The first half of 2014 was an eventful time in Utah sports, even without college football games. It was a historic time for the Jazz, full of ups and downs both on the court and off. Several teams and players had tremendous performances throughout the state. There were reported violations at BYU and talk of impending doom for its athletic program. There were titles won, opportunities squandered, records broken, awards received, body parts lost and much more. If this list misses any great performances or stories, or if a ranking is debatable, leave feedback in the comments. Based on reader feedback, there could be a Version 2.0 of the awards published. Note: High school teams and coaches were not considered for most awards simply because of the sheer volume of programs in the state. Here now, from the best teams and players to the craziest stories and biggest off-field winners and more, are the Utah Sports Ruckus 2014 half-year sports awards:
1. Utah Jazz get a new coach
The Tyrone Corbin era came to a merciful end, perhaps for him most of all after the situation he was put in, as the Jazz let Corbin go in favor of former Duke player and Missouri coach Quin Snyder. It wasn’t the big-name hire some fans hoped for, but it's a little more intriguing when one learns about Snyder’s up-and-down past.
2. BYU football
The Cougars have been in the news in 2014 for all kinds of reasons they would have liked to avoid if possible. The SEC and ACC decided BYU will not count as a Power 5 team in terms of scheduling; coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke candidly of wanting to be in the Big 12; there was an NCAA violations investigation, and some media members questioned BYU’s viability as a long-term athletic program.
3. Utah Jazz offseason
The offseason of 2014 has largely been rough for the Jazz so far, with a fall to No. 5 in the draft lottery, failed attempts to trade up in the draft and an ill-fated declaration that they would match any offer for Gordon Hayward.
Utahns in the Olympics
According to the Deseret News, if Utah had been its own country in the Winter Olympics it would have finished No. 10 overall in the medal count, with five golds, four silvers and two bronzes going to athletes with Utah ties. Not bad.
Brian Johnson leaves Utah
In a largely overlooked story, Ute football icon Brian Johnson left the program for Mississippi State two years after being promoted to offensive coordinator at the age of 24. At the time head coach Kyle Whittingham said to espn.com: “Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense.” Many questioned the move at the time, and in hindsight it proved to be a misstep for the program.
Next: Best team season
1. BYU rugby
BYU won its third consecutive Varsity Cup national championship, defeating California 43-33 in the finale at Rio Tinto Stadium. While college rugby is not a premier American sport, winning what is largely considered the top championship in front of more than 10,000 fans is a legit accomplishment, especially doing it three times in a row.
2. BYU women’s basketball
The Cougar women carried the flag for college basketball in the state, advancing to the Sweet 16 with upsets over NC State and Nebraska before coming as close as any team all season to beating eventual champs UConn. The Cougars may have won the award, but they finished second in their conference.
3. Real Salt Lake
RSL got out of the gates strong, tying the MLS record with an unbeaten streak of 12 games to start the season. The streak ended May 31 with a 0-4 blowout loss to Seattle, and in total RSL has gone just 1-5-1 since tying the streak. Despite the recent struggles, RSL still has the fourth-best record in the 19-team league and will be helped by the return of its World Cup stars.
Utah women’s gymnastics: Won Utah's first-ever Pac-12 title but fell short of expectations by failing to make the NCAA championships.
BYU men’s volleyball: Finished the regular season ranked No. 1 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association but lost to Stanford in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Next: Best team single performance
1. Jazz turn down the Heat
On Feb. 8, the Jazz dramatically knocked off the two-time defending champs with rookie Trey Burke hitting the night’s biggest shot and Marvin Williams going off for 23 points in 28 minutes. In an extremely atypical defensive performance, the Jazz caused the Heat and superstar LeBron James to play one of their worst games of the season, holding the team to 89 points and James to just 13.
2. BYU baseball beats Utah 20-3
On March 4, the BYU baseball team routed its rivals by scoring 18 runs in the first two innings; it led 20-0 until the Utes put up three runs in the ninth inning. The Utes and Cougars split the season series 2-2.
3. BYU women’s basketball beats Nebraska to advance to the Sweet 16
After working over the fourth-seeded Cornhuskers in the first half, the Cougars held on for the biggest win in program history, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time.
