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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates a touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. BYU won 31-14.

There's something special about every year of your life. And, let's face it, some years are just more special than others.

Maybe it's the year you graduated from high school or college that's most memorable. Could be the year you fell in love, got married, or the year each of your children was born that's always so very meaningful. Perhaps it's the year you got that great job or promotion you were hoping to land.

Whatever it is, each year holds some significance, some special meaning, when you look back on it.

But when it comes to 2016 on the Utah sports scene, it will long be remembered as "The Year of Coming Close."

After all, the University of Utah and BYU football teams, each powered by a terrific senior running back named Williams — Joe and Jamaal, who both ran for over 200 yards and a touchdown in their respective bowl-game victories — came oh, so close to having truly spectacular seasons this year.

But, in frustrating fashion, they both fell barely short. Maybe even more agonizing was how close the Cougars seemingly came to receiving a coveted invitation to join a Power-5 conference — or at least it looked that way for several months, before the Big 12 wound up deciding against expansion.

And the Utah Jazz, with a playoff berth well within their grasp, squandered a golden opportunity in the final week of the 2015-16 NBA regular season as well, again missing out on postseason play for the fourth straight year.

They always say that "closeness only counts in dancing and hand grenades." But the way the Cougars, Utes and Jazz each came so close to having much more successful seasons during 2016, only to be denied, will make this past year one that will always make fans wonder "what if …"

And although 2016 might long be remembered as "The Year of Coming Close," there were a lot of great (and not so great) things that happened this year that will be well worth remembering.

So year it is, the Beehive State sports year in review:


In basketball, Kyle Collinsworth set the NCAA career triple-double record with 12 and became the school's all-time leader in rebounds and assists. The Cougars upset Gonzaga on the road for the second straight season in West Coast Conference play but, instead of going to the NCAA Tournament, they wound up in the NIT instead and advanced all the way to the tourney semifinals in New York City.

In football, freshman kicker Jake Oldroyd nailed a 33-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the Cougars' season-opening win over Arizona, signalling a successful start to the Kalani Sitake Era. And the Cougars came mighty close to winning at least 11 regular-season games, but some frustrating coulda-woulda-shoulda losses to Utah, West Virginia and Boise State left ’em at 8-4 before a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Wyoming gave BYU a final 9-4 record.

That was still a pretty remarkable achievement under first-year head coach Sitake and his staff, which included former Heisman Trophy winner and favorite son Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator.

Senior quarterback Taysom Hill, whose promising career had repeatedly been cut short by a series of devastating injuries, decided to return to BYU for one last season. And although his passing numbers weren't great, Hill's leadership helped the Cougars to seven wins in their last eight regular-season games before yet another injury — ironically, for the third time in his career, it came against Utah State — sidelined him for BYU's bowl game.

Jamaal Williams became BYU's all-time leading rusher, buoyed by a school-record 286-yard performance in a wild win over Toledo, and he finished his Cougar career with another strong 200-plus-yards performance in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Perhaps just as frustrating as BYU's narrow losses in football was that for several months this year, it looked like the Cougars were close to realizing their coveted goal of getting into a Power-5 conference. After all, the Big 12 was supposedly considering expansion, and BYU seemingly loomed large on its long list of possible candidates.

Turns out, though, that the Big 12 was just messing with everybody, and BYU's Power-5 dream died an agonizing death when the Big 12 announced that expansion wasn't going to happen after all.

The Big 12's disappointing decision to spurn expansion and stay at 10 teams meant BYU would remain an independent program for at least a while longer, and it brought a call by Jason Buck, one of the greatest players in the program's history, that it would be in the Cougars' best interests to return to the Mountain West or join another conference.

The "Year of Coming Close" included seeing the BYU men's volleyball team losing in the NCAA championship match, while the women's volleyball and soccer teams came up just short of advancing past the round of 16 in their respective national tournaments.

And, finally, 2016 was marred by the tragic death of assistant coach Reno Mahe's 3-year-old daughter following an accident at home.

Then, on Dec. 29, the Cougars' iconic former football coach, LaVell Edwards — perhaps the most beloved sports figure ever in the Beehive State — passed away at age 86.

Coach Edwards guided BYU's football fortunes from 1972 to 2000, and he was the man who revolutionized the college game with a vaunted passing attack that put BYU football on the national map and helped produce 257 career victories — sixth-most on the NCAA's all-time list.

In all, Edwards' teams won 20 conference championships, a national championship in 1984 and turned out a bevy of future NFL quarterbacks that included Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

As much for his stellar success on the sideline, though, Edwards was also renowned for his wonderfully humble, warm and witty personality, which made him such a loved and respected man by his players, fans and coaching peers.

University of Utah

The year started off in a somewhat unsettling way when men's head basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak, fearing for the safety of his players and bothered by the increasing vitriol of the in-state rivalry, abruptly called off this year's Utah-BYU game in Provo after tempers flared and a punch was thrown by a BYU player in the Utes' preseason victory over the Cougars in Salt Lake City.

