By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The year 2020 is drawing to a close, and what a crazy ride it’s been. Here are the Top Seven local sports stories of the year:
7. McKENZIE MOVES ON. One-time Heisman Trophy candidate McKenzie Milton has worked diligently to come back from a devastating knee injury. But rather than trying to unseat Central Florida’s current starting QB – fellow Mililani alum Dillon Gabriel – Milton has decided to continue his football career some 280 miles away, at Florida State.
6. PURE GOLD. In what has to be a fantastic first, two MLB players from Hawaii earned the coveted Gold Glove award. It was the second straight honor for former University of Hawaii standout Kolten Wong, (The second baseman is currently a free agent.) And it was the first Gold Glove for Texas Rangers third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is a graduate of Mid-Pacific Institute.
5. ROUGHED UP. It was a difficult year for Hawaii’s leading MMA fighters. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane lost her Bellator flyweight title to Juliana Velasquez. Max Holloway lost a disputed decision to Alexander Volkanovski in his bid to reclaim the UFC featherweight crown. Dan I’ve had his six-bout win streak stopped by Calvin Kattar in Abu Dhabi. And after suffering three consecutive losses, Rachael Ostovich was released by the UFC.
4. TUA’S TIME. Although a hip injury prevented Tua Tagovailoa from becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it might have ended up in his favor. Tua was taken with the fifth overall pick by the Miami Dolphins, and the rookie QB has helped lead the team to a possible playoff spot. Bottom line: The ex-Saint Louis Crusader is playing meaningful games down the stretch, and that should only speed up his growth as a pro quarterback.
3. THE GRAHAM ERA. When it was announced that Nick Rolovich had accepted the head coaching job at Washington State, many fans assumed a coordinator such as Craig Stutzmann or Brian Smith would take over the UH program. Instead, Hawaii brought in Todd Graham, a veteran coach who led program at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State. Without the benefit of spring practice, Graham nevertheless put together a winning season and led Hawaii to a 2020 New Mexico Bowl appearance.
2. WHAT NOW? The news that Aloha Stadium would no longer host future events came as a shock to everyone. With the new stadium not scheduled to be completed by 2023 at the earliest (and we know how that goes), the obvious and most pressing question became, “What about UH football?” UH Athletic Director David Matlin is looking at expanding TC Ching Field on the lower campus, but are there other options?
1. PANDEMIC PROBLEMS. Were you expecting anything else? COVID-19 laid waste to much of the sports scene in the 808: Prep sports were shut down, UH teams had their postseason hopes suddenly vanish, and other Rainbow Warrior and Rainbow Wahine program were canceled altogether, not to mention major events like the Honolulu Marathon, Polynesian Bowl and our very own ESPN Honolulu Sports Festival.
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