BYU softball: Twice beat teams ranked No. 2 in the country, first Tennessee and later Oregon. Oregon finished the season ranked No. 3 and Tennessee No. 11.
Real Salt Lake: Spanked highly touted Toronto FC 3-0 March 29 at Rio Tinto Stadium, led by two goals from Alvaro Saborio and a clean sheet from goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Utah men’s basketball: On Feb. 23 routed Arizona State by jumping out to a 38-12 lead and coasting the rest of the way for a 23-point win.
Next: Best individual season
1. TJ Haws, Lone Peak prep basketball
Haws capped off the most successful high school basketball career in the history of the state by becoming the first player to win four consecutive state titles. For the season, the shooting guard averaged over 25 points and five assists per game while winning the Gatorade Player of the Year award. He also saved his best for last, scoring 42 points in a double-overtime quarterfinal and hitting eight 3-pointers in the title game.
2. Taylor Sander, BYU men’s volleyball
Sander capped off an unbelievable career at BYU by winning the AVCA and MPSF Player of the Year awards and being named an All-American for the fourth straight season.
3. Delon Wright, Utah men’s basketball
The 6-foot-5 junior college transfer came out of nowhere to make the All-Pac-12 first team and lead the Utes to their best season in years. For the season Wright averaged 15.5 points, 5.3 assists, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting a phenomenal 56.1 percent from the field.
Jennifer Hamson, BYU women’s basketball
Hamson became the first player to win the WCC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season and garnered national and WNBA attention in leading BYU to the Sweet 16.
Tory Wilson, Utah women’s gymnastics
Wilson led the Utes to the school’s first-ever Pac-12 championship in any sport by winning the conference’s Gymnast of the Year award and claiming the all-around title in the Pac-12 Championships.
Next: Best individual single performance
1. Kolton Mahoney, BYU baseball pitcher
Mahoney threw a no-hitter on March 6 vs. Nicholls State University, walking just two Colonel batters while striking out 11 in BYU’s 5-0 win. Despite the no-hitter, Mahoney finished the season 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA.
2. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
On Jan. 7, the wildly inconsistent Hayward went head-to-head with Kevin Durant and led the Jazz to a win. Hayward made 13 of 16 shots for 37 points, to go along with team highs of 11 rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.
3. Delon Wright, Utah men’s basketball
Facing Arizona State’s highly touted point guard, Jahii Carson, Wright dominated the game with 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks in 37 minutes. Most impressively, perhaps, Wright needed just seven shots to get his 22 points, hitting 7 of 7 from the field and 8 of 10 from the line.
Jennifer Hamson, BYU women’s basketball
In a 31-point win at WCC third-place team Pacific on Feb. 1, Hamson scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with 18 rebounds, seven blocks, four assists and a steal.
Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake
Morales scored a hat trick vs. Houston on May 11 in a 5-2 RSL win.
Missed the cut
Tyler Haws, BYU men’s basketball
Yes, Haws scored 48 points in a triple-overtime game at Portland. In 50 minutes on the court, however, Haws did not record a single assist, which might be some sort of record, and only grabbed three rebounds. Haws also needed 34 shots to get the 48 points, and BYU lost the game to a bad team.
Next: Best coaching job
1. Jeff Judkins, BYU women’s basketball
Judkins led the BYU women on the deepest postseason run in program history with convincing upsets over two much higher-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament and an impressive showing against the dynasty of UConn in the Sweet 16.
2. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah men’s basketball
Krystko led the Utes to their first winning season since 2008-09 with a 21-12 record and a berth in the NIT tournament and was rewarded with a new five-year contract after the season. After blowing out BYU and finishing 2013 with a record of 11-1, albeit against one of the worst schedules imaginable, the Utes went just 10-11 in 2014 and finished with two extremely disappointing losses in the Pac-12 and NIT tournaments.
3. Jeff Cassar, Real Salt Lake
Cassar took over for Jason Kreis after Kreis left the club for the big stage of New York and has led RSL to a fourth-place position in the standings after 18 matches, despite dealing with national team call-ups, injuries and other distractions.
