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The Day's Top 10 sports moments of 2011: UConn's victory was one shining moment

Published January 01. 2012 4:00AM
Charles Krupa/ AP Photo
Kemba Walker, left, holds back tears, joined by teammates Alex Oriakhi, center, and Jeremy Lamb at a pep rally at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs following the UConn men's third national championship in Houston in early April. The men won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament in unprecedented fashion, then went on to win in Houston, beating Butler for the championship. That victory has been named The Day's top sports story for 2011.

The years pass and the stories get better. And 2011 was among the most memorable, a collage of championships, milestones, triumph, joy, loss and controversy.

Hope it was as fun to pick up the newspaper and log on to theday.com as it was to write it.

What follows are The Day's Top 10 stories of the year - limited to stories and events The Day covered - as voted on by the Day sports staff:

1. UConn men: Title No. 3

To think some of us thought UConn might not make the NCAA tournament at the beginning of the season. The Huskies did that and more, earning the program's third national championship.

The Huskies did the unimaginable - five wins in five days at the Big East Tournament - before narrow wins in the NCAA tournament against Arizona and Kentucky. UConn defeated Butler in the finals, culminating Kemba Walker's career.

2. No. 1 ranking? All Dunn

Not even in New London High School's estimable basketball history had this ever been accomplished: a 27-0 record. And on a night in March before more than 9,000 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena, the Whalers completed the perfect season with the Class L state title, defeating Northwest Catholic.

Kris Dunn, who would later sign at Providence, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. New London was named the state's No. 1 team in the final media poll.

3. Controversy on the hill

No other story of the year produced as many reader comments to theday.com as Bill Buscetto's abrupt dismissal as the baseball coach and athletic director at St. Bernard. Readers sparred on both sides of the issue as Buscetto, alumni, students and parents attempted to get him reinstated, which he was not. Buscetto led a period of considerable success in the athletic program.

4. Manny being Manny

Ledyard High School senior Alex Manwaring was considered among the top returning football players in eastern Connecticut in the preseason. What followed, however, was the season of his life.

Manwaring set an ECC single-season record with more than 2,500 yards rushing, leading the Colonels to the ECC Medium Division title and a berth in the Class M finals. Manwaring also set the school's single-game rushing record with 317 yards vs. Bacon Academy.

5. Razed in Arizona

The UConn football program began 2011 with a Bowl Championship Series date vs. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Only a few days later, coach Randy Edsall left UConn for Maryland, touching off a tumultuous offseason.

Major donor Robert Burton sent an angry letter pulling his sizeable donation, outraged that he wasn't part of the hiring process for the new coach.

Ultimately, UConn hired Cheshire native Paul Pasqualoni and replaced athletic director Jeff Hathaway with interim AD Paul Pendergast.

6. More Maya

Maya Moore became the only women's basketball player to win the Wade Trophy three times, leading the UConn women to the Final Four. Moore was drafted as the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx and won the WNBA championship.

Her appearance at Mohegan Sun in August drew a sellout crowd.

7. Danielson makes Top 10

East Lyme native Tom Danielson made his debut in the Tour de France and finished ninth.

In October, approximately 270 cyclists formed a pack at the start of the Tom Danielson Charity Ride on Saturday morning, a first-time event that started at East Lyme High School, his alma mater, and covered many of the same roads that Danielson grew up training on.

8. From Oakdale to Storrs

Andre Drummond, one of the most coveted men's basketball recruits in the country, chose UConn over many other elite schools. Drummond played prep school basketball at St. Thomas More.

9. No. 3 for Orbe

The Montville High School baseball program won its third Class M title, despite a somewhat mediocre regular season. The Indians, seeded 20th, ran through the state tournament and defeated Seymour in June at Muzzy Field.

It was the third state title for coach Phil Orbe.

10. Big news for Biggs

East Lyme High School won its second straight state volleyball championship, defeating RHAM of Hebron, the top seed in Class L.

Senior Emily Passman was named The Day's Player of the Year and coach Jack Biggs was named the Coach of the Year.

• Also receiving votes: Griswold High School wrestler Brandon Walsh won a New England title at 135 pounds. ... East Lyme High School girls' track won its seventh state title in program history ... Stonington's Megan Rose Chapman won the New England discus championship ... Bacon Academy ended Danbury's 10-year reign and won its first State Open wrestling title. ... Jeff Hedden rallied on the final day to win the New England amateur golf championship.

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