The year that was: First half dominated by football success, Michael Sam, DGB troubles

2014’s top stories led by Sam, DGB dismissal, another football title

Part one of two parts

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

By Darren Hellwege

It’s been an extraordinary year in Missouri sports, both on and off the field of play. As 2015 begins, let’s look back at some of the biggest stories of each month of the last year.

January

The year began with a barn-burner of a football game with Mizzou beating Oklahoma State 41-31 in the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys led in the final five minutes, but a Henry Josey touchdown put Mizzou ahead and a touchdown on a fumble return by Shane Ray cemented the victory. It was something of a torch-passing, as the final game of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam saw a big play by the Tigers’ next great lineman.

Also in January:

  • The men’s basketball team fell from top 25 after an emotional home loss to Georgia.
  • Pat Ivey named Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by a national organization.
  • MU Athletics Hall of Fame inducted Ashley Wysong (cross country) John Putnam (swimming) Aaron Crow (baseball) and Dan Pippen (basketball).
  • Wrestling bested Oklahoma in battle of top-10 teams
  • Women’s basketball upset Vanderbilt with freshman Kayla McDowell made key contributions off the bench
  • In gymnastics 11 personal bests were set or tied, including 9.90 on beam from Rachel Updike, as Mizzou fell just short against Arkansas

February

The new face of gay rights? The Human Rights Campaign is already using Michael Sam's image in an ad for its organization.

The Human Rights Campaign is using Michael Sam’s image in an ad for its organization.

This was the month that put Mizzou in the national spotlight. Tiger great Michael Sam, just weeks after playing his final game, publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. It would be one of the biggest stories of the year in sports, but a story that was under-reported was how well the Tiger family responded to the news, from teammates (who had been told long before the public statement) to the student body and fans who stood by the thousands in the snow to support Sam when Westboro Baptist Church brought their sideshow to Columbia.

Also in February:

  • Freshman Tori Finucane got the win as Tigers beat No. 14 Arizona in an early softball matchup.
  • The football signing class included All-American lineman Andy Bauer and juco transfer CB Kenya Dennis. Dennis was a started by the time SEC play came around and was a key part of the outstanding Tigers defense.

The men’s basketball won home thrillers vs. Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The rivalry with Arkansas may be something that develops over time in other sports, but the presence of Mike Anderson made this one red-hot immediately.

  • Double-double from frosh Sierra Michaelis lead the women’s basketball team to an upset win at Florida. The 2013-2014 freshman class has turned into excellent players although good fortune wouldn’t always follow them (see December.)
  • Bryan Blitz signed an outstanding recruiting class for the soccer team including the younger sisters of two current players.

 

March

Perhaps the most successful program on campus, the wrestling team garnered a number of awards including: winning its third straight Mid-American Conference Championship; J’Den Cox won an individual national championship in Oklahoma City as a true freshman, the first Tiger ever to do so; Drake Houdashelt and Cox were All-Americans and the MAC named Cox Wrestler of Year and Brian Smith Coach of the Year.

Also in March:

  • In football, Gary Pinkel agreed to a new contract, locking the legendary coach into Tiger stripes through 2020.
  • Jake Ring scored the go-ahead run as the baseball team upset then-No. 17 Tennessee in series opener; Tigers won series vs. No. 20 Auburn. The early wins were the only highlights of a rough season.
  • In basketball, the Tigers beat Texas A&M in two overtimes before losing to Florida in SEC Championships, then went 1-1 in NIT. Tony Criswell was suspended for the SEC tourney and NIT game, leading to speculation, never confirmed, that he’d been kicked off the team. He would be far from the only player kicked off the team (if he was) in 2014.
  • For them women, Bri Kulas was named All-SEC but the team was beaten in an WNIT heartbreaker.
  • Mackenzie Sykes’ walk-off homer in Game Two gave the Tiger key softball series win vs. No. 13 Georgia.
  • David Bonuchi nabbed All-American honors in diving at NCAAs, while swimmers Katharine Ross, Danielle Barbiea were named All-American. Ross is Mizzou’s first freshman AA since ’78.
  • Kearston Peoples and Jill Rushin both were All-American shot putters at the NCAA Championships
  • Gymnasts Rebecca Johnson, Sasha Sander and Rachel Updike earned All-SEC honors.