Dick Hunsaker, Utah Valley men’s basketball
Hunsaker led UVU to a regular-season WAC championship, wins over Weber State and New Mexico State and a 20-12 final record. As with the Utes, the season ended with disappointment for the Wolverines, with losses to Idaho in the WAC tournament and Cal in the NIT.
Randy Rahe, Weber State men’s basketball
Rahe got Weber State back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 with Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles. The Wildcats played tough against No. 1 seed Arizona in the NCAA tournament, leading 10-2 after six minutes and cutting the deficit to just nine with 4:30 left before losing.
Next: Craziest story
1. Albuquerque Isotopes catcher Miguel Olivo bites off a piece of his teammate’s ear during a Bees home game in May.
2. The UVU vs. New Mexico State on-court brawl involving both fans and players.
3. Former Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen is widely reported to be a leading candidate for the Jazz’s head coaching position not long after running the Ute program into the ground.
Jazz backup point guard John Lucas gets into a fight at the end of the Jazz’s humiliating 38-point loss to the Rockets.
Next: Biggest locals-in-the-pros story
1. Damian Lillard, former Weber State Wildcat point guard
Lillard was an NBA All-Star for the Portland Trailblazers a year after winning Rookie of the Year and nailed an incredible, series-winning 3-pointer to beat the Rockets in the playoffs.
2. Kyle Van Noy, former BYU linebacker
Van Noy was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, reuniting him with Ziggy Ansah, and is set to compete for a starting job.
3. C.J. Cron, former Ute and Salt Lake Bees baseball player
Cron has enjoyed success as a top prospect after getting called up to the Los Angeles Angels.
Former USU stars Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin, along with former WSU Wildcat Paul McQuistan, win the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
Jimmer Fredette gets bought out of his contract with the Sacramento Kings, only to sign with the Chicago Bulls and sit on the bench in a different uniform.
Next: Biggest disappointment
1. Utah Jazz management
The Jazz acknowledged failure in letting go of Corbin, while watching former assistant Jeff Hornacek enjoy incredible success in his first year with the Suns. Management also stumbled in what became a very public attempt to move up in the draft for Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, and then saw the move not to extend Hayward last summer backfire. After everything, the Jazz are still seemingly without a player capable of being a superstar anytime soon — the one thing they most need.
2. College football recruiting
Local college football fans were again reminded of reality with another round of mediocre recruiting classes.
3. Utah State men’s basketball
The Aggies suffered through a rough first season in the Mountain West Conference, finishing eighth in the league and failing to make the postseason after losing 73-39 to San Diego State to close the season.
Salt Lake Bees
After a great 2013 season, the Bees currently have the worst record in the Pacific Coast League, at 40-58. From May 4 to May 15, the Bees lost 11 straight games.
Next: Miscellaneous awards
Worst idea discussed other than the Jazz hiring Boylen: The absurd notion that Kyle Whittingham might deserve to be on the "hot seat" with the Utes. Short of an off-the-field scandal, that is crazy talk.
Most pleasant surprise: Travis Wilson being cleared to play by doctors after a rather frightening medical diagnosis last year.
Biggest nonstory: The BYU NCAA violations "scandal" that was reported on as if it were a 10 on the Richter scale when in reality it looks like it was more of a 3, largely due to the nature and source of the "breaking news."
Biggest lesson learned: Beware of sports-radio news reporting.
Most afraid of commitment: Jake Heaps and Matt Carlino, who both transferred … again.
Most alarming statistic: The Utah Jazz failed to produce the individual high-scorer in their last 11 games, and in 26 of their last 30. In that span, Richard Jefferson was the only Jazz player to score the most points in a game more than once. This goes back to the point about needing a potential superstar.
Biggest off-the-field winner: Kyle Beckerman, who was married in January. In June The Huffington Post proclaimed that Beckerman and his wife, Kate, might be “soccer’s most beautiful couple.” Kyle Van Noy didn’t do too bad, either, getting married in June to former Miss Utah Marissa Powell. Apparently the name Kyle is the important thing.
If any great performances or stories were missed, or if a ranking is debatable, leave feedback in the comments. Based on reader feedback, there could be a Version 2.0 of the awards published.
Nate Gagon is an opinion columnist featured by the Deseret News, and writes a regular sports feature called Utah Sports Ruckus. He shoots roughly 94 percent from the free-throw line and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @nategagon.