One of the most exciting parts of being a student at the University of Arizona is being part of the ZonaZoo, the student section at each of the sporting events on campus. It is a fun and easy way to get involved on campus and meet new people while cheering on your Wildcats in any and every sport there is to see on campus. While it remains unclear exactly how sports are going to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a plethora of different sports to watch throughout the year with a lot of notable athletes to keep an eye on.
One of the biggest sports on campus in the fall is football. This season is looking to be a little different than previous years due to the pandemic. The team, and the rest of the fall sports, will be playing conference-only games, with the schedule released at the end of July. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to support the team.
One player to watch will be quarterback Grant Gunnell, who enters his first full season as the starter. Gunnell appeared in eight games last year, starting three of them, throwing for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns to one interception. With Khalil Tate graduated, Gunnell will be locked in as the Wildcats’ full-time starter under center with experience under his belt after seeing some playing time last year.
He’ll look to lead the offense, alongside running back Gary Brightwell, who was recently named to the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is given to the top college football running back in the country every year. As he enters his senior season, Brightwell will get to lead the Wildcats’ backfield now that J.J. Taylor has graduated. He appeared in 11 games last season, starting two of them, rushing for 390 yards and five touchdowns on 66 carries. He posted a monster performance in the Wildcats home opener last year against Northern Arizona University, where he rushed for 141 yards. His 94-yard rushing touchdown tied Nic Grigsby (2009) for the second-longest run in school history.
The tennis teams on campus are also gearing up for their season. The men’s team was on a tear last season under head coach Clancy Shields, going 11-3 before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team will be looking to pick up where they left off last season, led by senior Alejandro Reguant, who will rejoin the Wildcats in Tucson this year after the NCAA announced last April that it had given another year of eligibility to spring athletes. Reguant is just two wins away from becoming the winningest player in program history. The team will also look to lean on Filip Malbasic and Jonas Ziverts, two players on the team who grew up playing together in Sweden.
The women’s tennis team was also starting to find their groove last year before the season was cut short, winning five of their last seven matches led by Talya Zandberg. They’ll look to pick up where they left off this year, and you can catch both teams at the Robson Tennis Center during home matches.
The biggest sport on campus in the spring is basketball at McKale Center.
It has been a busy summer for men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller, bringing in several different transfers and international recruits as they look to fill the voids left by Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji, who all declared for the NBA draft.
Lithuanian twins Azuolas and Tautvilas Tubelis, Estonian point guard Kerr Kriisa, Turkish small forward Tibet Gorener and French big man Daniel Batcho are among the international recruits joining the Wildcats this year. They’ll also be joined by Seattle U graduate transfer Terrell Brown, who averaged 20.7 points and 4.9 assists per game with the Redhawks last season, earning All-WAC honors. Four-star wing Benedict Mathurin will look to compete for the starting small-forward position alongside freshman Dalen Terry who was ESPN’s No. 63 player in this 2020 class.
One of the biggest storylines for the men’s basketball team this past offseason was Brandon Williams, who was a top-40 player in the 2018 class, according to ESPN. The Wildcats roster currently has 13 players on scholarship — one over the NCAA limit of 12. Many have speculated that Williams is the odd man out and could be departing from the team before the beginning of the 2020-21 season. However, the possibility of Tautvilas Tubelis being a preferred walk-on, rather than a full scholarship player, still remains which means Williams could suit up for the Wildcats next year.
Williams impressed in his freshman season, earning Pac-12 All-Freshman Team Honorable Mention as he scored almost 12 points per game, adding in 3.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds. After undergoing off-season knee surgery, Williams was forced to miss all of last season, so he’ll look to return this season as he looks to get back on the court.
The talk of Tucson in the basketball world, however, was on the women’s side last year, as they came off winning the NIT tournament in 2019. The Wildcats continued that momentum into last season, going 24-7 before the season was cut short, and were set up to host the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament.
Aari McDonald, who announced she will be returning to the team this year for her final year of eligibility, took home the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which is given to the best shooting guard in the country each year. McDonald led the Pac-12 in scoring with 20.6 points per game and steals with 2.3 per game. She was in the top-10 in the country in scoring while also holding the longest active streak in the country with 66 consecutive games of double-digit points. The women’s basketball team, led by head coach Adia Barnes, will attempt to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
The two other big sports in the spring are baseball and softball.
The baseball team had high hopes for the season last year before the season was cut short. The team saw three players named to 2020 All-American teams. Catcher Austin Wells, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 2020 MLB Draft, was named to the second team while outfielder Mac Bingham and starting pitcher Chandler Murphy were each named to the Freshman All-American list. As they get set for a new season under head coach Jay Johnson, the Wildcats, who play at Hi Corbett Field, will look to get back into the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence.
The softball team was also crushing it last year before the season was cut abruptly. They were 22-3, riding an 11-game winning streak and ranked No. 4 in the country before the season was called. However, with the NCAA’s decision to give spring athletes another year of eligibility, all six seniors, including Dejah Mulipola, Jessie Harper and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, will all return to the team at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium next year.
It is unclear what this year will be like in terms of attending these sporting events in the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, but it is a fantastic experience that you won’t want to miss if you get the opportunity.
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