The mood up on the hill got considerably better in March, as the Utes reached the NCAA Tournament and big man Jakob Poeltl earned Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Poeltl would later became an NBA draft lottery pick of the Toronto Raptors.

And when the NFL draft came around, running back Devontae Booker was selected by the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Later in the spring, the Utah baseball team captured its first Pac-12 championship and made a nice showing in the NCAA Tournament.

Speaking of Utah running backs, Joe Williams decided to retire for a few weeks early in the 2016 season, then had second thoughts and thankfully un-retired, coming back to the team when injuries decimated the Utes' backfield. He promptly produced one of the greatest seasons a U. running back has ever had.

The Utes' football team appeared right in line for getting into the Pac-12 championship game for the first time, and they had their sights set on possibly earning a coveted Rose Bowl berth, too. But, unfortunately, thanks to maddeningly narrow losses to Cal (by a yard), Washington, Oregon (by an inch or two) and Colorado, neither one of those glorious things happened.

Sure, 8-4 is nothing to sneeze at, and 9-4 with a thrilling bowl-game victory over Indiana certainly looks pretty good in the record book. But Utah came so darned close to accomplishing so much more this year, and the Utes and their fans will always know it.

After all, following a 7-1 start that included wins over USC and UCLA, they lost three of their last four regular-season games. Since joining the Pac-12 six years ago, the Utes are 34-17 in games not played in November, and 11-13 in November. They have won only eight of their last 20 November games going back to 2011, their first season in the Pac-12, which is also the last time they produced a winning record in November.

On the bright side, Australia's Mitch Wishnowsky was a concensus All-American who became the program's third consecutive winner of the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's best punter.

Also, the Utah women's soccer team finished tied for fourth in the Pac-12 but reached the final 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the program's best finish ever.

Utah Jazz

During the 2015-16 campaign, the Jazz acquired point guard Shelvin Mack in a late-season trade with the Atlanta Hawks, and Utah appeared well on its way to earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2012.

The Jazz, fighting for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference, were two games ahead of Houston in the loss column with just four games remaining in the regular season.

But the Jazz couldn't seal the deal. In a game they had absolutely no business losing, they fell at home to an L.A. Clippers team that was missing four of its starters, squandering a seven-point lead in the final four minutes of regulation before faltering in overtime.

Then Utah dropped another must-win home game against Dallas, while Houston rallied its forces to win its last three games and jump back ahead of Utah in the standings.

A season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, in which Kobe Bryant closed out his brilliant career with an amazing 60-point night, marked the 12th time last season that the Jazz lost a game after holding a double-digit lead. Utah wound up 40-42 and a game behind Houston (41-41) in the playoff chase.

It was an interesting offseason for the Jazz.

Former college player of the year and one-time Utah starting point guard Trey Burke, a 2013 NBA draft lottery pick, was traded away to the Washington Wizards for a measly future second-round draft pick.

The Jazz then bolstered their roster substantially by acquiring veteran performers George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, and head coach Quin Snyder was given a contract extension.

Away from the court, the franchise announced a massive arena renovation project and, in devastating news, iconic former Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

The 2016-17 season began with renewed hope for the future, only to see the rash of injuries which befell the team the previous season continue to curse the Jazz roster.

But the steady rise of center Rudy Gobert and small forward Gordon Hayward pegged them for stardom, and the Jazz took a 20-13 record and renewed playoff hopes into the final weekend of 2016.

Rio Summer Olympics

Former Davis High and BYU runner Jared Ward not only earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, but placed a surprising sixth in the Olympic marathon.

To put Ward's performance in perspective, since 1932, only five American-born runners have finished higher in the Olympic marathon. In Rio, Ward placed behind four Africans and countryman Galen Rupp, who was third. Their third-sixth showing is the best by American runners since Frank Shorter and Don Kardong finished first and fourth in 1976.

Another athlete with Utah ties, former BYU men's volleyball player Taylor Sander, was a member of the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in Brazil.

Paralympic Games

Former Davis High School and Weber State track and field athlete David Blair, who hadn't competed in 16 years before learning last year that he was eligible to compete in the World Paralympic Games, won a gold medal in the discus event at Rio de Janeiro.

Blair, 40, is a former state discus champ who also won Big Sky Conference titles in the hammer and weight throw at Weber State.

Syracuse High School's Hunter Woodall, a double-amputee since infancy, brought home a silver and a bronze medal in the Paralympics' 200- and 400-meter sprints, respectively, while running on specially designed prosthetic legs.

And Marybai Huking, a Fremont High School graduate, was a member of the USA women's goalball team that won a bronze medal in Brazil.

Track and field

In an amazing overcoming-the-odds story, former BYU runner Rena Chesser not only qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, but she advanced to the final and placed 10th, running 12 seconds faster than she had run in her entire life.

