It's not likely that any of the local sports teams want to repeat what they did in 2013. With the exception of some high school programs and local winter sports athletes, the past year was one of pain, change and disappointment.
Local teams baited fans with promising victories, only to disappoint in the biggest moments. The year was memorable in the controversies and chaos, but despite the disappointment, there were some performances worth celebrating. This is a list of the Deseret News Top 10 local sports stories for 2013.
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Changes began for RSL in January of 2013 when Real Salt Lake founder Dave Checketts sold his interest in the team to minority partner and Utah businessman Dell Loy Hansen. Then came the trades of Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson. The men, who were key to the team’s five-year playoff streak, had to go because of salary cap restraints. Olave and Espindola helped New York earn the Supporters' Shield, while Johnson helped Portland claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. But behind goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who won his second consecutive MLS Save of the Year honor, Real Salt Lake played for the league’s top prize in December — the MLS Cup.
It was bitterly cold when the two teams met Dec. 7 on Sporting Kansas City’s home field, but the game was a thriller. The game was decided in a shootout — 10 rounds — the longest in MLS Cup history. The team was met by hundreds of RSL fans grateful for a winning season when they began with such modest expectations.
As expected, as soon as the season ended, head coach Jason Kreis, the face of the franchise for so long, took over the expansion team New York City FC. Longtime assistant Jeff Cassar was hired as head coach 11 days after Real’s loss to Kansas City.
2013 may not be a year remembered for great Jazz basketball, but it was the year the franchise finally embraced the pain of starting over. First the Jazz lost popular assistant Jeff Hornacek to the Suns in May, then Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap signed with other teams. The players who’d become the backbone of the team were also its Achilles heel. The team hired Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone as a part-time assistant and former Jazz head coach (and Hall of Famer) Jerry Sloan as a “senior basketball adviser.”
Some draft-day maneuvering allowed the team to grab first-round point guard Trey Burke, and when he joined Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter, the team officially embarked on rebuilding. An injury to Burke made the process more painful than anyone imagined with a 0-8 and then 1-18 start, but he’s back, and the talk of firing Tyrone Corbin has subsided — at least for now.
BYU’s Ziggy “Ezekiel” Ansah and Utah’s Star Lotulelei brought local football fans a lot of joy in the 2012 season, and in 2013 they shared that love with the NFL. The defensive linemen were both drafted in the first round — Ansah by the Detroit Lions at No. 5 and Lotulelei by the Carolina Panthers at No. 14 — and both have proven to be quality NFL players.
In addition to ridiculous raw talent, both players had compelling personal stories. Ansah grew up in Africa playing rugby, tried to play basketball and ended up playing football as a last resort. Lotulelei was always a hot commodity until a test showed he might have a heart issue and scouts started to get nervous. It turns out he’s fine, and the Panthers benefited from him falling in the draft because of medical concerns.
Lotulelei has earned NFL rookie of the week honors, and both have contributed to their teams with solid stats. Ansah led the Lions with seven sacks, while Lotulelei earned the nickname “the Death Star” with his play. The former Ute team captain has the highest run-stop percentage of defensive tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Everyone knew the Lone Peak Knights basketball team was loaded with talent last winter. But not many expected the school to finish the season as national champions. The Knights finished the season 26-1, beating teams from Illinois, Nevada, Colorado, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and California. They didn’t lose to a Utah team, and they won the 5A state title without breaking a sweat.
It was the City of Palms Tournament that put the Knights in the national spotlight with team leaders Nick Emery, T.J. Haws and Eric Mika all named to the ESPN Top 100. The team’s success earned it a write-up in the New York Times and a pickup game with Gov. Gary Herbert. Mika also won a national dunk contest and Emery and Mika both chose to continue their careers at BYU, where they play with Haws’ older brother, Tyler Haws. The team had such great chemistry — and success — that T.J. thought about graduating early and joining his teammates and brother at the Y., but decided instead to play his senior season at Lone Peak, where he has the team on track for another phenomenal season.
Park City’s been churning out winter sports stars for more than a decade, thanks in large part to the 2002 Winter Olympics. But that success became pretty spectacular thanks to three home-grown talents. Last February, then 18-year-old Sarah Hendrickson won the women's ski jump world championship, while Ted Ligety won three world championships in three different disciplines — a feat accomplished by only four other alpine skiers in history. A third Park City native, Steve Holcomb, showed why he’s the favorite to repeat as Olympic champion in 2014 with seven gold medals in seven World Cup races this winter.
