It’s easy to consider 2009 a downer if you’re a Tiger fan and choose to grind your teeth over an NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball program or a dreadful season for the football team. But if you look at the university’s athletic programs with a wider lens, there’s plenty to be grateful for as you carve this year's turkey.
• Brooks Monaghan. The women’s soccer coach is building the kind of resume that will capture national attention . . . if it can just catch enough local eyes first. In Monaghan’s 10th season at the helm, the Tigers won their third straight Conference USA championship and reached the NCAA tournament a third consecutive year. And next season may be the year the U of M finally advances in soccer’s version of the Big Dance. Returning will be junior Ashley Berra (Conference USA’s 2009 Offensive Player of the Year), junior Kelsey Bakker (C-USA’s 2009 Defensive POY), and Vendula Strnadova (a three-time all-conference selection).
• Mike Rose Soccer Complex. On the subject of soccer, I can’t imagine a better place to watch a match than the just-the-right-size stadium off Bill Morris Parkway. It’s a shining example of what the football program needs. A stadium doesn’t necessarily have to be on campus . . . but size matters, and a lot.
• FedEx Park. On the subject of facilities, I can’t wait to see the new baseball stadium under construction at the Billy J. Murphy Complex. As anyone who has attended AutoZone Park knows, the comforts of a ballpark can enhance the baseball experience tremendously. The ping of aluminum bat striking ball will be almost bearable next spring.
• Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. Loyal followers of the Tiger women’s basketball program missed a real treat when the team’s star freshman was lost for the season to a knee injury. Having scored more than 3,000 points as a high school player in Massachusetts, Abdul-Qaadir should spark the building process under coach Melissa McFerrin, if only a year later than anticipated.
• Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, and Tarik Black. Pardon me for being provincial here — and I can’t wait to see Jelan Kendrick and Will Barton at FedExForum — but it’s nice to see the cream of local hoops talent choosing to stay home and play for the Tigers. And with little deliberation, it would appear.
• You know who. Can’t put this list together without adding Josh Pastner. Is it possible that the personification of optimism has landed in Memphis, Tennessee?