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The 2014 Schefters: Honoring the best of Michigan athletics

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published June 18, 2014

It was the best of years and the worst of years for Michigan athletics.

A season that began with women’s soccer on Aug. 23, 2013 and ended with men’s and women’s track on June 14, 2014 was full of both disappointment and joy.

Regardless, the 2013-14 season was like every one before it: unforgettable, spectacular and heartbreaking.

The Daily’s awards, named after ESPN analyst Adam Schefter, honor the best of Michigan athletics in the past season. Schefter is a former Managing Sports Editor and football beat writer for the Daily in the late 1980s and is one of the Daily’s most esteemed alumni.

The only rule: An athlete or team cannot win more than one category, ensuring it’s fair game to any athlete from any sport.

We’ve included one of the best pieces on the athlete or event for each category, because they deserve more than a short burst (and because they’re worth a read). So below are the best of the best.

Best Cinderella Story: Jordan Morgan, Men’s Basketball

This wasn’t supposed to be Jordan Morgan’s season to shine, not with sophomore forward Mitch McGary returning. And not after the rocky end to his season last year.

But there he was, captaining his team and anchoring the post for the Michigan basketball team, in a position many said he was too small to play and not quick enough to keep up.

His opportunity came after a back injury sidelined McGary for the season, but Morgan wasn’t just there to fit into the glass slipper — he was there to make an impact. It didn’t come in flashy offensive numbers, but instead in smart, veteran play.

Morgan set a career high with 70 percent shooting from the field, while taking the initiative to find the better scorers around him, such as Nik Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III, on fast breaks or by setting picks and screens.

There were the immeasurable impacts too, like shouting encouragement to his teammates from a stationary bike as they clinched the Big Ten title outright in Illinois. Or the any number of times he took a charge with another forward barreling down the lane.

Of course, this Elite Eight season ended earlier than he may have liked, but Morgan carried more than his weight to get to that point, handling taller, heavier forwards that were supposed to be too hard to handle.

But as he had all season, Morgan surprised everyone by turning a weakness into a strong asset.

Best article: Former Co-Managing Sports Editor Everett Cook’s SportsMonday Column on Morgan’s impact to turn around the season for the Wolverines.

Breakout Athlete of the Year: Cyesha Goree, Women’s Basketball

You probably hadn’t heard of Cyesha Goree before this season.

Last year, the junior forward played in nine games. The year before that, she appeared in three. She scored a total of 13 points in those two seasons.

But it was tough not to notice her this season.

This year, Goree appeared in all 34 games. She scored 12.1 points per game while grabbing nearly 10 rebounds per game — setting a new program record for rebounds in a season (317).

As she recovered from knee surgery last season, she received sporadic minutes throughout the year. This season, she started from day one, and just one game later scored a buzzer beater to force overtime.

Goree helped Michigan stay in the top half of the Big Ten standings for part of the season that was expected to be a rebuilding one. And that didn’t go unnoticed either: She was selected to the All-Big Ten second team at the end of the season.

Best article: Daily Sports Editor Max Cohen profiles Goree's transformation from the practice squad to the starting lineup.

Best single-event performance: Zach Nagelvoort, Ice Hockey

It seemed like no matter how long the game went on, Zach Nagelvoort wasn’t going to let anything get past him.

The freshman goaltender stopped 63 shots and allowed two goals in the Michigan hockey team’s double-overtime loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. The 63 saves were a single-game program record, and even more impressive considering he played for 93 minutes.

A win would have likely propelled the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament, and Nagelvoort bailed out his porous defense time after time to give his team a shot.

He stopped shots from every angle, until one puck flew past him off a faceoff when he was screened, but the score could have looked much worse without a dominant goalie in net.

Best article: Managing Sports Editor Greg Garno with this column from the game, when Nagelvoort and the Wolverines came inches away from winning.

Game of the Year: Michigan Football’s loss vs. Ohio State

Yes, it ended as a loss, but ‘The Game’ was tense and dramatic right until the very last second.

It was the best rivalry in college football living up the hype that surrounds it. The Buckeyes entered undefeated with a chance at a National Championship Game berth on the line, and the Wolverines came in reeling with questions about the coaching staff looming.

There were punches thrown and middle fingers raised, as both teams traded touchdowns early. And even when Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter, Michigan fought back, marching down the field in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

Trailing 42-41, with quarterback Devin Gardner playing on a broken foot, Michigan coach Brady Hoke opted to go for the two-point conversion instead of kick the extra point.

Gardner’s pass was intercepted, and the game over, but for a moment, 110,000-plus fans forgot about the season at hand and held their breath.

Best article: Former Co-Managing Sports Editor Zach Helfand with his column on Hoke’s decision to go for two.

