I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who isn’t eager to put this historically miserable year in the rear view mirror.
Unfortunately, the pandemic rages on as we transition into 2021. There is hope on the horizon thanks to multiple vaccines, and let’s all pray this year eventually brings a return to some sense of normalcy.
Loyal readers of this newspaper know I have traditionally written a Christmas column in which I take the persona of “Sports Reporter Santa” and hand out gifts to prominent figures in the local and regional sports world.
I decided to skip the Christmas column this year because it just didn’t feel right closing out a year that has brought pain and suffering to so many with a tongue-in-cheek piece that is known for delivering plenty of zingers.
Instead, I’ll look ahead to better days and more positive news on the sports scene. For this year, I assume the persona of a former Baltimore Sun sportswriter known as “Prophet Pat” (O’Malley) and take a satirical look into the crystal ball to see what will happen in 2021.
After a year filled with heartbreak and disappointment, forgive me if some of my predictions are so positive in nature:
* Quarterback Lamar Jackson finally gets the Baltimore Ravens past the first round of the NFL playoffs. Jackson teams with tailbacks Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins to lead a powerful rushing attack that propels the sixth-seeded Ravens past the No. 3 Steelers. However, Baltimore is beaten the following week by top-seeded Kansas City.
* Chol Marial blossoms into a shot-blocking force and becomes a fan favorite with his ability to knock down 3-pointers, while freshman forward James Graham provides much-needed front-court scoring as the Maryland men’s basketball team finishes in the upper half of the Big Ten standings. The Terrapins reach the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, a second-round loss brings an abrupt end to an otherwise surprising season.
* Angel Reese returns from a foot injury in time to help the Maryland women’s basketball team capture the Big Ten Tournament title for the fifth time since 2015. A four-guard lineup also featuring Diamond Miller, Katie Benzan and Ashley Owusu carries the Terrapins all the way to the Final Four where they lose a heartbreaker to Louisville.
* Senior combination guard and captain Cam Davis leads the way as the Navy men’s basketball team wins its Patriot League pod with American and Loyola. Davis is named first team all-conference, while junior swingman John Carter Jr. is a second team selection for the Midshipmen, who draw the third seed for the Patriot League Tournament. Davis and Carter combine to score 45 points as Navy upsets top-seeded Boston University to capture its first Patriot League championship since 1998. The Mids lose to East region top seed Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
* Cary Kolat makes an immediate impact in his first season as Navy wrestling coach by molding Tanner Skidgel into an All-American. Skidgel, the reigning Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion at 165 pounds, digs deep to win a close match in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament to capture All-American status, loses in the semifinals then bounces back to take third place at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
* Trevelin Queen averages 18 points and plays lockdown defense for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the NBA G League affiliate of the Houston Rockets. Queen, a North County High graduate, earns a 10-day contract with the Rockets after James Harden is dealt at the NBA trade deadline in late March.
* Skipper Terry Hutchinson leads American Magic to victory in the Prada Cup Challenger Selection Series. The 1986 St. Mary’s High graduate is onboard as grinder and strategist as the United States syndicate defeats Luna Rossa, the Italian entry, in the challenger finals. American Magic, which features Dean Barker as helmsman and Andrew Campbell as flight controller, upsets defender Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup finals.
* Zdeno Chara solidifies the typically shaky blue line of the Washington Capitals, while Ilya Samsonov has a breakout campaign and becomes one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Those two players anchor a vastly improved defense that is key to the Capitals placing third in the East Division. The Caps win one playoff series before being beaten in the second round.
* Edgewater resident Brindi Griffin makes the most of her extra year of eligibility by helping the Maryland women’s lacrosse team to its 16th national championship. Playing her fifth season as a graduate student, the dangerous attacker totals 75 points and earns first team All-American honors as Terrapins post a 20-2 record and beat longtime rival North Carolina in the NCAA final.
* Navy men’s golf captures the Patriot League Tournament championship on its home course. Senior Charlie Musto secures the individual title after shooting a 3-under 67 in the final round at the Naval Academy Golf Course, which now plays 7,025 yards from the championship tees.
* Bolstered by the return of three-time All-American midfielder Jared Bernhardt, the Maryland men’s lacrosse team captures Big Ten regular season and tournament titles then advances to the Final Four. The Terrapins are beaten in the NCAA semifinals by Syracuse.
* Running Tide, the legendary Sparkman & Stephens 60-footer that has been lovingly restored to her former glory, captures class honors in the 38th biennial Annapolis-to-Newport Race. Skipper Beau Van Metre, whose father Albert campaigned the boat with much success in the 1970s and 80s, is presented with the C. Gaither Scott Trophy for Corinthian Spirit. Running Tide last competed in the Annapolis-to-Newport Race in 1983 when it was first to finish and winner of IOR class.
* Josh Bell regains the offensive form that made him a 2019 All-Star and gives the Washington Nationals the middle-of-the-order presence they need. Juan Soto has an MVP-caliber season, while Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lead a dominating starting pitching staff as the Nats go from last to first in the National League East. Unfortunately, Washington falls short of winning the NL pennant.
* Josh Hader posts historic numbers for a closer, finishing with 42 saves and a 1.42 ERA to help the Milwaukee Brewers make the playoffs. The Old Mill High graduate earns the NL Reliever of the Year honor for the third time since 2018 and is runner-up in voting for the Cy Young Award.
* High school sports return in time for the spring sports season after teachers and coaches are vaccinated. Broadneck and Severna Park boys lacrosse play each other three times in the regular season, which is altered for teams to play in pods based on records over the last three seasons. No state championships are played but all county programs manage to complete a 10-game schedule with a county tournament that allows each team to compete in the same number of games. The Bruins upend the Falcons in the county championship game.
* The Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet is held in October following a one-year hiatus because of coronavirus. Recently retired Major League Soccer star Kyle Beckerman, a Crofton native who attended Arundel High, headlines the Class of 2021. George Spriggs, a southern Anne Arundel County native who played five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, is inducted posthumously. Spriggs was one of the last players to make the jump from the Negro League to Major League Baseball.
* Senior midfielder Victoria Tran, junior forward Jenna Freeman and senior defender Avery Fries lead the way as Navy women’s soccer secures the Patriot League championship in November. The Midshipmen make their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under 29th-year coach Carin Gabarra, who developed a young, inexperienced team during the shortened fall and spring seasons that were impacted by the pandemic.
* Xavier Arline wins the Navy starting quarterback job during spring practice then spends the entire summer studying the playbook and learning the intricacies of the triple-option. The 5-foot-9 plebe also adds weight and strength during the offseason to become more durable. Arline’s ability to execute the offense at a high level leads to improved production on that side of the ball. Inside linebacker Diego Fagot and free safety Kevin Brennan anchor an overpowering defense as Navy posts an 8-4 regular season record against a difficult schedule. The Midshipmen sweep service academy rivals Air Force and Army to reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and earn another berth in the Military Bowl.