July 11, 2011
In a little more than a month, SUU soccer will kick off the new year of SUU sports by hosting Utah State. The T-Birds, as a whole, are coming off a rebound season in the majority of their programs. With that, the 2011-2012 will be interesting — as well as the final year before SUU moves over the Big Sky Conference.
I believe the majority of the programs will make competition in the Summit League interesting this year, as well as the Great West and Western Athletic Conferences.
Before I delve into my list of athletes to keep an eye on in the 11-12 school year, I will admit the amount of talent at SUU is rising, making this list difficult to complete. Each team and each sport at SUU has multiple athletes easily capable of making this list.
But these are the 10 athletes I believe will be the most exciting to watch, most clutch and overall best athletes throughout the school year at SUU:
10. Shelby Ostler, F, Soccer
Ostler finished last season second with five goals as a sophomore, but a flurry of those came in conference play. Her and Missy Lazcano each dominated at the end of the season — but Ostler's four conference goals helped charge a team yearning for postseason return.
It's clear to me that the soccer team is nearing league success before leaving for the Big Sky. This could be a breakout season for the team especially with the breakout success of Ostler, Lazcano, Riley Bassett — and if captain Stacey Brinkman can stay healthy. The T-Birds also saw substantial growth in goalkeeper Charly Booth last season; Booth can easily be the best goalkeeper in the conference.
But the one thing that separates Ostler from the rest, for me, is Ostler's hustle — it was fun to watch while broadcasting games on the radio last year. She's fun to watch and that hustle eventually led to the five goals down the stretch. I'd imagine she'll continue where she left off last season.
You heard it here first, don't be shocked if T-Bird soccer makes a serious run at the postseason — or further.
9. Shaye Maurer, Track and Field
Maurer had one hell of a Summit League Championship weekend, setting four school records in that time. She scorched a 7.65-second time in the 60-meter dash, an 8.52 time and second place finish in the 60-meter hurdles, 3791 points in the pentathlon and tied her record in the high jump at 5 feet 4.25 inches.
Fans like her, she's a Cedar City native with blazing speed. It's one of the reasons she won a vote on the unofficial SUU T-Bird Facebook Page, beating out every other athlete at SUU.
She is SUU's Queen of Speed.
8. Desiree Jackson, G, Women's Basketball
Perhaps no team made more of surprising splash than the women's basketball team last year. However, its three best players have all graduated and moved on with their lives — Challis Pascucci and Tiny Goff trying out European ball; Caitlyn Sears as an assistant coach now — the team will be younger than ever.
This gives Desiree Jackson, a sophomore this year, complete control of the team — in a way. She was third in scoring last season with 9.8 points per game and she got a few 20-point games under her belt early. She could easily run point, averaging 1.63 assists per game last season, but chances are she becomes the No. 2 guard, while DJ Norman and Angel Dorn run the point.
It'll be interesting how this very young team — one with no seniors and just two incoming juniors — will repeat its surprising success this season, but when Jackson has the ball ... there's no telling what will happen.
7. Ray Jones Jr., PG, Men's Basketball
SUU basketball has gone through another makeover for next season, but Ray Jones is back — and that could be the most important thing. I could go with forwards Matt Massey and Jackson Stevenett here, but when it comes to leadership and excitement.
Jones — running the point — will set up Massey and Stevenett for dunks, unless he's flying high for the slam too. When you're in the Centrum Arena, keep an eye on No. 5 when he's on the court because he won't let you down.
Ray continues to tell me he'll take the rock into his own hands this year, which will make things even more fun to watch. There's nothing more fun to watch than a speedy, athletic point guard taking control of a game.
Men's basketball returned to the postseason this past season and, with South Dakota ineligible for postseason, have the odds in their favor to return again.
6. Jeff Evans, Men's Golf
Even SUU News's golf expert Joshua Perry has noted that Evans' rise has come out of nowhere. Evans went from Cedar High School Grad/nobody to one of — if not the best — collegiate golfers in the state of Utah.
On Sunday he completed a dramatic comeback to win the Utah Golf Association's Utah State Amateur title. This came a day after Evans birdied three of the last five holes to force a playoff against former T-Bird John Busby, which Evans eventually won — followed by another comeback victory against Connor Jones.
Before the Utah Amateur title, Evans became the first in SUU history to be named the Summit League's Male Golfer of the Year. He averaged a 72.59 per round with a season low of 67 during the year. Evans also finished at par or better in six of the 11 tournaments this past year.
