Hawaii’s Top 2006 Sports Stories

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 03, 2007
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End of the year and another top-stories list (the fruitcake of holiday journalism).

Bad Decision: If former Warrior Ashley Lelie had transferred his college success to the NFL or had effectively played the understudy role to Javon Walker, he wouldn’t be on any list. But when a career backup demands a trade after his team acquires a first-string receiver, it garners attention. Lelie made it known that he believed he was a No. 1 option, while his coach found it strange that he had yet to beat out the 36-year-old he was drafted to replace. Famous or infamous will get you listed.

Back in the Game: After what seemed like a lifetime for UH baseball fans, the Rainbows finally made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. What had been a yearly occurrence during the prime time of Les Murakami’s reign had slipped to the status of an also-ran that culminated in a 16-40 first year for coach Mike Trapasso. Five years later the team finished 42-13 before losing to Oregon State in the regional finals, after losing All-American pitcher Steven Wright to mononucleosis.

The International Game:

Where the Rainbows brought college fans back to Les Murakami Stadium during the school year, Hawaii Winter Baseball did the same for the off season. After a nine-year hiatus, the league re-emerged with a smaller lineup and, finally, the financial support of Major League Baseball. First year blips made sure not everything went as smoothly as hoped, but the games were exciting, the talent obvious and if you had forgotten how good a day of baseball could be at Hans L’Orange Field, we were quickly reminded with the smell of barbecue, and the constant sound of keiki at play and rushing for foul balls along the right field foul line.

Final Go Around: At 9-4 in what is his 20th and last season at the helm of Rainbow Warrior basketball, it’s hard to predict where Riley Wallace’s team will finish. But the constant chatter by fans and media about whether he should stay or go, or who should be his replacement, has been a discussion for months. Even the national media got involved during the Great Alaskan Shootout when an ESPN color commentator berated the athletic administration for making Wallace a lame duck coach, saying it would hurt recruiting and would worry current players about their futures and roles on the team. Riley’s been pushing for 26-year veteran Bob Nash to take over. ESPN agreed. Will Herman Frazier?

Golf Juniors: Parents, get those small clubs ready. Earlier this year, 15-year-old Tad Fujikawa became the youngest person to ever play in the U.S. Open. He also qualified for the Sony and had won three amateur events. Kimberly Kim became the youngest U.S. Women’s'Amateur champ at the age of 14. She also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. Punahou’s other top golfer, Stephanie Kono, won her second straight ILH and first state title with a record round of 64. She played in the U.S. Women’s Open and was a 2006 Rolex Junior All-America first team, while Cyd Okino topped Michelle Wie by being the youngest winner of the Prince Resorts Hawaii State Open.

Speaking of Wie: Whether she was getting crushed by the men or finishing tenth in the LPGA world ranking while playing only part of a season, we could-n’t stop talking about Michelle Wie. She took penalty strokes for illegal drops, was knocked out by of heat exhaustion, proved nearly everyone wrong by pursuing her education, and opened her sizable wallet for sick children in Korea, homeless in Waianae, a paralyzed high school football player in Illinois and we all had an opinion. Don’t expect it to stop as she takes on the men once again at Waialae next week.

Over the Hump: After years of honing his game in Australia, Japan and elsewhere, Dean Wilson got victory No. 1 at The International at Castle Rock, Colo. The guy made famous for playing with and supporting Annika Sorenstam in her bid at the Colonial is now a tour champion with a secure future. He finished the year No. 22 on the money list and with his short game, winning should continue.

Big Kick: Soccer, at least among the young, may be bigger in Hawaii than many other states, but that has not yet made it a professional hot spot. Brian Ching may help change that - at least a little bit. He was the MLS Cup most valuable player, played on an all-star team against the English Premiere League’s Chelsea Club, won kick of the year - and there was that whole making-the- World-Cup thing.

Top Dogs: You could make a best of list from the UH football team alone. A record 12 wins, a WAC coach of the year award, a greatly improved defense and NFL prospects abound. But really this comes down to two men. One Nasti one nice. Nate Ilaoa ran for 990 yards while hauling in 837 in receiving. His ability to run with both power and speed haven’t been seen since the days of Travis Sims. Because of his ability to run (7.6 yards per carry) and the effectiveness of the shuffle pass - UH’s version of the draw play - defenses could-n’t drop back everyone in coverage as in years past, and the passing game flourished.

No doubt many rolled their eyes when head coach June Jones said Colt Brennan would someday be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. Doesn’t seem so silly now, does it?

Colt set records for touchdowns (58) and quarterback rating (185.96) while leading the nation in six passing categories even though he didn’t play the fourth quarter in seven games. He is the third player in NCAA history to log 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns and was first team all-conference, second team Walter Camp All-American, sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and the winner of the Sammy Baugh Trophy for nation’s best quarterback.

Group these any way you want. Colt’s No. 1 even if he’d give the award to Nate.

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