Rooney: Best of the best from CU Buffs in 2020-21

Year forgettable for many reasons nonetheless provided indelible performances

Despite going undrafted in NBA draft, former CU Buffs point guard McKinley Wright IV will get a shot in the NBA with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Despite going undrafted in NBA draft, former CU Buffs point guard McKinley Wright IV will get a shot in the NBA with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It was a memorable 2020-21 athletic calendar at the University of Colorado, though the slate was largely cluttered with forgettable scenes.

When it began in August, it wasn’t a stretch to wonder if we’d see the Buffaloes in action at all. Once football fell into place, finally kicking off in November, the rest of the athletics calendar soon followed, though fall sports like soccer, volleyball, and cross country had to wait until 2021 to resume competition.

Though a scant few fans got to witness it, the 2020-21 athletics slate nonetheless was a strong one for the Buffaloes, from the football team’s surprising charge to the Alamo Bowl to the men’s basketball team’s dismantling of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament to another national championship for Sage Hurta to cap the indoor track season.

Though Hurta and company still have work ahead in the outdoor track postseason, May symbolically closes the book on the school year. Here is the best of the best the Buffs had to offer in 2020-21.

Men’s Athlete of the Year: McKinley Wright IV

The senior point guard was the sparkplug of the Buffs’ 23-9 season, becoming just the third player in program history to collect three first-team all-conference honors. Wright broke Jay Humphries’ 37-year old career assists leader, and he completed one of the most decorated four-year careers in CU history also ranked sixth in scoring (1,857), tied for 20th in total rebounds (644), tied for second in games started (130), and 10th in made 3-pointers (133).

Honorable mention: Magnus Boee (skiing), Eduardo Herrera (cross country/track), Nate Landman (football).

Women’s Athlete of the Year: Sage Hurta

Hurta opted to return to CU for her final year of eligibility in track and field, and that decision proved worthwhile when she won the indoor national championship in the one-mile run in March. Since then, Hurta has re-broken her own school record in the 800 in early April with a time of 2 minutes, 0.62 seconds in a mark that tied for the 10th-best in NCAA history. Last week, Hurta won the Pac-12 title in the 800, and she will be looking to add to her stellar season when the Buffs begin competition in the NCAA West Preliminaries on Thursday.

Honorable mention: Dani Hansen (soccer), Mya Hollingshed (basketball), Julia Lisella (lacrosse), Hannah Sharts (soccer).

Coach of the Year: Karl Dorrell

It was an incredible year for CU’s coaches who, like their colleagues across the country, dealt with an entirely new set of hurdles while managing COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. Tad Boyle’s men’s basketball team enjoyed its best finish in the Pac-12 Conference and broke its streak of three consecutive losses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. JR Payne led the women’s basketball team to a strong finish that will lead to loftier expectations next season. Mark Wetmore kept the Buffs’ track and cross country programs among the nation’s elite, and Danny Sanchez led the soccer team back to the NCAA Tournament despite losing all-time points leader Taylor Kornieck and standout goalie JJ Tompkins.

Yet all those coaches at least had the slight advantage of running established programs. Not so with Dorrell, who had only been on the job a few weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than 14 months ago forced Dorrell to get to know his new team through Zoom meetings. With no spring football to work with and the Pac-12’s late-to-the-party arrival for the delayed 2020 season, few first-year coaches have ever dealt with the headaches navigated by Dorrell. He was voted the Pac-12’s Coach of the Year while leading CU, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South in the preseason media poll, to a 4-2 mark.

Tim Warner/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – DECEMBER 29: Jarek Broussard #23 of the Colorado Buffaloes carries the ball in the second quarter against the Texas Longhorns during the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 29, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Top comeback: Jarek Broussard

The Buffs’ running back overcame a pair of torn left ACLs, most recently as a redshirt freshman at CU in 2019, to run for 895 yards in the six-game season. Broussard’s average of 149.17 yards per game ranked third nationally, and he posted the fourth 300-yard rushing game in program history with 301 yards at Arizona. Broussard was voted the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Honorable mention: Dallas Walton (men’s basketball).

Thanks for Everything Award: Richard Rokos

No look back at the 2020-21 athletic year can be complete without one last shout-out for Rokos, who retired as CU’s head ski coach after 31 seasons. Magnus Boee’s two Nordic national titles increased the total of individual NCAA titles won by Rokos’ skiers to 45. CU won eight national titles under Rokos between 1995 and 2015.