Fab Five for Class of 2014 includes CDO catcher, 4 others from 4 sports
After freshman catcher Samantha "Sammy" Nettling hit .440 as a full-time starter on Canyon del Oro's 2011 state championship softball team, every elite team in college softball knew who she was.
By the middle of her sophomore season, 2012, Nettling had narrowed her choices to Arizona, ASU, Oregon and Northwestern. Nettling, daughter of former UA football tight end Bill Nettling, became accomplished at game management, calling pitches and hitting in the clutch.
Who wouldn't want her to play on their softball team? She has a .422 career batting average at CDO, with 126 RBIs, never hitting lower than .413 in a season.
But she disappeared from the recruiting radar and the attendant where's-she-going-to-school chatter when, in March 2012, she made a final decision. While watching Northwestern play in an ASU-sponsored tournament in Tempe, she told Northwestern coach Kate Drohan she would be a Wildcat - a Northwestern Wildcat.
When Nettling broke the news to Arizona coach Mike Candrea, she did so while in tears.
In my opinion, she is Tucson's top recruit, male or female, in the Class of 2014. She has helped CDO go 99-12 and is at the top of another typically strong Tucson softball recruiting class, one in which at least 16 have already made commitments to play college softball, including Sabino leadoff hitter Kelsey Jenkins to Wisconsin and Cienega standout Makena Brawley to BYU.
Here's my Fab Five list for the Class of 2014:
- 1. Nettling.
- 2. Michaela Crunkleton Wilson, track, Salpointe. She can write her ticket to any of the Pac-12's leading track and field schools, among them Stanford, Arizona and USC. Crunkleton Wilson won the state championship in the 100, 200 and 400 meters this year, and the 100 and 200 meters as a sophomore. Her career best at 100 meters is a blazing 11.83.
- 3. Alex Verdugo, baseball, Sahuaro. The lefty pitcher-outfielder will get a national spotlight on Saturday when he plays in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. As a Sahuaro junior, he batted .484 and struck out 131 batters in 65 innings. He has committed to play for Arizona State.
- 4. Krystal Quihuis, Salpointe, golf. The leading girls golfer in Tucson since Sahuaro's Cindy Rarick 35 years ago, Quihuis is a two-time defending state champion who has already accepted a scholarship from Arizona coach Laura Ianello. Quihuis' career moment came last week when her 25-foot birdie putt clinched Team USA's Junior Solheim Cup victory over Europe.
- 5. Cameron Denson, football, Salpointe. As a Lancer junior, Denson rushed for 1,026 yards, most as an emergency QB, and caught 37 passes. He chose Arizona over Notre Dame and Oklahoma, among others.
Waiting list: Sabino tackle Andrew Mike, who will choose from Washington, Vanderbilt and Arizona, among others; Sahuaro soccer forward Jasmine Simmons, who has already accepted a scholarship from Arizona; Walden Grove freestyle swimmer Trey Cashion, who entered this month's USA National Junior Olympics ranked No. 5 in the 100 freestyle; and Catalina Foothills senior basketball players Chaz Mack and Austin Nehls, both of whom averaged more than 19 points last season for the 29-4 Falcons.
Name to remember I: Tucson High sophomore Mia Sokolowski, who at 6 feet 3 inches, projects as one of the top volleyball prospect in Tucson since 2001 national Gatorade Player of the Year Bre Ladd of CDO.
Name to remember II: Sati Santa Cruz, a 6-2, 220-pound junior first baseman-pitcher, hit. 426 as a sophomore and was 6-1 with 77 strikeouts in 42 innings at Sahuarita last season. Santa Cruz last week participated in USA Baseball's 17U national camp in North Carolina. He has already committed to play for Arizona's Andy Lopez.
Rivera-Morales has shot at medal in '16
- Luis Rivera-Morales finished sixth in the NCAA long jump while a senior at Arizona, an All-American who became the first UA athlete from nearby Agua Prieta, Sonora, to make an impact for the Wildcats. He also earned a degree in industrial engineering. But last week Rivera-Morales went a step beyond. He won the bronze medal in the world championships in Russia, jumping 27 feet 1¾ inches. That puts him in the hunt among medal contenders at the 2016 Olympics. It becomes the longest jump in history by a current/former Arizona Wildcat. In 1982, Vance Johnson won the NCAA title with a jump of 26-11¼.
- Pueblo grad Michael Perez, who averaged 11 points per game as a UTEP sophomore in 2011-12, is active again in college basketball. Perez scored 23 points for the Nevada Wolf Pack in the first two games of their European Tour, in Italy, last week. He projects as a starting wing player at Nevada after sitting out in 2012-13.
- Colorado somewhat quietly hired athletic director Rick George, business operations director of the Texas Rangers, last month. But it wasn't so quiet last week when the Buffaloes announced George would be paid $700,000 annually. That skews the new market for ADs in the Pac-12. UCLA's Dan Guerrero, at $750,000, is believed to be the highest-paid among league ADs. Arizona's Greg Byrne, whose total package, including retention bonus, is at $600,000, and ASU's Steve Patterson, with a listed salary of $365,000. That ADs compensation market is now more fluid than ever.
- When the fan-voting part of the Bowerman Award - track and field's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy — completed last week, Arizona distance runner Lawi Lalang and high jumper Brigetta Barrett both finished third out of three. Lalang had just 21 percent of the vote; Barrett 19 percent. The male and female winners won't be announced until Dec. 17; we hope the Bowerman committee is more insightful than the online voting fans.