For the record, Perry is sure Evans is bound for an even better season this year.
5. Analaine Pelaez, OH, Volleyball
When Pelaez spikes a ball, it seriously sounds like a gun going off inside the Centrum Arena. For those like me sitting on press row, it sounds like an invitation for decapitation.
But as hard as she smacks that ball, it's not the reason she's No. 5 on this list. She's the leader of one of the best teams on campus right now. SUU Volleyball — in its sophomore season — was predicted to finish No. 8 in league play last season, but overachieved to a No. 3 finish. If it weren't for a minor slip-up near the end of the season, SUU could've easily been No. 1 in the conference.
In 2009, Pelaez was Summit League Freshman of the Year — despite battling a nagging shoulder injury throughout the year. In 2010, she made it on the league's First Team list under South Dakota State's Kelli Fiegen, the eventual MVP of the league.
Pelaez has led the T-Birds in kills the past two seasons, including 464 (4.07 per set) last year. She's racked up 932 total kills in two years. She also was second last year with 381 digs, behind libero Caitlin Jensen. Sure she's not as kickass as Caitlin Jensen, but Pelaez is a definite thrill to watch.
4. Alyssa Click, Gymnastics
Alyssa Click came to SUU as a coveted asset to the T-Birds' 2010 run to their first WAC Championship crown. That season she won Freshman Gymnast of the Year as the T-Birds swept the major awards. She struggled somewhat this past season, missing the first two meets because of an undisclosed suspension. She then battled through a couple of falls to end the season well.
In 2010, SUU had a "Batman and Robin" duo in Elise Wheeler and Melissa Johnson. In 2012, Click will make her much anticipated debut to the all-around — adding vault to her repertoire. With the rise of Michaela Chernoch on three of the four events, it almost appears SUU has that star duo in the works.
With Boise State thrown out of WAC Gymnastics (because of their switch to the MWC), SUU appears to be the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference for the second time in three years. The T-Birds will also welcome back a healthy Brooke Cersosimo.
Expect big things from an athlete so well-liked, she's even etched into the logo of a T-Bird gymnastics shirt.
3. Bo Cuthbertson, SS, Baseball
Bo Cuthbertson has always been a great hitter for the T-Birds. He hit .400+ his freshman season, but still 2011 was his breakout year.
Cuthbertson was named the Summit League Player of the Year following a .432 season. He collected 83 hits, including 20 doubles, seven triples, and five homers in 51 games. The season was good enough to even get Cuthbertson on the third-team All-American list.
He was named to the College Baseball Lineup 2011 DL All-Star Team and the American Baseball Coaches Association Midwest All-Region Second Team on June 30 — as well. 2012 will be the final season for Cuthbertson and he'll be looking to project that to some sort of professional career. One thing is for sure, he's going to collect hits.
2. Brad Sorensen, QB, Football
Are you ready for some football?
Well, we're about a month and a half away from the start of the SUU pigskin season, but already Sorensen is making noise throughout the country. We all witnessed it last year, Sorensen has a strong arm. He does, however, lose his top two targets from last season.
That hasn't stopped the hype from rolling in. Sorensen was named to The Sports Network's Top 10 FCS Quarterbacks on May 4 and on July 11, he was added to the Payton Award watch list for the 2011 best FCS player in the country. However, the highest praise he's received came from ESPN, which named him the third-best non-FBS player in the country.
There's good reason for the praise too. Last season Sorensen threw for 3,231 yards and 21 touchdowns. The yardage was the most by any quarterback in school history, while the touchdown mark was third. Especially working under QB Coach Paul Peterson, Sorensen has excelled.
The Spring Game showcased Sorensen's talents, even with a pair of new targets. His top target in that scrimmage, Miles Crawford-Harris, had been playing defense his entire career and still made him look like the T-Birds' greatest offensive threat of all-time — Tysson Poots.
This could easily be a year for Sorensen to showcase into an NFL career and it will be interesting to see what he can do. On a side note, it's only a matter of time until people realize Ed Lamb and Peterson should be strong candidates for bigger programs.
1. Cam Levins, Cross Country/Track and Field
What does Cam Levins have left to do? He's done everything and then some more.This will be it for Levins, though. His final year — after redshirting last year.
2010-2011 was a year to remember for Levins, who won the Canadian Cross-Country Championship, finished 57th in the World Cross-Country championship and broke his own record in the 1,500-meter almost every time out.
I don't know what I have to even say here, he's just too impressive for words. Expect one final great year by Levins.