Much To Cheer For Hawaii Fans

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 09, 2008
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Highlighted by personal sacrifices, long-overdue honors and boorish behavior, 2007 turned from a year of promise to one of historic significance and outstanding individual and group achievement.

University of Hawaii football

The Warriors were simply the hottest topic of conversation the entire year. Taken separately, the various achievements could account for five of the top stories of the year, but together they comprise 12 months of pride and accomplishment. The odyssey began just 17 days into the new year when Colt Brennan rejected the NFL with an emotionally choking comment that still resonates with fans. “I like the person I’m becoming in Hawaii. I want to give back to a school that gave back to me,” he said at the time. Things continued with a season opening No. 24 national ranking. The victory over Boise State followed, as did the undefeated season. Brennan became a Heisman finalist and the school ventured into uncharted territory with a BCS invitation.

Tadd Fujikawa

In a month of unexpected surprises, Fujikawa went from an unknown high school student to a national media phenom after making the cut at the Sony Open in January. The year before Tadd became the second-youngest person to qualify for the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really reach superstar status until the Sony. Shooting a 4-under par 66 capped by a fist-pumping eagle on 18, Tadd enthralled the local and national audiences with his superb play and infectious joy that even spread to his playing partners and the marshals who maintain order. In the weeks after, Tadd was followed at school by the Golf Channel, replaced Michelle Wie as the nation’s favorite young golfer and eventually fulfilled the dream of turning professional, albeit to mixed reactions.

Riley out, Nash in

After 20 years on campus and the second-most wins in the history of the Western Athletic Conference, Riley Wallace was shown the door and his longtime assistant hired after a drawn-out process that cost the team recruits and the athletic director even more good will among fans. Wallace was a polarizing figure, but one who even his detractors had to admit was to be admired for running a clean program, establishing a foundation that will benefit the team long after he is gone and literally sacrificing his health to the job. In his place came probably the greatest Rainbow basketball player of them all, and a loyal assistant who long ago determined that family and community were more important than career advancement. Time will tell how good of a hire that was, but the new coach immediately put his stamp on the program by firing one-time UH standout Alika Smith and bringing in former UCLA head coach Larry Farmer.

Michelle Wie

Coming off a 2006 season that saw the talented Punahou grad end with three top five finishes in the four LPGA majors, expectations for 2007 were higher than a Phil or Tiger flop shot. That was until she broke her wrist and lied about its severity while trying to keep sponsors happy and the illusion going that everything was perfect in Wieland. A year later, the 18-year-old was getting run over the coals for bad behavior at pro-ams, problems with her ever-present parents and even insulting the standard-bearer of her sport by quitting on her tournament and then acting like she had better things to do than to have a sit-down with Annika Sorenstam and explaining her actions. In a matter of a few months she went from the face and personality of her sport to being a pariah in the locker room while providing fuel for critics who tabbed her nothing more than a media creation.

Leilehua wins state title

Led by a sophomore quarterback and a tough and talented defense, the Mules became must-see TV on Friday nights as they turned their 4-4 season into an unlikely championship and becoming heroes of a community. Making the story even better was that mighty St. Louis, undefeated and with the best player in the state, was standing in their way. As undeterred as the very proLeilehua crowd of 15,000 fans at Aloha Stadium, the Mules overcame a halftime deficit to take the school’s first crown in 23 years from the state’s most decorated program.

UH softball

With all the talk surrounding UH football, basketball and the state’s two most-famous golfers, it would take an extra-special effort by a women’s athletic team outside of Wahine volleyball to get much attention. But with a No. 12 national ranking and an overall 50-13 record, the UH Wahine softball team did just that as the ladies made their way to the NCAA Super Regional and were on the verge of their first Women’s College World Series. The gals lost 7-1 to eventual champ Tennessee, but for a moment they were the talk of the town.

Derek Tatsuno in the hall

Although it took an additional year of waiting, the greatest player in the history of Rainbow baseball got his due recognition by being inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Tatsuno, one of only two in the history of Rainbow baseball to have his number retired, became the NCAA’s first 20-game winner in 1979. He was a two-time All American, was a member of Baseball America’s All-Century Team and was named by Collegiate Baseball as its Co-Player of the Century.

Sumo returns

Not since the hey-days of Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru has Hawaii gotten to experience live, top-level sumo. Lacking local names, the arena had seats to spare to the shame of promoters who didn’t do enough to get the word out and to fans who missed out on great competition. Those who came walked away fully entertained. Hopefully, it won’t take another 14 years for its return.

Jordon Dizon

With being born on Kauai, plying his trade in Colorado and UH’s historic season, Dizon’s tremendous accomplishments have been overshadowed, to say the least. Which is a shame, because he has become one of the most-decorated football players the state has ever produced. The senior “will” line-backer was named first-team All American by the Associated Press and by the Walter Camp Foundation. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award that goes to the nation’s best linebacker.

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