The news involving Michael Sam brought surprise, joy and congratulations.
Yes, a Missouri defender who had not been selected to an all-conference team in his first three years, had become Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year.
Oh, and there was that other piece of news.
In February, Sam came out of the closet and stepped into the glare of national publicity. The timing meant that Sam didn’t play a major-college football game as an openly gay player, but he positioned himself to be the first selected in the NFL Draft.
The St. Louis Rams made that happen when they selected him the seventh round.
Sam’s sexual preference was known to his teammates during the season, and it didn’t seem to matter to the Tigers.
“It’s about being respectful to people,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Sam’s story was the biggest in our college sports world for 2013-14, a school year that produced no Division I national titles, but two in Division II.
KANSAS: One-hit wonder hoops
The lists of Kansas basketball greats, impact freshmen and first-round NBA Draft selections stack up with almost any in the game. But to roll all of that into one player, it had never happened.
But Thursday, when the draft was conducted, it happened twice.
Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid delivered sensational seasons for Kansas, helping the Jayhawks to their 10th straight Big 12 championship.
Wiggins, who set the program’s freshman scoring record with a 17.1 scoring average, was a second-team All-American and, when Cleveland took him, became the program’s first top NBA Draft pick since Danny Manning in 1988.
Embiid was headed to a monster season until a back injury ended his season in early March.
The news got worse last week when Embiid suffered a stress fracture on his right foot and pulled out of attending the draft. Yet his stock was high enough that he was taken third by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The only players who had left a Bill Self program for the draft after their true freshman years were Xavier Henry and Josh Selby. That one-and-done total doubled this year and could continue next year with players like Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre.
Caroline Jarmoc: The Jayhawks’ volleyball team posted its best Big 12 finish (second) and reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. Jarmoc, who finished her career second on the school’s all-time kills list, was voted a third-team All-American.
Andrew Wiggins: The noise surrounding his signing reached jet-engine decibel levels, and for the most part Wiggins delivered. But the ending left an empty feeling. An NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford meant the Jayhawks failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, and Wiggins was a no-show with four points.
Michael Stigler: Runner-up in the 400-meter hurdles for the second straight year at the NCAA Championships, Stigler became the first male Kansas track athlete since 1980 to be an All-American three times.
OUR PICK: Wiggins
MISSOURI: Fall sports sizzle
August into September into October, the football and volleyball teams engaged in a friendly rivalry: Which could maintain its undefeated season longer?
In football’s 7-0 start, Mizzou took down Georgia and Florida. An overtime loss to South Carolina was crushing, but the undeterred Tigers kept rolling. As they put the finishing touches on Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in the regular-season finale, a division title was secured. This from a team that had been projected to finish sixth of seven.
Missouri battled Auburn for three quarters of the SEC Championship Game before fading in the fourth, but the Tigers defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, a game that was clinched when Shane Ray returned a fumble caused by a Michael Sam sack and strip, for a touchdown.
The volleyball team steamrolled every opponent and, after sweeping Arkansas in the season finale, posted the first perfect record (34-0) in Southeastern Conference history.
Mizzou, ranked fourth, fell in the NCAA Tournament second round and closed its greatest season 35-1.
Athlete of the year finalists
Michael Sam: Sam had enjoyed a solid three seasons but took his game to the next level as a senior. He led the SEC with 111/2 sacks, which tied a school record, and tackles for losses with 19. In February, Sam did not shy away from who he is when he revealed to the nation something only those closest to him and his teammates had known: that he is gay.
Molly Kreklow: The SEC volleyball player of the year engineered one of the nation’s top offenses. Kreklow led the nation in assists per set, and the Tigers ranked first nationally in hitting, kills and assists as they rolled to a perfect regular season.
Henry Josey: After a devastating knee injury that required multiple surgeries and costhim the 2012 season, Josey remarkably returned to full strength and rushed for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns. Among SEC players, only Auburn running back Tre Mason had more touchdowns.
Our pick: Kreklow
KANSAS STATE: Crushing opener, glorious end
The West Stadium Center with a student-athlete dining hall, office space, upscale seating, hall of fame and team store opened to great fanfare and reviews in the afternoon of Aug. 30. That evening was a different story when the Wildcats lost their opener to North Dakota State.
After six games, the Wildcats stood an uninspiring 2-4, and with three league losses, out of the Big 12 race.
But K-State made a stand.
One victory followed another. Jake Waters started to establish himself more at quarterback, and the Wildcats accepted an invitation to meet Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, looking to end the program’s five-game losing streak in postseason games.
That happened, with emphasis. K-State took control early and coasted to a 31-14 victory.
Tyler Lockett caught three touchdown passes and will enter next season as one of the nation’s premier wide receivers.
The next phase of improvements at Bill Snyder Family Stadium is a new Vanier Football Complex and North Stadium. The project isn’t expected to be completed until 2015, so the Wildcats should be OK in the August opener against Stephen F. Austin.
Athlete of the year finalists
Tyler Lockett: A double first-team All-Big 12 player, at wide receiver and kick returner, Lockett is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. His three best outings last season came against Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, when he combined for 971 total yards.
Marcus Foster: On a team with three starters returning, few expected a freshman to lead coach Bruce Weber’s basketball squad. But Foster quickly became the Wildcats’ go-to source and one of the Big 12’s top guards. He led K-State in scoring at 15.5 points and shot 39.5 percent on three-pointers. K-State made the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year, and the Wildcats have a leader headed into Weber’s third season.
Petra Niedermayerova: Last week, Niedermayerova was chosen the Big 12 scholar-athlete in women’s tennis for the second straight year. She became the program’s first athlete to play in the NCAA singles championship for four straight years and holds the school record for career singles wins (103-43).
OUR PICK: Lockett
Northwest Missouri State: The Bearcats returned to the top, capturing the fourth Division II NCAA football championship in school history — the first under coach Adam Dorrel — by defeating Lenior-Rhyne 43-28. On the way home from Florence, Ala., the coaches stopped at a favorite haunt of Scott Bostwick, who was the head coach for only a few months before his death in 2011. They dropped off a red hat, which Bostwick had worn on the sidelines as a defensive coordinator.
Central Missouri: The Mules walked a tightrope throughout the basketball postseason, but every decision fell their way during the Division II national championship victory over West Liberty. Coach Kim Anderson’s basketball life couldn’t have gotten any better, until it did. A month later, he was hired as head coach at his alma mater, Missouri, where he had been a Big Eight player of the year under Norm Stewart. “Thanks for bringing me home,” Anderson said at his introductory news conference.
Heart of America: The conference football race ended in a photo finish, when Baker, Benedictine and Missouri Valley finished tied atop the standings. All three advanced to the NAIA playoffs. Baker won its first postseason game in two decades, but like Missouri Valley, fell in the quarterfinals.
NAIA tournament: The annual basketball event at Municipal Auditorium offered a few new looks, like slam-dunk and three-point shooting contests, but the biggest new attraction was Benedictine. A two-time winner, Benedictine returned to the event for the first time since 1970 by winning the Heart of America regular season. A crowd of 6,325 — the largest for a session since the tournament returned to Kansas City in 2002 — saw the Ravens fall to eventual champion Vanguard (Calif.)
Kansas City: Scored big with future NCAA championships. In December, the NCAA awarded sites through 2018 and no area landed more. Among the championships headed our way at least once over the next four years: Division I volleyball and men’s soccer, Division II football and Division III men’s and women’s soccer.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.