Exactly no one observing the Bulls women’s tennis team’s home loss to James Madison the afternoon of March 12 could have fathomed that they were observing the last USF athletics contest of any kind for the foreseeable future.
Nearly three weeks later, we’re still numb to that reality. Among the cultural casualties of the coronavirus’ rampage were three months of college spring sports. While the NCAA on Monday gave seniors in those sports an extra year of eligibility, it can’t restore what might have been.
Bulls softball was rolling, a pair of pole vaulters appeared destined for record-setting outdoor seasons, and men’s golf had just captured its first team title of the spring. Now, all must re-boot for 2021.
But we’re not ignoring those feats of 2020 in our abridged year in review. To the contrary, we’re giving a nod to the athletes of spring, as well as some others who got shafted in the 2019-20 athletics season.
Team of the Year
Behind senior offensive dynamo Evelyne Viens, the women’s soccer team (16-5) reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s 25-year history. Viens had a hat trick in an opening-round romp of Florida in Gainesville, then scored both goals in a shutout of Washington in the second round. That win established a program single-season record for victories.
Male Athlete of the Year
We still have no viable explanation for point guard Laquincy Rideau’s omission from the coaches’ all-American Athletic Conference team, but if it’s any modest consolation, he’s recognized twice on this superlatives list. The Bulls’ second-leading scorer (12.6 ppg), Rideau’s 77 steals were one shy of league leader Christian Vital of Connecticut, and his 4.2 assists per game ranked fourth in the AAC. Additionally, his assist-turnover ratio (plus-1.3) was 10th-best in the conference. On top of all that, the fifth-year senior executed arguably the greatest finish to a career of any athlete in school history (keep reading).
Female Athlete of the Year
Easiest call on this list. Viens capped the greatest career in Bulls women’s soccer history by setting a school and American Athletic Conference single-season record with 25 goals, leading USF to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The fifth overall pick in the NWSL draft (by Sky Blue FC), Viens exited USF with the AAC career record for goals (73) and points (169).
Coach of the Year
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Told you we weren’t ignoring spring. Instead of folding after an 0-6 start, the softball team seemed to galvanize itself under interim coach Jess Moore, winning 16 of its next 19 before being forced to shut down. Four triumphs were against ranked teams, including two victories against No. 12 Tennessee in as many days. With the Olympics postponed until at least 2021, Moore likely will lead the Bulls again next season ― unless someone else hires her away first ― as Ken Eriksen guides the national team.
Highlight of the Year
We’ve already ranked Rideau’s off-balance, game-winning 3-pointer against SMU as the greatest buzzer beater in USF hoops history. Accompanying it was arguably the greatest call in Bulls radio history by longtime hoops voice Jim Lighthall: A contested 3-point shot that scraped the roof panels!! That ball lost tiles on re-entry!! George Lucas couldn’t have scripted a more riveting end to a career.
Male Single-Game Effort of the Year
Unable to find a running lane or rhythm in USF’s first four games, Jordan Cronkrite broke out in USF’s most impressive effort of the season. The senior tailback collected 158 yards (81 more than he totaled his first four contests) and two touchdowns on 26 carries to help the Bulls rally for a 27-23 homecoming triumph against BYU. His 41-yard dash set up his go-ahead 3-yard scoring run with 7:37 to play.
Female Single-Game Effort of the Year
While Georgina Corrick’s 18 strikeouts against Wisconsin tied USF softball’s single-game record, we defer to point guard Sydni Harvey, who was equally mesmerizing in a critical conference game. The 5-foot-10 sophomore went 7-for-8 from 3-point range, scoring 25 points in the Bulls’ 99-51 embarrassment of Temple. Her turnover-free 28 minutes included two steals, two assists and a 4-for-4 performance from the free-throw line.
Pregame Speech of the Year
The way USF coach Brian Gregory saw it, UCF’s five-year men’s basketball win streak against the Bulls was snuffed out in 2½ poignant minutes. On the eve of the Feb.1 Knights-Bulls game at the Yuengling Center, Robert Herrion ― 14-year-old son of Bulls assistant Tom Herrion ― shared his trials and triumphs as a high-functioning autistic child in a brief address to the team. “We are all people,” Robert told the group. “Every one of us here in this room has different talents and gifts. We should love each other for who we are.” The following night, USF rolled to a 64-48 triumph, snapping a nine-game skid against UCF.
Career Seasons Cut Short
Pole vaulters Stephanie Lambeth and Stone Baker were warranting athlete-of-the-year consideration when their outdoor seasons ended before they began. Baker, a River Ridge High alumnus, had four top-three finishes during the indoor season including a third-place showing at the AAC meet. Lambeth won the AAC indoor crown (13 feet, 6.5 inches). Meantime, Corrick appeared well on her way to a third consecutive AAC pitcher of the year honor (12-3, 1.27 ERA, 97.1 IP, 127 strikeouts) when the season was halted.
Predictions for 2020-21
Football is played this fall. … The Bulls women’s basketball team captures the program’s first conference title, returns to NCAA Tournament for first time in three seasons. … Buoyed by the return of power forward Alexis Yetna, men’s basketball team earns NIT bid. … Softball team, minus Eriksen, wins AAC softball title. … Post-pandemic hunger for Bulls sports, combined with gradually rebounding economy, leads to boost in donor support, prompting school officials to announce a 2021 ground-breaking for USF Football Center.