Campus Corner

College athletes of the year at KU, K-State and Mizzou

Updated: 2013-06-17T14:37:51Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

It’s not every year a major college that orbits Kansas City wins an NCAA championship, or claims three conference titles in major sports, or spends its first year in a new league.

But it all happened in 2012-13.

The sports calendar for the school year has closed and it’s time to review and recognize the outstanding athletes for Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State. The overall winner at each school didn’t have to perform before thousands or tens of thousands. They just had to excel, and our choices did on a national level.

Kansas State: The year of 3MAW

Too bad there’s no summer sport to give K-State a chance at a Big 12 Conference grand slam. As it is, a triple crown will have to suffice.

Big 12 regular-season trophies for football, men’s basketball and baseball have the school billing itself Titletown, and why not?

The triple has happened four times in the Bowl Championship Series era (since 1998), with Louisville also accomplishing the feat in its final year in the Big East.

What’s stunning about Kansas State’s titles were the streaks that they ended.

The men’s basketball team, which tied Kansas for first in the regular-season standings, hadn’t won a league title since 1977.

The baseball team had gone nearly eight decades without a baseball championship. The Cats, with a victory over Oklahoma in the season’s final series, clinched their first title since 1933 in the Big Six.

Bill Snyder’s football team finished with the same 8-1 league record as Oklahoma but beat the Sooners and earned its first championship and BCS berth since 2003. It was the Wildcats’ second conference football title since 1934.

Athlete of the year finalists

•  Collin Klein: The all-Big 12 quarterback finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after a year in which he rushed for 23 touchdowns and passed for 16 as a senior. But numbers don’t complete the picture of the team’s vocal and emotional leader.

•  Erik Kynard: He is America’s and one of the world’s best high jumpers. Kynard, coming off his silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics, was outstanding as senior, finishing second in the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships, and winning just about everything else.

•  Ross Kivett: The Wildcats’ leadoff hitter set the tone for perhaps the most unexpected of the Wildcats’ Big 12 title teams. Kivett finished his junior season with a .360 average, and was chosen MVP of the of the NCAA Manhattan Regional.

Our choice: Klein

Kansas: Another national champion emerges

In a way, 2012-13 reflected Kansas’ sports history, with a few tweaks.

Football lost. Basketball won. Track and field won a national championship.

The title didn’t come from the men’s program, which has won seven NCAA titles in track and cross country.

The women brought home this banner, capturing Kansas’ first NCAA championship in a women’s sport.

KU track had steadily regenerated under coach Stanley Redwine, whose women’s teams won the Big 12 indoor and outdoor titles, and seems poised to remain a national contender on the women’s side with the men improving their stature.

A ninth consecutive Big 12 regular-season men’s basketball championship preceded a conference tournament title and two victories in the NCAA Tournament, the second over North Carolina (again). But in a season of big shots — Ben McLemore against Iowa State, Elijah Johnson at Ames — the biggest was a dagger by Michigan’s Trey Burke in the Sweet 16 that ensured overtime, where top-seeded Kansas eventually fell.

KU loses all five starters, but coach Bill Self’s best recruiting class has fans frothing for the Late Night at the Phog on Oct. 4.

The women’s basketball team’s second consecutive run to the NCAA Sweet 16 also ended with a loss, but feeling was more upbeat for the 12th-seeded Jayhawks, who were a No. 11 seed when they reached the regional semis in 2012.

Athlete of the year finalists

•  Jeff Withey: The greatest shot-blocker in Kansas history, MVP of the Big 12 tournament, consensus second-team all-American and NABC co-national defensive player of the year. When Withey transferred from Arizona four years ago, nobody saw this player coming.

•  Andrea Geubelle: Her Kansas’ track career ended in the pits, but it was a good thing. Geubelle took second place in the triple and long jump at the NCAA outdoor meet for 16 points. She won national titles in those two events at the NCAA indoor championship, where Kansas finished second.

•  Lindsay Vollmer: Vollmer was seeded ninth in the heptathlon heading into the NCAA outdoor championship. But after setting or matching personal records in six of the seven events, the sophomore earned the first NCAA outdoor title for Kansas, and the only individual championship for the Jayhawks at the meet.

Our pick: Geubelle

Missouri: Entering a new world

Midway through the third quarter of its football debut in the Southeastern Conference, Missouri led Georgia 17-9. Memorial Stadium was packed and fans were juiced, and although the Bulldogs quickly answered with a touchdown and two-point conversation, the Tigers regained the lead by a field goal.

If Mizzou could get this one…

But no, Georgia, which finished ranked fourth in the coaches’ poll, roared for a three-touchdown triumph and Tigers quickly learned how difficult life would be in the SEC, especially with a wounded quarterback. James Franklin missed all or parts of four games.

There were no SEC regular-season or tournament championships for Mizzou in its first year, although the Tigers, an affiliate member of the Mid-American Conference for wrestling, ran away with that league’s tournament and sent all 10 starters to the NCAA Championship.

Men’s basketball, soccer and softball reached the NCAA Tournament, with coach Ehren Earleywine’s softball team reaching the SEC tournament final and, for the fourth consecutive year, a NCAA super regional.

Athlete of the year finalists

•  Sheldon Richardson: How good was Richardson, the Tigers’ junior defensive tackle? He missed one game, suspended for Mizzou’s close home loss to Syracuse, and the Tigers missed qualifying for a bowl by one game. He led SEC interior defensive linemen in tackles and ranked among league leaders in fumbles forced and recovered. The Jets made Richardson the 13th overall selection in the NFL Draft.

•  Chelsea Thomas: Thomas added SEC pitcher of the year honors to the two similar awards she won the Big 12. She was an all-American for the third time, and in 2013 struck out 232 batters in 198 1/3 innings. Five times Thomas was chosen SEC pitcher of the week.

•  Jace Long: Mizzou’s top golfer got off a torrid start, finishing as the top individual in the team’s first three events and four of the top seven. A senior from Dixon, Mo., Long is a former NCAA regional champion and All-American.

Our choice: Thomas

Other regional college highlights

• Missouri Western’s first Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association football championship was clinched in dramatic fashion. The Griffons trailed rival Northwest Missouri 17-0 at halftime but roared back to win 21-20 in Maryville. The father-son duo of coach Jerry Partridge and quarterback Travis helped the program reach the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.

• The Shockers shocked men’s basketball. Wichita State, seeded ninth, took down Pittsburgh, top-seeded Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State to capture the NCAA West Regional title and advance to the Final Four for the second time in the program’s history. Wichita State nearly pulled off another upset in the national semifinal against Louisville but couldn’t hold a 12-point lead with 13:15 remaining.

• Drury advanced to the Division II Elite Eight for the first time but didn’t stop there. The Panthers pulled off a stunning comeback and beat Metro State 74-73 for the title, a game played in conjunction with the Final Four in Atlanta. Drury trailed by 17 in the first half and by six with four minutes to play.

• UMKC fired men’s basketball coach Matt Brown, who turned in five losing seasons in six years, and turned to national champion Louisville for its replacement. Cardinals assistant Kareem Richardson was tabbed to improve the fortunes of the Kangaroos, who will play in the Western Athletic Conference next season.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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