Punahou freshman Michelle Wie had quite a year in 2003. And it's just beginning for the 14-year-old Wie, who will kick off 2004 by playing in the Mercedes Championships Pro-Am a week before competing in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

The year’s best

The top 10 sports stories
of the past 12 months


Top stories of the year

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THE hard part of compiling a top 10 list of the year's best sports stories is deciding which remain inside the margins and which are deleted from the screen.

Last year, the staff cast its ballots, points were tabulated and a list emerged. This year, everyone ducked under their desks with the fervor of elementary-school kids from the '60s practicing for a nuclear holocaust. You couldn't really blame them, since most readers take exception with not only which 10 should be in there, but the order of their appearance as well.

There were a

few muffled respones from hidden points in the room when asked for any top 10 suggestions, but for the most part, this one-man band came up with the list. There were some feel-good stories this year, others filled with disappointment and heartache. It seems, you can never have one without the other.

If Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra were in the house we'd ask for a drum roll, but it appears they've stepped out. So without further adieu, here are the Star-Bulletin's top 10 local sports stories of the year:

1. Michelle Wie

It's hard to imagine that a 14-year-old student from Punahou School would be the biggest sports story in the island chain, even harder to imagine not selecting her for the honor.

Only 13 at the time, Wie was in the last threesome of the final round at the LPGA Tour's first major tournament. An apt comparison would be a young Tiger Woods atop the learderboard entering the final round of the Masters. For once, hyperbole applies.

Child prodigies in other endeavors often go unnoticed. Wie and her family made a choice that captured the attention of local and national news hounds alike. Tall for her age and blessed with a perfect pendulum swing, Wie filled her bag with firsts.

So much so, her parents were often caught off guard at what life is like in the national spotlight. It's one thing doing interviews with the local media while enjoying a milkshake, quite another to be sitting across from Bryant Gumbel on HBO's Real Sports. Both are rarely out of bounds.

And it's only the beginning.

Wie will take part in the Mercedes Championships Pro-Am next week, then tee it up with the big boys at the Sony Open in Hawaii after that. Making the cut against the best the PGA Tour has to offer is a long shot. But if you've ever stood next to Wie on the tee, you know long shots are what this young woman is all about.

2. Jerome Williams

When compared to Michelle Wie, Williams is an old man at 22, but this young gun for the San Francisco Giants is a close second for the top story of the year. As difficult as it was for Wie to make a name for herself against the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Williams' attempt to be a major league pitcher was harder still.

The left-hander started in the Giants' last game of the 2003 season. And while his National League playoff appearance against the eventual world champion Florida Marlins wasn't a memorable one, it still was a wonderful experience.

He became only the fourth rookie pitcher for the Giants to start a postseason game, and the first since Cliff Melton started two in the 1937 World Series.

Williams began the year at Triple-A Fresno, only to be called up to the show because of injuries to the Giants' starting rotation. Williams finished his rookie season with a 7-5 record and an ERA of 3.30. Not bad for a young man from Waipahu.

Waipahu grad Jerome Williams was just the fourth rookie pitcher to start a playoff game for the Giants.

3. University of Hawaii men's volleyball forfeits title

Hawaii men's volleyball coach Mike Wilton won't remember the summer of 2003 with a great deal of fondness. The school self-reported that star player Costas Theocharidis played in games with European pros prior to his arrival to the Manoa campus. The result was the UH men's program having its 2002 national title stripped by an NCAA committee.

An appeal has yet to be heard, but it was a huge disappointment for the school and the community. UH athletic director Herman Frazier said the NCAA conceded that there was no way anyone on the staff could have known of the violation. Still, taking down the banner will be difficult if the appeal fails.

4. Kahuku wins Division I championship in football

It's not often an OIA school manages an unbeaten season, but that's exactly what the Kahuku Red Raiders accomplished in their stunning come-from-behind 27-26 win over rival Saint Louis.

Winning their third title in four years, the Red Raiders didn't party in Kahuku as they did in 2000, but it was sweet all the same. Those at Aloha Stadium said the 16-point (23-7) comeback was made all the more thrilling after Saint Louis kicker C.J. Santiago's 41-yard field-goal try with no time left just missed.

Kahuku celebrates an undefeated season after a come-from-behind victory over Saint Louis in the state championship.

5. Jones inks $800,000 contract

Folks around these parts aren't overly familiar with five-year $4 million contracts. Those who believe in UH head coach June Jones and what he's accomplished since inheriting an 0-12 football program in 1998 say the money is right. Those who point to problems that plague this program on and off the field say it's a waste of hard-earned cash.

One thing is certain, Jones and the UH athletic department have to find a way to put cheeks in the seats. The recently completed Sheraton Hawaii Bowl was an embarrassment for the program in several ways. The brawl was one thing, how few people actually saw it in person is quite another.

Enough with the local bowls. It's time for Hawaii to make postseason plans on the mainland. UH head coach Bob Wagner earned one-tenth of what Jones will pull down this year when he led the Rainbows to a Holiday Bowl win over Big Ten Illinois in 1992. Jones needs a similar accomplishment and soon.

6. Andy Irons defends title

There were a few inquiries last year why Andy Irons winning the national title in surfing wasn't deserving of more recognition. Perhaps the Kauai native should have been in the 2002 top-10 list. Overtaking Kelly Slater at the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters, Irons repeated as world champion in the tightest race in history. He is the first male surfer from Hawaii to win more than one world title. Derek Ho managed a world championship in 1993 and Sunny Garcia in 2000.

7. Musashimaru retires

A wrist injury that plagued him the last two years forced Musashimaru, called the most successful foreign-born wrester in sumo, to retire in November. The yokozuna, who went to Waianae High School, finished his 13-year career with 12 victories, the sixth-best on the all-time list. Born Fiamalu Penitani, the 32-year-old broke into sumo in 1991. He was promoted to ozeki in 1994 and to yokozuna in 1999.

8. UH women's volleyball team advances to final four

Even though Kim Willoughby, Lily Kahumoku and five fellow seniors failed in their bid to win a national championship, it didn't take away from their accomplishments this season. The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team only lost to second-ranked Florida and eventual national champion Southern California in what head coach Dave Shoji called a great season. It's hard to argue with back-to-back final four appearances.

9. UH football brawl and Tim Chang

What began with a Heisman Trophy campaign for junior quarterback Tim Chang ended in a brawl with Conference USA representative Houston after a thrilling overtime in at the Hawaii Bowl. In between was a strange journey for a University of Hawaii football team that was expected to dethrone defending WAC champion Boise State. Chang went from hero to goat back to hero again and is poised to break the career passing record for yards held by Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. It wasn't a season to remember for Chang. And the game-ending brawl shown repeatedly on CNN and ESPN wasn't the kind of Christmas gift Hawaii fans expected.

10. BYUH forfeits chance to defend volleyball title

The Brigham Young-Hawaii volleyball team forfeited its 2003 PacWest title after athletic director Ken Wagner discovered the team had used an ineligible player. The Seasiders had an excellent chance to defend their 2002 national championship when it was determined that Brazilian player Silvia Oliveira had enrolled at San Jose State prior to coming here. Head coach Wilfred Navalta said it was too bad the players had to suffer because they had done nothing wrong.


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