're the dog, sometimes you're the hydrant." -- men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua after the Bulls finished 23-for-70 from the floor (and 4-for-11 from the free-throw line) in a 10-point home loss to UCF
Predictions for 2016-17
Football team wins AAC East, falls to Houston -- at Houston -- in league title game. ... Taggart emerges as leading coaching candidate at a Power Five program. ... Junior RB Marlon Mack declares for NFL Draft. ... Men's basketball team posts first 15-win season in five years. ... F Troy Baxter makes AAC All-Rookie team. ... Big 12 opts to expand league by two teams; USF isn't one of them. ... After waging successful bout with chordoma cancer, softball player Meredith Bissette returns to classes at USF. ... Women's basketball team makes NCAA Tournament for third year in a row, albeit as a low seed. ... The annual USF Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony returns after a three-year hiatus.