Commencement ceremonies this week at the University of Colorado put an official (graduation) cap on the 2021-22 school year.
For Buffaloes athletics, there was the usual rollercoaster of memorable wins, impressive performances and crushing defeats. A football season that began with such promise and a near-upset of nationally-ranked Texas A&M dissolved into a 4-8 campaign. On the hardwood, CU’s women’s basketball team topped 20 wins and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. The new-look men’s team shook off an uneven start to win seven of the final eight regular season games to finish fourth in the Pac-12.
There were individual national titles in skiing (Filip Forejtek, Magdelena Luczak) and indoor track (Micaela DeGenero). Yet after being forced to follow the Buffs somewhat from afar during the crowd-less year of 2020-21, perhaps the best aspect of this past year was the return of Buff Nation to Folsom Field and the Events Center, allowing for the fervent atmospheres that punctuated wins like the football team’s double-overtime triumph against Oregon State, or the men’s basketball team’s upset of No. 2 Arizona.
And so, with the CU track and field team still capable of adding a few chapters to the 2021-22 story, here is BuffZone’s annual year-end honors for CU athletics.
Men’s Athlete of the Year: Filip Forejtek
Forejtek won the milestone 100th NCAA individual title (and 102nd overall national championship) in CU skiing history when he won the giant slalom championship in March. The senior from the Czech Republic earned a pair of All-American honors and finished in the top 10 of all 10 races in which he competed this past season. Last month, Forejtek was named the Men’s Alpine Skier of the Year by the US Collegiate Ski Coaches Association.
Honorable mention: Evan Battey, Magnus Boee, Eduardo Herrera, Nate Landman, Jabari Walker.
Women’s Athlete of the Year: Mya Hollingshed
This was a much tougher call, with Magdelena Luczak (giant slalom) and Micaela DeGenero (indoor one mile) both collecting individual national championships. But in an era of college athletics in which school allegiances often are fleeting, Hollingshed made the most of her fifth, extra season of eligibility at CU. A two-time first team All-Pac-12 selection, Hollingshed was the only Pac-12 player to lead her team in scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting while leading the Buffs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013. Hollingshed finished her career ranked sixth all-time in program history in points (1,681), rebounds (911) and double-doubles (25). Thanks to the extra season of eligibility, Hollingshed owns what likely will be an unbreakable record at CU with 141 career games played.
Honorable mention: Micaela DeGenero, Shanade Hopcroft, Magdelena Luczak, Abby Nichols, Hannah Sharts.
Coach of the Year: JR Payne
It wasn’t an easy turnaround for Payne at CU, but in her sixth season she finally led the Buffs back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. CU finished 22-9 overall and 9-7 in Pac-12 play, posting the first 20-win season and above-.500 mark in league play since that same 2012-13 season. Payne deserves credit for the year-by-year improvement displayed by Hollingshed, which led to her getting selected eighth overall in the WNBA draft. Payne also smoothly worked newcomers like transfers Quay Miller and Tameiya Sadler, plus freshman guard Kindyll Wetta, into the rotation while steering the Buffs out of a midseason slide to finish the regular season with wins in six of seven games before picking up a pair of wins in the Pac-12 tournament.
Honorable mention: Tad Boyle, Andy Leroy, Mark Wetmore.
Game of the Year: CU MBB 79, No. 2 Arizona 63 (Feb. 26, CU Events Center)
The Buffs outscored the Wildcats 47-26 in the second half to tie the team record for the highest-ranked victory. Five players scored in double figures for the Buffs, led by 19 points from Tristan da Silva and a double-double from Jabari Walker (15 points, 14 rebounds). After scoring 11 points in his final regular season home game, popular senior forward Evan Battey provided an indelible Senior Night memory by addressing Buffs Nation while perched on the scorer’s table following the court-storming celebration.
Honorable mention: CU Football 37, Oregon State 34 (2OT; Nov. 6, Folsom Field); CU WBB 86, No. 25 Oregon 82 (2OT; Feb. 23, CU Events Center); CU lacrosse 12, No. 10 Denver 10 (April 27, at DU).
Top comeback: Nate Landman
Although Landman’s final season at CU was limited to seven games due to a shoulder injury, those seven games showed a linebacker playing at an elite level less than a year removed from a torn Achilles. Landman averaged a whopping 10.1 tackles per game, recording 18 in a home loss against Minnesota after nearly willing the Buffs’ to an upset victory a week earlier against Texas A&M. Despite missing the final five games, Landman still finished fourth on the team in total tackles and second in tackles for loss.
Honorable mention: Charlie Rudy, Jaylyn Sherrod.
Thanks for Everything Award: Evan Battey
Few CU student-athletes in any sport in recent memory have mixed high-caliber production in his or her sport with a sweeping popularity across campus quite like Battey. His CU career was waylaid early by a frightening medical scare, but he never missed a game over the next four seasons, becoming a dangerous 3-point weapon as a senior (.488) before finishing his career ranked fourth all-time in games played (133), eighth in starts (108), 18th in scoring (1,307) and 18th in total rebounds (667). Buffs fans may not have seen the last of Battey — one of only 14 CU players to top 1,200 career points and 600 rebounds, Battey has made it clear his dream job one day is to be the head coach at the University of Colorado.