Wie's breakthrough tops list


POSTED: Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stirring individual performances and a banner year for one of Hawaii's most consistent programs highlighted the 2009 local sports calendar. Here's a look at the top 10 stories of the past year as selected by the Star-Bulletin's sports staff:

1. Michelle Wie wins—Playing with verve absent in her struggles of previous years, Michelle Wie erased one of the major criticisms of her young career by breaking through for her first professional victory. A spirited performance in the Solheim Cup seemed to energize the 20-year-old Stanford student, who went on to win the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November in her 65th LPGA event.

2. UH volleyball rolls on The Rainbow Wahine gave Dave Shoji—named national coach of the year—his 1,000th career win en route to the program's first final four appearance since 2003. Hawaii's run toward a fifth national title finally hit the end when the Wahine became Penn State's 101st consecutive victim. Led by Western Athletic Conference player of the year and first-team All-American Kanani Danielson, the Wahine finished 32-3.


3. Tough times for UH football —Adversity emerged as a theme for the Warriors from the start when head coach Greg McMackin drew national attention by using a gay slur during the Western Athletic Conference Football Preview in August. McMackin was suspended and accepted a pay cut the following day. Hampered by inexperience and injuries, the Warriors struggled to a 2-6 start, then reeled off four straight wins before falling short of bowl eligibility at 6-7.

4. Keith Amemiya stepping away —After 11 years spent helping to reshape the prep sports landscape, HHSAA executive director Keith Amemiya revealed his intention to step down at the end of the school year. His tenure included the establishment of classification and he ignited this year's Save Our Sports movement, which raised more than $1.2 million to help offset state budget cuts.

5. Tadd's big day —The crowds grew along with the red number trailing Tadd Fujikawa's name on the leaderboard. After making the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii for the second time in three years, Fujikawa electrified Waialae Country Club by shooting an 8-under-par 62 in the third round. He faltered on Sunday, finishing in a tie for 32nd, but will be back in January thanks to a sponsor's exemption.

6. Fighting back, part I —Brian Viloria, the former Olympian from Waipahu, burst back into prominence in April by winning the IBF light flyweight title with a knockout of Ulises Solis in Manila. He returned to Hawaii to defend his title, defeating Jesus Iribe by unanimous decision at Blaisdell Arena on Aug. 29. It was the first title fight in Hawaii in more than three decades.

7. Fighting back, part II —MMA's chokehold on the collective sporting consciousness was evidenced by the frenzy leading up to the showdown between Hilo's B.J. Penn and Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94 in January. Penn lost the welterweight title fight in Las Vegas, which was followed by controversy over St-Pierre's use of petroleum jelly during the bout, in one of the largest pay-per-view events in UFC history. Moving back down to 155 pounds, Penn bounced back to defeat Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.

8. Manti's decision —The Punahou standout kept everyone guessing until he swiped his pen. When Manti Te'o finally inked his name on a letter of intent, he ended one of the state's most intriguing recruiting dramas by signing with Notre Dame. After picking the Fighting Irish over USC and UCLA, he went on to post 63 tackles in his freshman season and decided to delay his Mormon mission to return to the Irish next season.

9. Pro sports exodus —The state's slate of professional events will shrink considerably in 2010. The Pro Bowl's 30-year run at Aloha Stadium ended in February with Larry Fitzgerald's MVP performance. After some wrangling, the NFL and Hawaii Tourism Authority reached an agreement to bring the game back to Hawaii in 2011 and 2012. The LPGA won't have a Hawaii presence next year with the departure of the SBS Open.

10. UH coaching dramas 2009 saw some shuffling on UH's Lower Campus. Women's basketball coach Jim Bolla was fired amid allegations that he kicked a player, then filed a lawsuit against the school. Dana Takahara-Dias emerged from a convoluted hiring process as his successor. Mike Wilton stepped down after 17 years with the men's volleyball program, and Charlie Wade was hired. Bob Nash (basketball) and Mike Trapasso (baseball) were given extensions and how they fare in 2010 will dictate how much longer they remain.