Cache Valley Daily’s top sports stories of 2020

Utah State's Sam Merrill shoots in the final moments against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game for the Mountain West Conference men's tournament championship Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

1 – Coaching controversy with USU football

Just three games into the football season, Gary Andersen was relieved of his coaching duties by Utah State University Director of Athletics John Hartwell. Hartwell cited a concern for the trajectory of the program under Andersen and felt a change was necessary to put the program back on track. Frank Maile was elevated to interim head coach, but turmoil within the football program persisted with multiple players announcing their intentions to transfer and starting quarterback Jason Shelley being dismissed from the team. Then players voted to boycott the final game of the season based on comments made by USU President Noelle Cockett about Maile’s cultural and religious background.

2 – Sam Merrill hits dramatic shot that secures second consecutive MWC Tournament Championship for USU

The Utah State Aggies were able to secure their second straight conference tournament championship by defeating New Mexico (75-70), Wyoming (89-82) and #5 San Diego State (59-56). The victory over SDSU was capped by a last-second 3 point shot by senior Sam Merrill. The victory would have secured an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament for the Aggies but the tournament was cancelled over coronavirus concerns.

3 – Multiple state championship trophies come to Cache Valley

It was a successful year for high school athletics in Cache Valley. At least nine championship trophies (and a few additional runners-up trophies, as well) are in high school trophy cases this year. Sky View won state championships in football and volleyball (with runner up finishes in boys basketball and swimming); Preston won state championships in girls soccer and boys cross country (with a runner up finish in boys basketball); West Side won state championships in football and volleyball; Ridgeline won a state championship in girls soccer; Mountain Crest won a state championship in wrestling; and, the Green Canyon duo of Maren McKenna and Kate Anderson won a championship in tennis.

4 – Jordan Love drafted in the 1st round by the Green Bay Packers

Jordan Love became the first Aggie football player to be drafted in the first round since defensive tackle Phil Olsen went fourth overall to the Boston Patriots in 1970. The Packers moved up four spots in the draft to select Love. Love set school records with 9,003 yards of total offense, 12 career 300-yard passing games and four completions of at least 80 yards. He finished his career 689-of-1,125 (.612) passing for 8,600 yards with 60 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He ranks second all-time in school history in passing yards, completions and attempts, is tied for second all-time in touchdown passes, and is third in completion percentage. He is also second all-time in school history with three 400-yard passing games.

5 – Spring sports cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic

High school sports throughout Utah had their entire seasons cancelled this spring. Players and parents tried to appeal to the Utah High School Activities Association to let the students play, but the organization stood by their early spring proclamation, resulting in thousands of spring sport athletes being unable to compete.

6 – Sam Merrill drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks

Sam Merrill was the last name called during the NBA’s draft on November 19th. He was originally selected by the New Orleans Pelicans but that pick was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Merrill is the first Aggie selected in the NBA Draft since 1986, when Greg Grant was selected by the Detroit Pistons. Merrill finished his career at Utah State as one of the all-time greats and ranks second in school history in both career points (2,197) and career assists (477). He also helped the Aggies capture back-to-back Mountain West Tournament championships and became the first player in league history to earn back-to-back Mountain West Tournament MVP honors. Early in the 2020-21 season for the Bucks, Merrill has played meaningful minutes and has not missed a 3 point shot attempt. In fact, his 3 point shot on Tuesday, Dec. 29th for the Bucks helped the team set a new NBA record for most 3 pointers made in a game.

7 – Blake Anderson named new head coach at USU

Amid all the controversy inside the USU football program in December, the Aggies named Blake Anderson to be their next head football coach. Anderson comes to USU after spending seven seasons at Arkansas State. His Red Wolves teams were regular participants in bowl games and won two conference championships. Anderson has a record of 51-37 with back-to-back Sun Belt Conference Championships in 2015 and 2016. Anderson had winning records in each of his first six years at Arkansas State, taking his teams to six straight bowl games. His teams were 2-4 in the post-season and finished with a 4-7 record this year.

8 – USU Gymnastics has special year cut short due to pandemic

The USU gymnastics squad was having a special 2020 when their season was cut short. The team was recording near-record high marks and knocked off #20 Southern Utah and #17 BYU before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They started their 2020 season 1-6, but finished 6-0-1.

9 – Mason Falslev concludes special high school athletic career

Sky View’s Mason Falslev leaves behind a legacy of championships and competing at the highest level of high school competition in Utah. Falslev helped lead his Bobcat teams to multiple state championships in football and basketball, and some runner-up finishes in those sports as well. Whether on the field or on a court, Falslev was the most dominating player in the game.

10 – Kayla Ard replaces Jerry Finkbeiner as USU Women’s Basketball Head Coach

In March, USU announced that Kayla Ard would be the new head coach of the women’s basketball program. Ard was hired after Jerry Finkbeiner had announced at the start of the previous season that he would be stepping down. Ard was serving as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Denver, Dayton, Clemson, Troy and Pensacola State. In all, she has coached one WNBA draft pick and 17 players that have played professionally overseas.

 

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