BY RYAN KARTJE
Managing Sports Editor
Published December 12, 2010
To say it’s been a wild year in Michigan sports would be an understatement.
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For every Cinderella story or success, there seemed to be equal heartbreak or disappointment. We looked on as the football team's first-ever major NCAA infractions unfolded before our eyes. We watched the men’s gymnastics team win the University’s first team NCAA championship since 2005. And we saw an old athletic director step down and a new one rise up, promising results in Ann Arbor.
In honor of such a momentous year of sports and an incredible group of student athletes, I’m delighted to introduce Daily Sports’ first annual awards — The Schefters.
The awards are named after one of the Daily’s most distinguished alumni, Adam Schefter, who was an editor in the Daily sports section in the 1980s. Now with ESPN, Schefter has taken the sports reporting world by storm.
So without further ado, here are the 2010 Schefters:
Best Cinderella Story: Shawn Hunwick, ice hockey
No one — not even Michigan coach Red Berenson — thought the 5-foot-7 walk-on goaltender could do it.
I remember Hunwick's first press conference after his first start in place of Bryan Hogan, as he almost glided into the press room after a win. He had no clue how to talk to the media; he accidentally cursed halfway into the interview. But there was just something about this kid that made you want to root for him.
And with the Michigan hockey team absolutely reeling, Hunwick put an entire program on his narrow shoulders and turned the team around.
Hunwick stood on his head for the rest of the season, taking the Wolverines on a run that should have seen them head to Detroit for the Frozen Four. And though it wasn’t meant to be, Hunwick’s story will go down in Michigan hockey lore as one of the most incredible we have ever seen.
Breakout Athlete of the Year: Denard Robinson, football
Freshman striker Soony Saad is a close second on this one, but no one could have expected the contribution that Robinson would give to the Michigan football team.
He invigorated the entire country for a few weeks, showing a brand new breed of quarterback that no one in Ann Arbor had ever seen before. Just last year, Robinson seemed destined for the slot receiver position as fellow quarterback Tate Forcier looked to have a stranglehold on the job. But Robinson lit up the University with his hard work and his million-dollar smile, almost singlehandedly getting the Wolverines back to a bowl game.
Michigan owes an awful lot to its smiley, speedy signal caller.
Most impressive individual achievement: Robinson’s 502 yards against Notre Dame
With the Wolverines in a hostile environment, Robinson made his name known to the world with one of the single greatest performances in the history of Michigan sports.
Not only did he eclipse the 500-yard mark, but he did so on the final drive in the game's waning minutes against one of Michigan’s greatest rivals. He showed the world how lucky the Wolverines were to have him and catapulted to the top of every Heisman Trophy list in the land.
And although he didn’t win the award, when all was said and done, no one will ever forget his absolute destruction of the Fighting Irish in South Bend.
Game of the Year: The Big Chill at the Big House, Michigan ice hockey wins 5-0 over Michigan State
This category should probably be called event of the year, considering how little the game had to do with how awesome it actually was.
With 113,411 people in attendance, the athletic department absolutely shattered the record for most fans to ever witness a hockey game (or an NCAA sporting event) — and put on a hell of a show in the process. There were fireworks after each of Michigan’s five scores. There was great music. And there were still the great hockey chants that make the program one-of-a-kind (although it was tough to synchronize them at times).
Dave Brandon earns a round of applause for this one, as a whole lot of the sporting world was focused on Ann Arbor for The Big Chill. And I have to say, to see that many people dancing and enjoying Michigan hockey, it might be one of the best sporting events I have ever been a part of.
Coach of the Year: Steve Burns, men’s soccer
This one is a no-brainer. After playing for the Wolverines’ club team when he went to the University, Burns turned around and coached Michigan’s club squad until it became a varsity team 11 years ago.
Burns watched as the program he built from the ground up shattered all odds and made it all the way to the College Cup, a final four that no one expected the team to reach.
He uncovered an amazing trio of players in Soony and Hamoody Saad and Justin Meram. And he coached with incredible class, proving that of anyone at the University, he may be one of the best Michigan Men around.
Team of the Year: Men’s soccer
Obviously, the men’s gymnastics team deserves a whole lot of pub for winning the University’s only team national championship in the past five years.
But the men’s soccer team defied the odds to make it to the College Cup and crash the party for NCAA men’s soccer. Ranked as the No. 10 seed, most thought the Wolverines had no business being there. But they put up a hell of a fight with Akron, a team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the season and beat them 7-1 in their first meeting.
The Saad brothers and Justin Meram made up a memorable trio with “The Three Amigos” and goalkeeper Chris Blais was the team’s unsung hero, holding down Michigan’s net for one of the best stretches by a goalkeeper I have ever seen in the second half of the season.
Female Athlete of the Year: Rachael Mack, field hockey
As a freshman, Mack almost singlehandedly put the field hockey program back on the map.
After a few tough seasons, coach Marcia Pankratz returned to Ann Arbor to coach and, soon after, found Mack, a Brit whose skills on the field hockey pitch may be the best the University has ever seen.
She earned All-American honors this season as a freshman, only the second to ever do that in Michigan’s history. And if it weren’t for a few minor scoring slumps during the year, she may been toward the top in scoring in the entire NCAA. Mack’s tenacity gave the Wolverines one of their first good shots at the NCAA Tournament in a while. And for the next three years, Michigan will have someone truly special to rebuild the program around.
Male Athlete of the Year (not named Denard Robinson): Soony Saad, soccer and Chris Cameron, gymnastics
It was too close to call in this category, as both Cameron and Saad had record-setting seasons that will never be forgotten as far as Michigan athletics go.
Saad was named to the All-Big Ten first team and was given the conference’s Freshman of the Year honors. He came up with crucial goals in huge games, including the Wolverines’ most amazing win, an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal upset of No. 3 Maryland.
He could be off to professional soccer next year, considering how sought-after his skills are, but while he was here, Saad was one of Michigan’s most electrifying athletes.
Cameron, on the other hand, was the catalyst in the Michigan men’s gymnastics team’s NCAA championship run, winning the NCAA’s individual title as well.
He quietly became the country’s best gymnast, helping to make the Wolverines a perennial power for years to come.
Career Achievement Award: Lexi Zimmerman, volleyball
There is no doubt in my mind that Zimmerman will go down as one of the greatest female athletes in the history of the University of Michigan.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen said that Zimmerman was the best athlete he had ever coached, and there’s no doubt as to why: She owns nearly every record she could possibly own in the Michigan record books, and she put an entire team on her back, leading them as far as the Elite Eight in her junior season.
She has four All-American honors, one of the only female Wolverines to do that outside of swimming and gymnastics in the University’s athletic history. She tallied a triple-double in back-to-back games this season — a feat almost unheard of in volleyball. And she did so with a level of class that made her one of the best all-around team captains in recent Michigan sports history.
There is no doubt anywhere in Ann Arbor that Lexi Zimmerman will be missed.
-Kartje will miss being the Daily's Managing Sports Editor next semester but wants to thank all the great athletes that made it worth it. He can be reached at email@example.com.