Freshman of the Year: Erin Finn, Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field

Erin Finn came in with big expectations coming out of high school, and she didn’t disappoint.

After setting a high-school record in the indoor 5,000-meter race, Finn set program records in the indoor 5,000-meter run, outdoor 5,000-meter run and outdoor 10,000-meter run.

She was named the Big Ten Athlete of the Year in both cross country and outdoor track and field while earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year in those and indoor track and field.

Finn captured first at the Big Ten Championships in cross country and won the 5,000-meter run in both indoor and outdoor, proving to be not just one of the best freshman, but best athletes in the conference. She followed it up with a first-team All-American finish at the NCAA Championships.

Best article: Daily Sports Writer Max Bultman’s recap from the Big Ten Cross Country Championships, where Finn first burst onto the scene.

Coach of the Year: Mike McGuire, Women’s Cross Country

Mike McGuire has quietly produced one of the best teams on this campus. Not just this year, but also in the past decade.

This year, he led the Michigan women’s cross country team to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. The Wolverines finished runner-up at the Big Ten Championships and first at the Great Lakes Regional, led by Finn.

The results speak to McGuire’s continued strength at recruiting, bringing athletes from the state and around the nation away from schools on the east and west coasts and to Ann Arbor.

In the last decade, he has led his team to five top-six finishes and three straight regional titles and has been named Great Lakes Coach of the Year eight times. This year, he received the honor again.

Best article: McGuire wasn’t alone in the honor, as men’s cross country coach Alex Gibby also earned the Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year, as both were profiled in this article from Max Bultman.

Female Athlete of the Year: Sierra Romero, Softball

The Michigan softball team has always had a strong cast of players, but few have been as important as Sierra Romero has been.

This year, the sophomore standout was a first team All-American, the Big Ten Player of the Year and one of three finalists for National Player of the Year.

She improved on her eye-popping numbers from last year by hitting .491 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI — even more impressive when you consider she was walked 66 times.

Best article: Daily Sports Writer Justin Meyer reflected on Romero’s importance in this commentary during the regional tournament at Arizona State.

Male Athlete of the Year: Sam Mikulak, Men’s Gymnastics

Any number of athletes could have grabbed this award, but then none of those athletes have seven individual national championships to their name, let alone two team national titles.

He won the all-around competition at the national championships this year, even with a fall on the high bars that dropped his score down nearly five points.

Mikulak completed his illustrious college career with first place on the parallel bars for the seventh title, which puts him in a three-way tie for the most all-time. But his presence was noticeable as Michigan produced higher team scores with the Olympian in the lineup.

Best article: Zach Helfand writes about Mikulak’s fall in the National Championship in this column, in which the senior, and his teammates, recovered to win.

Team of the Year: Michigan Men’s Gymnastics

As the only program to win a national championship, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team has earned this honor.

Led by Mikulak, the Wolverines won their second straight title — the first Michigan team to win back-to-back titles since the trampoline team did it in 1976-77 — in dominant fashion. They led from the first round all the way to the sixth in front of a home crowd that energized all of Crisler Center.

Michigan never lost a dual meet this season and finished first in every scored meet. Consider that Michigan is in arguably the hardest conference for men’s gymnastics, and the feat looks even more impressive.

Perhaps it’s time Michigan be referred to a “gymnastics school.”

Best article: The cover of Michigan’s dominant performance at the national championships by Daily Sports Writer Alex Taylor.

Career Achievement Award: Mac Bennett, Ice Hockey

Mac Bennett will probably tell you he didn’t expect his last two years to end without an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, not after 22 straight years of qualifying as a team.

But the senior defenseman was the face of the Michigan hockey team, in moments when it excelled and moments when it faltered. He remained the anchor of the Wolverines’ defense, even when he was injured.

In 2012-13, Bennett injured his back, missing several weeks, and last season he sat out for four games with a punctured lung, but he was at every practice watching and learning even when he couldn’t skate.

This award isn’t necessarily given to the best athlete. Bennett knows other defenseman before and after were better players, but it’s given to the athlete who best embodies the team over his four years.

He made the right plays, even if they didn’t show up on the scoresheet, finishing his career with 14 goals, 51 assists and a plus-40 mark on the ice. But as a two-time captain, Bennett also made everyone else around him better, setting up goals or minimizing mistakes.

And he was rewarded when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens this April, where he’ll take his energetic attitude with him.

Best article: Daily Sports Editor Jeremy Summitt reflects on Bennett’s last game at Yost Ice Arena in his column.

-You might disagree with Garno (unlikely, but possible), in which case he can be reached at ggarno@umich.edu or on Twitter: @G_Garno.