Tuesday, December 31, 2002


10 ways to say
‘good year’

Our Top 10 stories of the year
highlight Hawaii’s winners

By Paul Arnett

It's too bad we couldn't borrow David Lettermen's Top 10 writers to give us a catchy version of the best local stories of the year.

There's nothing like a zesty zinger or two to put things in perspective. Instead, local fans will have to settle for the crack sports staff of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which voted on several stories and their impact on the island chain.

Like all Top 10 lists, there is always room for discussion. But don't call up demanding a recount. All votes are in and final.

1. Winning a national championship at the Division I level is a major accomplishment no matter what the arena. True, men's volleyball on the national scene is barely visible to the naked eye, but here in Hawaii, the sport is king.

You don't have to tell that to University of Hawaii men's volleyball coach Mike Wilton. He has had opportunities to take his expertise elsewhere, but decided to remain here, partly for the popularity of the sport here and partly to defend his national championship.

Last spring's win over top-ranked Pepperdine at Penn State resulted in the first national title for a men's program at UH. Given the current circumstances, it's unlikely Hawaii will ever win a national title in football, basketball or baseball. So give Wilton his due.

"It's been a great year," Wilton said, who is fresh off a trip from China.

But don't call the Warriors defending national champions. Wilton doesn't want any part of it. Instead, he prefers to start anew on Jan. 8 with the season opener vs. Lewis. But before we put Wilton away for good, raise your glasses high for the only national champion UH has ever produced on the men's side of the ledger.

2. Hiring a new athletic director is always a big deal, especially here in Hawaii. Since Stan Sheriff died in 1993, the department has had its ups and downs. For all the things outgoing athletic director Hugh Yoshida did right, there were as many questionable decisions that hurt the program through the years.

Enter Frazier, who is attempting to clean up the mess, in part, by raising the athletic department budget by as much as $2 million. His close ties to the Olympics give Frazier the ability and know-how to right this sinking ship. But there are many problems on the horizon, chief among them are improving attendance for all major sports and finding a way to sign June Jones to a long-term contract.

3. Granted, losing to Tulane in the Hawaii Bowl left a bad taste in the mouths of players and fans, but the Hawaii football team still had a stellar season. The Warriors won 10 games, including a huge road victory over Fresno State.

They also came close to knocking off Brigham Young on the road and nationally ranked Alabama at home. Next year, the Warriors travel to Los Angeles to play mighty Southern California, then go up the road aways to face Nevada-Las Vegas. Now there's a double dip that proves the Warriors are moving in the right direction.

4. It's not often a Little League squad finds its way to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series. But that's exactly what a team from Waipio accomplished last summer, capturing the hearts and minds of nearly every baseball fan in the 50th state.

The team failed to advance out of the round-robin format, but did win one game on a home run by Travis Jones to defeat a team from Worcester, Mass., 3-2.

5. For the second season in a row, UH head coach Riley Wallace led his men's basketball team to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the Rainbows, they failed to advance out of the first round for a second consecutive time.

This year's squad is looking for a March Madness trifecta. Only this time, the Rainbows want to get to the second round and beyond. It's a long shot. But don't count out Carl English and Co. They have a way of getting things done.

6. One of the goals of the UH women's volleyball team was to match its male counterpart national championship for national championship. Unfortunately for the Rainbow Wahine, they advanced to the Final Four, but couldn't claim the prize.

For the second time this season, Stanford stood in the way. And for the second time, the Cardinal swept the Wahine right out of the building. Still, it's a major accomplishment to reach a final four. Coach Dave Shoji has enough weapons to get back there once again in 2003. Maybe Stanford, which lost to Pac-10 rival Southern California in the title game, won't be such a nemesis next season.

7. For years, Saint Louis School tried to get De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) to come over and play the Crusaders in a major preseason game. That dream by former Saint Louis head coach Cal Lee finally came true last September.

With the help of Hawaii High School Athletic Association head Keith Amemiya, De La Salle brought its 126-game win steak to Oahu to play Saint Louis as part of a prep doubleheader. The first game of the twin bill was between defending state champions Kahuku and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. Both local schools lost big, but provided fans with a six-hour evening few at Aloha Stadium will forget.

8. Former UH wideout Ashley Lelie went from a walk-on for former UH coach Fred vonAppen to a first-round draft pick in the NFL just four years later. Along the way, Lelie learned the ins and outs of the run-and-shoot to become one of the better receivers in UH history.

He also had a solid rookie campaign for the Denver Broncos. He caught two touchdown passes, including one against Arizona in the season finale. But all his individual accomplishments were overshadowed by the Broncos not making the playoffs.

9. If someone had said that Castle High School would win the Oahu Interscholastic Association title in football and advance to the state final vs. Saint Louis, he might have been laughed right out of the building. But who's laughing now?

The Knights surprised everyone but themselves as they won big games all season, including one over two-time defending state champion Kahuku. Castle coach Nelson Maeda overcome the personal tragedy of losing his wife to cancer to lead the Knights to the promised land. They lost to Saint Louis in the final, but won the hearts of fans across Hawaii.

10. Michelle Wie continued her remarkable journey by becoming one of the youngest golfers ever to qualify for an LPGA event. Barely 12, the Punahou School youngster claimed a spot at the LPGA Takefuji Classic during a blustery qualifying round on the Big Island last February.

She qualified for another LPGA event a few months later, but failed to make the cut in either tournament. Still, competing with the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb can only help the golf sensation as she pursues her career at the professional level.

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