She did this as a single mother of four, at the age of 33, while going through a divorce after 12 years of marriage, living and training in her hometown of Beaver, where her weekly recovery run consisted of pushing her twins in a stroller for six miles, which is as far as her kids could endure the tedium. Chesser had a stress fracture that limited her training to running in a pool for a couple of months.

High school sports

The Davis High girls soccer team not only swept its third straight 5A state title, but was named national champions by USA Today for the second straight year.

Among the other notable state champions in 2016 were the Olympus High boys basketball team, which won the first state title in the program's history; the Corner Canyon girls golf team, which brought home the school's first state championship in any sport; and the Riverton girls softball team, which claimed the crown on a walk-off, three-run homer by Taylor Eakle in the final inning.

Also, at the end of 2016, the Utah High School Activities Association approved six classifications — 6A through 1A — in all sports beginning next year, along with new region alignments that will take effect next fall.

And the Utah Board of Education was looking into that can of worms otherwise known as the UHSAA's transfer rules.

Utah State

The USU football program got a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons when former linebacker Torrey Green was arrested and charged with sexual assault. Stories about the alleged assaults started to surface in July, just as Green was trying to make the Atlanta Falcons' roster.

The Falcons promptly cut Green, who was arrested in California in October. He is currently being held in the Cache County Jail without bail.

On a much different note, freshman football player Brady Holt was critically injured in a car accident along I-15 while returning to Cache Valley in May. The returned missionary out of Riverton High School suffered a traumatic brain injury, but after fighting for his life, Holt continued to astonish those around him with his slow but steady recovery.

Utah State unveiled the new West Stadium Center — a five-story, $36 million structure that houses luxury suites, loge boxes and a press box — on Sept. 1. And while the Aggies went on to rout Weber State 45-6 that night at Maverik Stadium, that was likely the high point for the USU football team in 2016.

Running back Devante Mays, who rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns against the Wildcats, hurt his knee in the next game at USC and ran for only 41 yards the rest of the year as the Aggies (3-8) ended up winning only two more games.

USU President Stan Albrecht retired from the position after 11 years, a period in which Utah State added a number of new athletics facilities, turned around the football program from a perennial loser to one that earned five consecutive bowl berths, and jumped from the WAC to the Mountain West Conference.

Utah State junior cross-country runner Dillon Maggard finished 12th at the NCAA championships in Indiana in November, making him USU's highest-ever placer at nationals, male or female.

The Utah State men's tennis team reached new heights in 2015 under coach Clancy Shields, improving from nine wins to 21 wins and a Mountain West championship. Led by 2016 Mountain West Player of the Year Jamie Barajas and junior Jai Wehnelt, the Aggies have continued that success this fall-winter even though Shields was hired away by Arizona and replaced by James Wilson.

Real Salt Lake

RSL brought back Yura Movsisyan in January, and his return helped lead the team to a great start to the 2016 season.

Late in the year, though, RSL faded down the stretch before still narrowly securing a playoff berth after last year's disappointing postseason hiatus. It was a short-lived playoff stay, but the team decided to re-sign coach Jeff Cassar to a new contract.

It did not, however, re-sign veteran Javier Morales, and then fellow Argentina playmaker Juan Manuel Martinez also left the team after the season.

Weber State

The Wildcats won the Big Sky Conference men's basketball championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where they dropped a first-round decision to Xavier.

Senior big man Joel Bolomboy, who was named the Big Sky's Player of the Year as well as its Defensive Player of the Year, didn't have to travel far on NBA draft day when he was selected in the second round by the Jazz.

In football, WSU put together a 7-4 regular season to take third in the Big Sky and earn an FCS national playoff berth. It also gave the Wildcats rare back-to-back winning seasons and helped offset a challenging year for head coach Jay Hill, whose wife Sara was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and began undergoing treatments for the disease during the season.

Also, Weber State tight end Andrew Vollert was named to a couple of All-America teams.

In other sports, the WSU women's softball team won the Big Sky title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and the men's tennis team also captured the conference crown and advanced to the NCAA championships for the first time ever.

Individually, Ellie Child took first place in the Big Sky Cross Country Championships, and Jamie Stokes earned All-American honors in the mile run at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Sadly, two beloved members of the Wildcat family, longtime women's golf coach Jeff Smith and former football coach Sark Arslanian, passed away during 2016.


A couple of professional golfers from the Beehive State had plenty to pound their chests about this year.

Tony Finau won the Puerto Rico Open, a PGA Tour event, last March, and Daniel Summerhays finished third in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in late July, which earned him an invitation to the 2017 Masters.

Other highlights

A couple of other collegiate basketball programs had plenty to shout about during 2016, too, as the Salt Lake Community College men's basketball team won the national junior college championship, and the Utah Valley University men's basketball team piled up 114 points in a memorable victory over BYU at the Marriott Center.

Contributing: Jeff Call, Jody Genessy, Jeff Hunter, James Edward, Dirk Facer, Mike Sorensen, Doug Robinson, Brad Rock, Brandon Gurney.