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Sunnyside Little League's Jazmine Ayala has pitching in her genes. Her mom once struck out 15 in a game. (Ross William Hamilton / The Oregonian )
Victor's commitment a reason for celebration
- UA assistant basketball coach Book Richardson once told me that when you recruit at a school like Arizona, the targets are of such magnitude that each time you get a commitment you "feel like having a parade." Such was the case Saturday when Arizona got a pledge from 6-foot-8-inch New Orleans forward Craig Victor. Much like his predecessor Lute Olson, Sean Miller has established a series of parades in a very short time.
- Salpointe Catholic begins its football season Saturday night in Las Vegas, against Liberty High School, the start to a three-game stretch as difficult as any Tucson team has likely ever encountered. Dennis Bene's Lancers follow the Nevada game with an Aug. 30 home showdown against powerful Sabino, and then goes to Crespi High in Encino, Calif., on Sept. 7. But Salpointe is so deep that Bene is likely to start just four players both ways: Cameron Denson at receiver and in the secondary; sophomore center and defensive tackle Justin Holt; running back/defensive back Jay Williams and linebacker/fullback Taylor Powell. Saturday's game will be televised by Fox Sports Arizona.
- When Sunnyside won the Little League Softball World Series on Wednesday in Oregon, it was unusually emotional for winning pitcher Jazmine Ayala. Her mother, Monica Fregoso Ayala, a former standout pitcher at both Desert View and Sunnyside high schools, was killed in a June 2008 one-car rollover accident near Three Points. Monica was just 28. She was such an accomplished pitcher that in 1991, also playing for Sunnyside Little League, she struck out 15 batters in a regional playoff game against Colorado.
- Stone Canyon club director of golf Mike Russell shot a 13-under-par 59 last weekend on his home course, the sixth round in the 50s in Tucson history. Russell, a left-hander, said he has been playing the best golf of his life as a 30- and 40-something pro. Why the delay? "It was really tough, as a lefty, to find the equipment that would fit me as a younger player," he said. "If you're not on the radar as a top player, you don't have access to the very best. But once I got at Stone Canyon, I got into a position where I could get the equipment that best fits me." Russell won the 2010 and 2011 PGA Southwest Section, Southern Chapter Championships.
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Pima hoops coach Peabody knows 2 speeds: fast and really fast
- After he became the men's basketball coach at Pima College in June, former Ironwood Ridge state championship coach Brian Peabody accelerated his pace. He debuted the Tucson Basketball Academy, a standalone facility on East Pima Street, which played host to more than 1,000 boys and girls over an eight-week period in a camp-like setting. He hired former UA players Felicity Willis and Kim Conway Greene to work with girls in grades 1-12. Peabody employs a handful of high school coaches to help run the boys program. Peabody won't take the school season off; after-school training for boys and girls begins Monday and runs through Sept. 27. Information at tucsonbasketballacademy.com.
- Jim Livengood, athletic director at Arizona from 1994 to 2010, will be the featured guest at the third annual Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic on Aug. 28 at the Doubletree Hotel. Ticket information at coachesforcharity.org. The following night, Sahuaro will play at Tucson High in the annual charity game, a busy Thursday night in which rivals Mountain View and Marana, and Sahuarita and Walden Grove will open their football seasons against one another.
- Those six teams will avoid the regrettable Friday night, Aug. 30 conflict with the UA-NAU game at Arizona Stadium. Friday night college football is a bad idea. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is stepping onto that once-hallowed turf by approving so many Friday night kickoffs this season. Marquee games such as UCLA-Washington and USC-Oregon State will be played on Friday night this season. And all are likely to run to 11 p.m., or thereafter, in Tucson.
- After hearing that his Conquistadores colleague and longtime friend Dave Sitton died last week, Tucson attorney Burt Kinerk phoned Sitton's cell number. "I left a message," said Kinerk. "I know that I will get a return call." That is typical of so many in the community; Sitton would always get back to you. A celebration of Sitton's life will be held at 6 p.m. today at McKale Center.
MY TWO CENTS
The Chicken, aka Ted Giannoulas, is set to make his final appearance at Kino Stadium on Saturday night. Giannoulas, semi-retired, just turned 60.(Dean Knuth / Arizona Daily Star 2011)
Padres' final run: Squawk for Chicken, boo Reno
On Wednesday, the Tucson Padres begin what appears to be the final homestand in the history of Pacific Coast League baseball here.
It'll be a nine-game farewell that GM Mike Feder has loaded with era-ending celebrations.
Among the highlights: The Chicken, Ted Giannoulas, is scheduled to make his final Tucson appearance Saturday night, followed by the final fireworks display of the season. Giannoulas is now 60. Hard to believe. Feder persuaded him to come out of semi-retirement to work at Kino Stadium this week. The Chicken has worked just one minor-league game this season.
The day before, the T-Pads will hold "Bear Down Friday," when prominent athletes from UA and Tucson will play in a celebrity softball game from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Among those set to return: shortstop Dave Rohde, a regular on Tucson's first PCL championship team in 1991 and a starter on UA's 1986 College World Series title team.
The final game is Aug. 29, against the Reno Aces, which seems appropriate. The Aces are the old Tucson Sidewinders, who bolted town five years ago and served as the beginning-of-the-end for PCL baseball in Tucson. I plan to show up just to boo, if nothing else.