Faces in the Crowd
Nothing but the Best: SIOC's Winter Sports Players of the Year
Some of these names are as familiar as the too-short bed in your cramped dorm room, others are as foreign as that 8 a.m. stats lecture. All of them, however, excelled on their chosen playing field. sioc presents our winter ... Players of the Year.
He comes dribbling up court, this pint-sized point guard, his shorts hanging down so low that only a little bit of his legs is showing, reminding you of pencils that have been sharpened down to the nub. This is the best college basketball player in the country? In the time it takes that thought to flash across your mind, Nelson has laid a devastating crossover dribble on his man, darted into the lane and floated a shot softer than a snowflake over a defender a foot taller than he is for a quick bucket. Before long, you're like all the nonbelievers before you. You've stopped wondering if Nelson is really 5'11" and started wondering where this muscular little playmaker got all this game -- at least, you would be if he gave you a second to think. But he keeps breaking your train of thought with a nifty little drive-and-dish, or a pull-up, stop-on-a-dime three-pointer, or a steal so clean that he's headed the other way before the dribbler misses the ball. You understand how he led St. Joe's to a perfect regular season; how he averaged 20.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists; how he turned a nice little squad into a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.Suddenly those shorts don't look oversized anymore. Just like the title of player of the year, they're a perfect fit. -- Phil Taylor
It took four years, but Beard has finally emerged from the shadow of UConn's Diana Taurasi, one of the most decorated and highly touted players in history. Though Taurasi was just named Naismith player of the year for the second year in a row, Beard has been the better player and the better leader this season. In driving Duke to a 30-3 record, the No. 1 ranking, a fifth straight ACC championship and seventh straight Sweet 16 appearance, she has been a model of consistency, chalking up 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.3 steals a game. More important, in Beard's four years Duke has evolved from a good program to one of the elite ones, thanks to a flood of talented players who followed her to Durham. Two prizes still elude her: a national title and a major player of the year award. Whether or not she achieves the former, she has made an airtight case for the latter. -- Kelli Anderson
Hours after Rowlands won his second NCAA heavyweight title last month, a bunch of Ohio State fans were discussing their grand plans for him. "We need to get you on a Wheaties box," shouted one. "Nah, toothpaste," yelled another. "He was made for toothpaste."
Rowlands has designs on an even bigger prize: Olympic gold. That's about all that's left for the Buckeyes' first four-time All-America to accomplish. While many top collegiate wrestlers redshirted this season to focus exclusively on training for the Olympics, Rowlands stayed on campus, where he set the Ohio State record for wins, takedowns and team points. -- Brian Cazeneuve
The NCAA swimmer of the year capped his college career in triumphant fashion as the top scorer at last month's NCAA championships, winning the 100 butterfly for the fourth straight year and the 100-meter freestyle (both in world-record time). Crocker also finished second in the 50 free.
At last month's NCAA championships, Sandeno edged Cal golden girl Natalie Coughlin by one point as the meet's top scorer. Sandeno won two individual titles (the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys) and just missed a third, finishing second by .05 seconds in the 200 butterfly.
For the past two seasons Bochenski has been the top scorer for the Fighting Sioux. His 60-point total (27 goals, 33 assists) this winter is second in the nation, and the forward's explosive play was a big reason North Dakota was ranked No. 2 at the end of the regular season and was the top seed in the NCAAs.
The leading scorer in the country, Wendell amassed 36 goals and 42 assists (78 points) for the national champion Golden Gophers. The All-America forward was named WCHA player of the year and kept her team dominant despite the loss of one top player to injury and another to academic woes.
The best distance runner in the nation, bar none. Last month Cragg repeated an impressive double: winning both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the NCAA indoors. (The 5,000 title was his third straight.) He enters the outdoor season as the defending champ in the 5,000 and a favorite in the 10,000.
The top individual point scorer at last month's NCAA indoors. Richards won the 400 meters in an NCAA-record 50.82 seconds, anchored the Longhorns' 4x400 relay team to its second consecutive crown and finished second in the 200 with the No. 2 time in the world this season.
Ranked in the top nine in five of the six men's disciplines (everything but rings), Gill also is second nationally in the all-around. The senior won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all-around title, was named MPSF gymnast of the year and will try for a second NCAA title this weekend.
Named PAC-10 gymnast of the year, Antolin sits atop the national all-around rankings. In the four women's apparatuses, she ranks first in vault (in which she is Miss Perfect, having scored eight 10s this season), and second in bars and floor. She won the vault and bars at last month's Pac-10s.
Issue date: April 1, 2004