None of the eight Bulls track and field athletes who competed at last weekend’s NCAA East Preliminary qualified for nationals, signaling a drab conclusion to the USF sports season.
But was it a fitting one?
Some might concede it was, considering the mediocrity of the football and baseball teams, the injury-maligned women’s basketball season, and the fact that UCF annihilated the Bulls, 70-14, in the “War on I-4” all-sports points standings.
Yet bright moments also abounded. The men’s basketball team provided a constellation of them. So too did softball and women’s soccer. Volleyball had a breakthrough season of sorts, while the men’s tennis and golf teams reached their respective NCAA tournaments.
And if football scheduling were a sanctioned sport, Michael Kelly might own a national title recognized by everyone from Kirk Herbstreit to Colley Matrix.
Before Kelly announces his next blockbuster two-for-one deal, we take this opportunity for a comprehensive reflection ― good, bad, ugly and unprecedented ― of the 2018-19 season.
Team of the Year
We agonized over this one, which might be fitting in a way. No team on campus withstood more agony than the women’s hoops squad, which had lost three starters ― including All-America candidate Kitija Laksa ― to season-ending injuries by the first week of January. When a fourth opening-night starter ― veteran forward Alyssa Rader ― was lost for a substantial period with a concussion, the Bulls were left with a piecemeal playing rotation that featured five rookies. Yet this gritty assemblage of upstarts won six of its last nine regular season games to sneak into the WNIT. We remain convinced this 19-16 campaign remains the best coaching job of Jose Fernandez’s 19 seasons.
Male Athlete of the Year
With respect to resident heart-and-soul David Collins, the men’s basketball team’s breakthrough doesn’t materialize without the emergence of redshirt junior point guard Laquincy Rideau. After sitting out a season per NCAA guidelines, the Gardner-Webb transfer gave the Bulls a dimension they had woefully lacked: a physical point guard capable of penetrating at will and playing shutdown defense on the other end. Despite playing with an ailing foot down the stretch, Rideau led USF in assists (5.4 per game), set a program single-season record for steals (101) and finished second only to Collins in scoring (13.4 ppg). Not surprisingly, he was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Female Athlete of the Year
With a year of eligibility remaining, Evelyne Viens already has established herself as the best women’s soccer player in USF history. This past fall, the Canada native set school records for goals in a season (20), points in a season (47) and goals in a career (48) while helping lead the Bulls (15-4) to the NCAA Tournament. The 5-foot-8 striker scored the game-winner in six of her team’s 15 triumphs, tying the program single-season record she set in 2017. Such prolific offense, particularly in the clutch, earned Viens a third-team spot on the United Soccer Coaches All-America squad for the second year in a row. No other Bulls player has made that team even once.
Male Single-Game Performance of the Year
As first impressions go, few football players in USF history can match Terrence Horne. In the season’s second game, against Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium, the 5-foot-7 freshman took consecutive first-quarter kickoffs to the house, returning them 98 and 97 yards, respectively. For as long as NCAA football records have been chronicled, only 24 other players have returned two kicks for touchdowns in the same game. What many forget is that Horne nearly broke loose on the game’s opening kick, only to be tripped up inside his own 35. Unfortunately for fans, there would be no encore performance the rest of ’18; Horne tore his right ACL less than two weeks later and was lost for the season.
Female Single-Game Performance of the Year
Perhaps “single-game” isn’t a fair assessment of Georgina Corrick’s performance for the softball team on April 12. The 5-foot-11 right-handed sophomore essentially pitched two games in one night, working all 13 innings of the Bulls’ 2-0 triumph at UCF. By evening’s end, Corrick had thrown 165 pitches, faced 47 batters, struck out 10 and walked only one. Only two other Bulls pitchers ― Sara Nevins and Mo Triner ― have pitched 13 innings in one game, and both are in the USF Athletics Hall of Fame.
Best Performance No One Saw
USF entered the regular season’s final weekend needing a series victory against Wichita State to earn the eighth and final spot in the AAC tournament. After watching his team fall to the Shockers in Game One, Coach Billy Mohl gave the ball to junior Collin Sullivan in a do-or-die situation. The 6-foot-1 right-hander responded with arguably the best outing of his career, a complete-game two-hitter in a 2-0 triumph before an announced USF Baseball Stadium crowd of only 761. Sullivan threw 120 pitches, but needed only 55 to get through the first five innings as he retired the first nine batters he faced. The next day, USF fell 7-3 to the Shockers in the rubber match, ending its season.
Decision of the Year
We’ve never received a solid answer as to why the annual USF Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony ceased in the first place. But reviving it after more than a half-decade of dormancy was an endearing gesture by athletic director Michael Kelly, whose first 10 months on the job have been filled with them. USF will honor its first hall of fame class since 2013 when Sara Nevins (softball), Shantia Grace (women’s hoops) and George Selvie (football) formally are inducted this fall.
Sound Bite of the Year
“I’m telling you right now, we’re going to clean up this whole program. A lot of guys will be leaving. We need a good washing.” ― football coach Charlie Strong, moments after his team’s sixth consecutive defeat, a 38-20 loss to Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl. Two days later, the Tampa Bay Times learned 11 players had been suspended from the contest
Sound Bite of the Year, Part II
“Tough man, we’re tough. We’re not great, but we are tough.” ― men’s basketball coach Brian Gregory, struggling to keep his composure following his club’s 82-79 overtime win against Stony Brook, when the Bulls rallied from a 25-point deficit
Predictions for 2019-20
Men’s basketball team earns program’s fourth NCAA Tournament berth as one of Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In.” ... Bulls third-year sophomore Alexis Yetna declares for the NBA draft. ... Softball coach Ken Eriksen earns 1,000th career victory in late March, leads U.S. to Olympic gold medal in late summer. ... Football team drops season opener to Wisconsin, but rallies to finish 9-3 and earns a second consecutive Gasparilla Bowl berth. ... No ground is broken on the USF Football center, though committed money for the project inches toward $25 million. ... Though entered in the NCAA transfer portal, former Bulls long-range star Kitija Laksa opts not to play anywhere in 2019-20, choosing instead to focus on rehabbing her knee and pursuing pro opportunities. ... Michael Kelly arranges a two-for-one football deal with Green Bay; UCF schedules home-and-home with East Bay (Afford us a light moment, it has been a long year).
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.