You could make a strong case that Julie Labonté was the UA's leading athlete of the 2010-11 sports calendar. She won two NCAA championships, set the Canadian record for the women's shot put and was undefeated - 12 for 12.
The odds of her ever stepping on Arizona's campus were beyond laughable. They were infinitesimal.
"Three or four years ago, I was checking the Internet, scanning the top throws for the world juniors and came upon Julie's name," remembers UA assistant coach Craig Carter. "It seemed like a reach. She lived in Quebec, and I had absolutely no connection to her. I found what I thought might be her Facebook page and sent a message. I asked if I could call her."
Labonté responded: Don't call. She couldn't speak English well enough to chat with anybody.
This is when a lot of college coaches move on and recruit somebody with less resistance, or at least someone who doesn't answer the phone with Bonjour.
Carter persisted. Forget the extra work and worry required to get Labonté academically certified by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Carter took it on faith that Labonté would become proficient in English during her final year of high school. If you are to become a top-10 track and field program at Arizona, you don't do it by recruiting head-to-head against UCLA and Stanford.
You do the extra work required to get Julie Labonté out of Sainte-Justine, Quebec. You take a chance that the coaches at Oregon and Texas don't take.
"It's almost funny. By the time we locked up Julie, the only other offer she had was from UNC-Charlotte," says Carter. "She's a difference-maker and a wonderful young lady. All the work was worth it."
A lot of people in the track and field community noticed what Craig Carter has done during Arizona's emergence as a top-10 program. On Monday, his peers at USA Track and Field selected him as the national assistant coach of the year.
Some of it was because Labonté became the most-dominating thrower in NCAA women's track and field. And some of it was because Carter swam upstream to find and successfully recruit two more 2011 first-team All-Americans: freshman women's discus thrower Baillie Gibson of Casper, Wyo.; and freshman men's thrower Bozidar Antunovic of Indjija, Serbia.
"There is no easy way," says Carter. "Serbia or Wyoming or Quebec. You never know. When I initially contacted Bozidar, he knew more about Tucson and the Arizona track program than I knew about him. He can be as good or better than anybody in the country for the next three years. So can Baillie."
Carter didn't invent success in the UA throws program. In the 20 seasons before being hired by Fred Harvey, the Wildcats had a thriving throws program under Mike Maynard, now the head coach at UCLA, and John Frazier, now an assistant coach at Tennessee.
Carla Garrett, Esko Mikkola and Chima Ugwu were among the UA's many All-America throwers. But, decidedly, Carter has taken it to another level.
He was not deterred when record-setting McMinnville, Ore., prep shot-putter Alyssa Hasslen, who seemed headed to nearby track powerhouse Oregon, showed up for her Arizona recruiting visit wearing a green Oregon Ducks sweatshirt.
"Are you kidding?" Carter said at the airport. "What's with that Oregon stuff?"
"It's cold up there," said Hasslen, who finished second in the Pac-10 meet this year. "It's all I have."
By the end of her Tucson visit, Hasslen was determined to work out in the sun, rather than the rain. The Ducks offered her a partial scholarship, believing the mystique of UO track and field would cover the rest. Carter worked harder; he knew that Hasslen was an honor student. So he was able to work with the administration to get her a partial academic scholarship and a partial track scholarship, all of which equals a full scholarship.
Now, along with Gibson and Labonté, Carter said he believes Hasslen has the type of ability to challenge for the NCAA title over the next two seasons.
All of them frequently work out with America's leading female shot-putter, Olympian Jill Camarena-Williams, a Tucson resident who has trained with Carter since his arrival in 2006.
If you get better by working out with the best, the shot put and discus sessions at Drachman Stadium have become mini-All-Star competitions.
"We're just getting started in some ways," says Carter. "I really think the best is yet to come."
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org