The Utah State Aggies, officially, have a legitimate football program. Not only did the program continue to thrive after first-year coach Matt Wells took over after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin, but the team managed to finish the season with its second-consecutive bowl victory — a first for the school.
This would all be impressive under any circumstance, but the Aggies also lost starting quarterback Chuckie Keaton, a player talked about as a possible Heisman candidate at the beginning of the season, against BYU. Wells rallied a senior-heavy squad to an impressive finish in the Mountain West Conference that ended with a loss to Fresno State in the championship game. The Aggies then did what no other local football team did — ended the season with a win — in the Poinsettia Bowl where they beat No. 23 ranked Northern Illinois. The Aggies' back-to-back bowl game wins are the first in school history.
Utah players started the season by dealing with the death of freshman defensive tackle Gaius "Keio" Vaenuku, who was killed in a car accident that injured a teammate and killed two other people.
Utah’s season started with about as much promise as possible. The Utes earned what looked like a program-defining win against then No. 5 ranked Stanford (best win at home in school history), and then lost all but one other Pac-12 contest.
The school lost starting quarterback Travis Wilson to injury (possibly for his career), which made the season even more unbearable. The coaching staff was shuffled again when head coach Kyle Whittingham hired Dave Christensen to be the program’s sixth offensive coordinator since 2009. He replaced this season’s co-offensive coordinators Brian Johnson and Dennis Erickson, who are still coaching at the U., just in different capacities.
And finally, special teams coach Jay Hill left Utah to take over the head coaching job at Weber State University. He immediately hired three assistants from Southern Utah University’s program.
BYU football started the year with a shock when head coach Bronco Mendenhall rehired offensive coordinator Robert Anae. That meant the uneasy exit of former OC Brandon Doman, who was also one of the school’s best recruiters. Anae’s return was surprising for a lot of reasons, chief among them were the fact that Doman only had one year as OC and Anae left the Cougars in 2010 after a lackluster season.
Whatever the reasons for the change, and however indelicately it was handled, the switch meant new life for the Cougars on the field as Taysom Hill set all kinds of records, including rushing for 259 yards (and three TDs) against Texas, the second most in a game in BYU history. Hill earned dozens of awards as he proved himself to be a legitimate dual-threat quarterback.
A season-opening loss to Virginia was muted with a win over then-No. 15 ranked Texas. But after that, losing to Utah (for the fourth consecutive year) and Notre Dame, as well as losing in their bowl game, resulted in a pretty modest 8-5 season by any standard.
Jersey-gate — where Mendenhall tried to replace player names with team mottos “Spirit, Honor and Tradition,” as well as Honor Code violations that kept linebacker Spencer Hadley from playing in the rivalry game, made for the kind of press most teams try to avoid.
The Union High football team became a national sensation when head coach Matt Labrum suspended the entire team over bullying, bad grades and disrespectful behavior during classes. The Roosevelt resident only meant to get the attention of his players, but the decision earned him and his program attention from around the country.
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” said Labrum, an alumnus of the program he’s coached for the past two years. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.”
All but a half dozen of the players earned their jerseys back before the team’s next scheduled game. Some of the players got into trouble with the law (vandalism) a few weeks later, but Labrum continues to do what most high school coaches do and that’s help young men find discipline and direction through sports. The only difference now is that the entire country is watching as he does it.
It may not have been the tournament every team dreams of playing in at the end of the season, but the BYU Cougar basketball team made the most of its National Invitational Tournament appearance. Behind the play of Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, the team advanced to the NIT Final Four, where it lost 76-60 to Baylor at Madison Square Garden.
Davies went undrafted but signed first with the Los Angeles Clippers and then with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he currently plays.
Utah Swim team problems came to light when a former swimmer in Arizona accused then Utah head coach Greg Winslow of sexual misconduct. Allegations of abuse, alcoholism and unprofessionalism came to light and a group of independent investigators basically said Utah’s athletic administrators should have done more when complaints about Winslow were made. The U. chose not to renew his contract.
Weber State football endured a one-win season and got a new coach — Jay Hill.
Utah basketball made major strides under coach Larry Krystkowiak, including a win over BYU for the first time since 2009.
The NCAA Tournament returned to Salt Lake City, and EnergySolutions Arena became the site of some of the biggest upsets, including No. 1 seeded Gonzaga’s loss to Wichita State, an eventual Final Four team.