No one saw ’08 coming, and what a ride it was

By Christopher Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

This deliberation has been under the office microscope for some time now, and there is one thing that is clear.

2004 was amazing.

It was a season of firsts. Both Alex Smith and Andrew Bogut were drafted No. 1 that spring and summer. Utah athletics hit the prime-time stage.

Then came 2005-2007.

Three athletic seasons that fans quickly tend to forget, like early seasons of TV shows such as “House,” “LOST” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Sure, they raked in a large amount of cash and viewers, but the full, pristine product wasn’t on display8212;not yet.

However, Aug. 30 of last year came with a change of fortune.

No one gave a group of blue-collar, “ragtag” Mountain West Conference second-raters a chance to beat an eventually piss-poor Michigan squad in Ann Arbor. The 111,000 rocking Michigan Stadium were left picking up their bottles filled with urine and solemnly waltzing back to their respective 0-1 residence. Fans caught Utephoria and rode the coattails of a slowed-down, fifth-year senior from Texas to the catchy phrase that summed up Kyle Whittingham and his bunch up perfectly, “13-0”.

Urban Meyer’s crew of electrics was elating, but the 2008 squad’s nose for victory was never in question. Well, maybe a few times, but Brian Johnson promptly allowed all the naysayers to stick their collective right foot directly into their collective mouth.

As roughly 10,000 Ute faithfuls invaded the Big Easy and enemy territory, the pre-game reality was a six-foot-under evening for the 12-0 Utes.

As the 60,000 elitists watched in sheer horror, their big boy squad was taken to time out and deliberately given 21 spanks to its bottom in the first 11 minutes. The story is nothing you haven’t heard a few hundred times by now.

2008 was something special, merely on the accounts of Utah’s teams performing at a level that no one expected.

Lauren Hair went from a virtual second-half sub to a striker who was relied upon to put the ball in the back of the net, becoming a star overnight. Hair finished the season with five crucial goals and, combined with recent U-23 U.S. National Team invite Kelly Isleib, and talented underclassmen such as Morgan Skeen and Lauren Porter, the Utah women’s soccer team turned heads and lost only two MWC games.

Beth Launiere’s volleyball team, led by seniors Lori Baird, Kathryn Haynie and Emillie Toone, went on two separate impressive win streaks. An eight-game winning streak, alongside a season-best 11-game streak, were just two of the season’s highlights as the Utes stormed their way into the Sweet 16.

The Fall Season had its showings, as did Winter.

The women’s swimming squad, led by freshman phenom Whitney Lopus, who partook in the 2008 Summer Olympic trials, overcame complications and controversies of the past, thanks in large part to second-year coach Greg Winslow. The Utah swimming and diving team broke 14 school records this year en route to establishing a true potential for years to come.

The story of Runnin’ Ute basketball isn’t hard to find. The program, thanks to former coach Ray Giacoletti, was in disarray. Then came Jim Boylen8212;the guy who screams too loud and wears his emotions on the sleeve of the same pinkish-striped shirt he wears before every game. No one expected this Utah team, unlike the one in 2004, to contend. A group of castoffs and underachievers was turned into the prize of the MWC8212;twice8212;and the first NCAA tourney berth since the season of Bogut and his cohorts.

Summing up Elaine Elliott’s bunch one needs only two words: Morgan and Warburton. Well, that’s three, but you get the gist. At 5-feet-11, the guard led the team in scoring and defensive rebounds and was called upon to leave it all out on the court, and she did a damn fine job of it.

It’s more than just football and basketball at the U, truly.

This year’s Red Rocks are primed to avenge last season’s NCAA Championship loss to rival Georgia, and to quote star Kristina Baskett, “We’re going to win it this year.”

That’s the attitude that sums up the masterful season of athletics that has been 2008.

No one saw coming most of this dominance, drive and perseverance, but that’s exactly why we write the articles and they just do it.

Names such as Eva Huckova, Nick Cohee, Lauren Endersen, Phillip Eilers, Chelsea Shapard and Anastasia Putilina might not sound exactly household, but these student athletes are as impressive as any wide receiver running a post-route or a guard nailing a 3-pointer.

2008 has been an unexpected ride of emotion, victory and heartbreak, but a similar tone is in each and every athlete and program8212;a never-say-die attitude that cannot be replaced by a trophy, professional contract or television spotlight.

“We gave (Alabama) the pre-game hype. It was their turn at the beginning of the game, but this is what we wanted, the post-game hype,” said senior wideout Brent Casteel after Utah’s 31-17 spanking of the Crimson Tide. “We got it done.”

Teams on the hill have grown easily accustomed to being written off at any time, but as so many have proved, 2008 was a year of supremacy, growth and fearlessness.

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Chris Kamrani