2016 ESPYS: Reliving all of the nominee-worthy performances in the NCAA
What a year 2015-16 was in the world of college sports.
The 2016 ESPYS are set to take place on Wednesday night, and a host of collegiate athletes will represent their schools at the festivities. Perhaps they’ll even take home some hardware.
Regardless of whether or not college athletes are victorious, being nominated for an ESPY is a grand accomplishment in itself. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments, performances and overall bodies of work that brought us to this point.
Nominee for best female athlete: Breanna Stewart, Women’s Basketball, Connecticut
Where do we begin with Stewart?
One of the most decorated players college basketball history, Stewart reached her apex in her senior year.
The 6-4 forward/center went 4-for-4 in college national championships, and in 2015-16, she was undoubtedly the best player on perhaps the greatest team ever. Stewart averaged 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.4 blocked shots per game in her final year in Storrs.
UConn fans showed her some much deserved love on Senior Day:
Breanna Stewart honored on Senior Day at UConn https://t.co/bSurywTi3t— Jim Fuller (@NHRJimFuller) February 27, 2016
Perhaps she’ll receive a similar ovation on Wednesday night.
Nominee for best record-breaking performance: Geno Auriemma, Women’s Basketball, Connecticut
After the 2015-16 season, Auriemma officially needed to get his toes sized for championship rings. With 11 national titles, the UConn head coach has the most championships of any coach in college hoops history.
And the Huskies did so in dominant fashion. They went 38-0, and no team came within 20 points of knocking them off in the NCAA tournament. That doesn’t happen without an extraordinary coach.
Nominee for best record-breaking performance: Christian McCaffrey, Football, Stanford
We haven’t seen a player in college football like McCaffrey in more than a decade. Run, catch, return kicks, return punts…. play the harmonica? Yeah, this guy can do it all.
McCaffrey broke the single-season college football record for all-purpose yards in 2015, and he was only a sophomore.
The smooth jack-of-all-trades ran for more than 2,000 yards, and tacked on several more through the air and in the return game. Best of luck to McCaffrey on Wednesday night, but even if he doesn’t win, there is a good chance he breaks his own record in 2016.
Nominee for best upset: Middle Tennessee State defeats Michigan State, Men’s Basketball
The No. 15 seed vs. the No. 2 seed. And this wasn’t just any two seed. This was a juggernaut that featured a combination of Tom Izzo, a man that has built his coaching pedigree of off postseason glory, and Denzel Valentine, the best player in college basketball not named Buddy Hield.
None of that mattered on the opening Friday of March Madness. From Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders busted millions of brackets en route to a 90-81 victory.
How did it happen? The Blue Raiders simply couldn’t miss; the Spartans’ 81 points were actually higher than their season average. MTSU shot 56 percent from the floor and canned 11 3’s, and it was a spectacular moment to watch.
Nominee for best game: Villanova vs. North Carolina
The videos speak more eloquently than I possibly could.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Nominee for best play (16-team bracket style): Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater to win national championship, Men’s Basketball
It gets better every time you watch it. Unless you're a UNC fan.
Nominee for best play (16-team bracket style): Michigan State punt return touchdown vs. Michigan, Football
A walk-off home run in baseball is one thing; a walk-off punt return in football? Pretty much unheard of. Especially with the stakes so high. Michigan vs. Michigan State is one of the best rivalries in college football, and Jalen Watts-Jackson will forever live in college football lore.
Nominee for best play (16-team bracket style): Stanford receiver makes crazy touchdown catch, Football
Francis Owusu, you are ridiculous.
This play may not have been as pressure-packed as the two above, but from an athletic standpoint, it’s pure magic.
Nominee for best play (16-team bracket style): Army’s Kasey McCravey leaps over catcher to score run, Softball
Kasey McCravey got way up to score this run for Army softball:
The hook slide is one thing, but when you have hops like McCravey, why not use them?
Nominee for best play (16-team bracket style): Auburn’s Tiffany Howard robs home run in Women’s College World Series, Softball
She did WHAT?
With her Tigers tied with Oklahoma in the top of the sixth inning in Game 2 of the Women's College World Series championship round, Howard climbed the wall and robbed Shay Knighten of a go-ahead homer.
Robbing a home run is a spectacular feat by itself. But in this moment? Unreal.
Nominee for best team: Alabama Crimson Tide, Football
The Tide lost one game all season long, and Nick Saban’s squad celebrated a national title in Glendale after a grueling contest against Clemson.
Nominee for best team: Connecticut, Women’s Basketball
See the sections about Auriemma and Stewart above for more on UConn women’s hoops.
Nominee for best team: Villanova, Men’s Basketball
Jenkins’ game-winning shot gets a lot of the publicity, but Villanova was an outstanding team all season long, winning 35 games and knocking off the likes of North Carolina, Kansas, Miami and Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
Nominee for best coach/manager: Geno Auriemma, Women’s Basketball, Connecticut
There is more on Auriemma in the ‘record-breaking performance’ section.
Nominee for best coach/manager: Jay Wright, Men’s Basketball, Villanova
Wright is the epitome of class, and given Villanova’s postseason troubles going into the Final Four in Houston, it was hard not to root for him.
After three 30-win seasons in a row, Jenkins’ shot made Wright a national champion. His reaction was priceless, and it was just so Jay Wright.
Nominees for best male college athlete:
-Derrick Henry, Football, Alabama – Henry won the Heisman Trophy and rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to a national championship.
-Buddy Hield, Men’s Basketball, Oklahoma – A four-year player, Hield’s best season came in his last. ‘Buddy Buckets’ averaged 25 points and 4.2 made 3's per game while winning the Naismith Award.
-Jordan Morris, Men’s Soccer, Stanford – A national champion for the Cardinal, the forward scored 13 goals in 18 games for Stanford in 2015.
-Jarrion Lawson, Men’s Track and Field, Arkansas – As a senior in 2016, Lawson was the NCAA indoor long jump champion, which was the third title of his career.
-Alex Dieringer, Wrestling, Oklahoma State – Dieringer was the NCAA champion at 165 pounds in 2016 and won the Dan Hodge Trophy. He recorded his second undefeated season in a row.
Nominees for best female college athlete:
-Breanna Stewart, Women’s Basketball, Connecticut – Stewart won her fourth national championship in four seasons at UConn, and averaged career highs in several statistical categories.
-Raquel Rodriguez, Women’s Soccer, Penn State – Rodriguez became the second Penn State women’s soccer player to ever win the MAC Hermann Trophy. She was also named the Most Outstanding Player on Offense of the College Cup.
-Samantha Bricio, Women’s Volleyball, USC – The 6-2 outside hitter was dominant in her time in Los Angeles, and she went out in great fashion, winning the 2015 AVCA National Player of the Year award in her senior season.
-Taylor Cummings, Women’s Lacrosse, Maryland – Widely known as the best female lacrosse player in the country, Cummings completed the trifecta in 2016. She won her third Tewaarton Trophy in a row, and this is her second ESPY nomination in consecutive years.
-Sierra Romero, Softball, Michigan – One of eight players to ever hit .400 with 200 RBIs, 50 homers and have a career slugging percentage of .800, Romero was fantastic once again in 2016. She was named the national player of the year.