2011 is a year that just about every sports fan in the River City will remember for one reason or another. So before we welcome 2012, here's a breakdown of what I think was the ten biggest sports stories in Richmond for the year.
First a few Honorable Mention for some stories that just barely didn't make it.
- George Wythe football team ends 68 game losing streak
- Lee-Davis wins Softball State Championship
- Top defensive football recruit in the state, Curtis Grant, picks Ohio State on national television
- Prince George native Jackie Bradley Jr. part of 2nd straight CWS-winning championship team
- Former Spider Tim Hightower gets traded to Redskins, blows out his knee
- Goochland football's undefeated season ends in title game
- Cosby's Luis Rendon named the Gatorade National Player of the Year in Boys Soccer
Now on with the countdown.
10. Russell Wilson transfers to Wisconsin – The Collegiate School product was one of the highest sought after college football free agents ever. After he was let go from North Carolina State, Wilson decided to walk away from the Colorado Rockies organization and join the Badgers. For a time, he was in the running for the Heisman, and had Wisconsin in the national title conversation.
9. Denny Hamlin moves his charity race – After problems at Southside Speedway, Hamlin moved his Short Track Showdown to RIR. Hamlin won his race for the first time, and finished second in the cup race that weekend. But 2011 would be considered a down year for Hamlin, as he won just one race, and fired his crew chief.
8. Homegrown Justin Harper gets drafted – A star at Meadowbrook, and then at the University of Richmond, Justin Harper waited for the second pick of the second round of the NBA draft to get taken by the Cavaliers. He was traded to Orlando, but because of the NBA Lockout, he won't make his debut until next week.
7. World Cycling Championship is coming to town – Richmond beats out a city in Oman, to earn one of the triple crown events of worldwide racing for 2015. The World Cycling Championships is expected to bring half a million spectators with it. New participant records were made in the Monument 10k and the Richmond Marathon, as Richmond continues to prove it's a hotbed for outdoor athletic events.
6. The president of RIR resigns – Less than two weeks before the "One Last Race to Make the Chase", Track President Doug Fritz resigned his position after 14 years leading the track. The details are still unknown why Fritz walked away, he would eventually take a job leading the Iowa Speedway. Bad news would hit RIR later in the year as well, when Crown Royal took its "Your Name Here" race to the Brickyard.
5. Kickers beat two MLS teams in US Open Cup – 2011 was one of the best years in the two decades of the Richmond Kickers. They beat two Major League Soccer teams, the Columbus Crew and Sporting KC, becoming just the 2nd third division team to make it to the US Open Cup Semifinals. Their US Pro Cup season would end in the Division Finals to Orlando.
4. Squirrels lose in title series – 2011 was another great year for the Flying Squirrels. The team saw another huge year in attendance, and star Eric Surkamp get the call up to the Giants. They won the Division Finals after they were able to host all of the games because Harrisburg's stadium flooded. but lost to New Hampshire in the Eastern League Championship.
3. Justin Verlander wins the Cy Young & MVP – Goochland's favorite son had one of the best seasons in recent Major League Pitching history – he won the pitching triple crown, and led the Tigers to their first division title in over 20 years. Verlander pitched his second no-hitter, won his first Cy Young Award, and became the first pitcher in 26 years to be named MVP.
2. Spiders football coach arrested for DUI – Latrell Scott's late night mishap was the beginning of a rough year for the Richmond football team. Scott resigned 10 days before the season, and was replaced by Wayne Lineburg. The Spiders beat Duke in their opener, but went winless in their conference games and finished 3-8. Danny Rocco became their 3rd coach in 4 months.
1. Hoopstown USA – The Richmond basketball team booked its ticket to the Big Dance with an A-10 tournament title, then VCU joined them on Selection Sunday. Both teams would keep meeting, and remarkably, both would make it to the Sweet 16 in the same regional. The Spiders run would end there, but the Rams would keep it going all the way to the Final Four. Shaka Smart and Chris Mooney became household names across the country, and despite reported interest from ACC schools, both decide to stay in the River City.
I'd love to hear what you think of the countdown, so let me know on my Facebook Fan Page.