 

April

Mizzou is once again in the national spotlight as superstar receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is dismissed from the football team after repeated legal problems. It was part of a year that put focus on domestic violence by football players (college and professional) although Green-Beckham never faced official charges in the incident. DGB transferred to Oklahoma and had to sit out the season. While he’d be eligible to play for the Sooners next year, speculation is that he may decide to go pro.

Also in April:

  • Men’s basketball coach Frank Haith surprises Tiger fans by heading to Tulsa. MU alum and former assistant coach Kim Anderson named new head coach. Anderson had won a national championship at Central Missouri, but some wondered whether he could make the successful jump from Division II.
  • Zach Price dismissed from men’s basketball following legal problems with teammate Earnest Ross.
  • Softball wins series at Florida, freshman pitcher Tori Finucane was named national player of the week.
  • Senior Eric Anderson was SEC Baseball Player of the Week following series win against No. 15 Kentucky.
  • WNBA’s San Antonio Stars drafted Bri Kulas. She didn’t stick with the Stars, deciding instead to play professionally overseas.
  • Freshman Jess Meek tied for 10th at SEC women’s golf tourney.
  • Mizzou gymnastics finished in top-20 nationally in attendance.
  • A frustrating season gains highlight as women’s tennis knocked off Mississippi State for first SEC win of the year. It was an emotional moment as a wild celebration was set off following the clinching victory by Alex Clark, who had taken time off during the season following the death of her mother. Tigers hosted the SEC Championships, getting a first round win over Arkansas before losing to the Aggies.

 

May

While most of the attention went to the last one selected, four Tigers went in the NFL Draft: Kony Ealy, Justin Britt, E.J. Gaines and Michael Sam. While Sam famously spent time on practice squads in St. Louis and Dallas, the others saw significant playing time in the NFL. It’s no surprise that Ealy played plenty for the Panthers, but bigger seasons were seen from Britt, who started all 16 games for the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and Gaines who became a solid starter for the Rams backfield.

Also in May:

  • Tiger baseball suffered through three SEC sweeps. In spite of speculation that he was on the hot seat, Tim Jamieson got the support of Mike Alden for at least one more season. 2015 will be Jamieson’s 21st as coach.
  • Men’s golf team placed third in NCAA Regional, its best regional performance in team history. Emilio Cuartero’s -11 took top individual honors. Tigers went on to finish 20th at NCAA championships.
  • The softball team fell to Nebraska in regional final and Taylor Gadbois was named All-American. Gadbois returns to the team in 2015 along with a very strong supporting cast for coach Ehren Earleywine.
  • Former Mizzou All-American Molly Kreklow was named to US National Volleyball Team. Kreklow appears to be a favorite to play for the US in 2016 Olympics.

 

June

  • Hawaii point guard Keith Shamburger announces his transfer to Missouri, big news for a young men’s basketball team. Jordan Clarkson is drafted by NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, passing up his senior year at Mizzou. The same move didn’t work out as well for Jabari Brown, who went undrafted and now toils in the NBA’s Development League.
  • The baseball team announces strong signing class, including top-40 prospect Shane Benes (son of former Cardinal Andy.) Brett Graves was drafted in third round and Keaton Steele in eighth of MLB Draft.
  • Golfers Emilio Cuartero and Ryan Zech and pole vaulter Katrine Haarklau all earn All-American honors.

 

Hellwege’s look back on Missouri’s year in sports continues tomorrow.
Twitter: @kbiahellwege
Member, United States Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America

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