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Volume 69, Issue 138, Wednesday, April 28, 2004


And The Winners Are

School's top Cougar athletes contribute to resurgent pride in University

Cougar Sports Staff

This is more than another pat on the back. It's more than another chance to celebrate the heroes we've been applauding all season long. 

This is simply a chance to sit back and admire excellence in sports. 

This is a chance to stare greatness in the face and try to absorb some of the reflected glow. It's a chance to give a good old fashioned "atta boy". 

We have chosen a handful of athletes who have been not only successful, but have also lathered up the latent pride in Cougar sports that seems to have been dormant for a decade. 

Robertson Stadium was once again full of screaming fans, clamoring to get a piece of the only action the Cougars have seen for what seems like forever. Hofheinz Pavilion pulsed with the vibrant energy generated by the Lady Cougars, who seemed destined for a spectacular season. 

And in the other venues -- Cougar Field, the Cougar Softball Complex, the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, the Tom Tellez track, the John E. Hoff Varsity Tennis Courts -- fans could see some of the hardest-working, awe-inspiring athletes on campus. 

Our decision for the Newcomer of the Year was not an easy one. Freshman Anna Kiess broke the surface of the nation's elite divers, freshman Ricky Romano teed off the top pairing for the golf team, and junior-college transfer Sancho Lyttle gave the Lady Cougars the inside presence that had been missing during most of the Chandi Years. 

But along with head coach Art Briles, Kevin Kolb put a face on the Cougar football program. Kolb recorded the highest freshman totals in the nation in passing yards (3,131), completion percentage (61.1) and touchdown passes (25). 

Though our other nominees certainly earned their place on the list, no one can argue with our choice for the queen of Cougars, Chandi Jones. Diving sophomore Azul Almazan continued her trajectory to the top of diving, sophomore Jaci Gonzalez knows volleyball and softball well (she's a member of both teams), and senior Nikki Hawkins was a bright spot on an otherwise drab landscape for the UH soccer team. 

For Male Athlete of the Year, the choice was between three football players, a baseball man and a burner. But in the end, The Daily Cougar thought that the only athlete in the group who plays an individual sport should be singled out. Junior track star Stanford Routt gets the nod over Kolb, seniors Brandon Middleton and Rex Hadnot, and senior Brett Cooley because he, quite literally, outpaced his competition. 

The award for Coach of the Year may have been the most difficult. Kyla Holas has kept the softball team near the top of Conference USA, Leroy Burrell has set the bar high for the track team and Jane Figueiredo allowed the UH divers to flourish. 

But the award came down to two men who oversaw two of the most successful seasons in their program's history -- one was a turnaround, the other was a continuation of a turnaround that began years ago. 

And in the end The Daily Cougar decided the Cougar with the biggest impact on the team was not the miracle worker but the steady hand that oversaw a higher level of success. 

Art Briles will certainly rule the campus one day in the not-at-all distant future. But Joe Curl, the Associated Press Coach of the Year, gets our bid for Coach of the Year. 

To all our athletes and coaches, hats off.

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