When you think back on LSU’s 2014-15 athletic year, what will you remember?
Will it be the sight of Leonard Fournette pounding defenders into the turf on his way to the end zone? Alex Bregman turning a balletic double play? Rheagan Courville vaulting through the air before a packed crowd at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center?
It was a typical athletic year in that LSU’s teams and athletes experienced some dazzling highs and discouraging lows, though in the end you have to say it was successful overall. LSU became the first Southeastern Conference school to play in a bowl game, both men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments and reach the College World Series and Women’s College World Series in the same year. The school finished 15th in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup (a season-long all-sports competition), third among SEC schools.
Just as the face of college athletics is constantly being written and rewritten by the ever-changing cast of characters, some of LSU’s most indelible moments came from new and unlikely sources. A few highlights from the year that was:
TEAM OF THE YEAR: Men’s golf
The Tigers not only won, they made history.
LSU captured its first SEC championship since 1987, then beat Southern California in the match-play final for its first NCAA championship (and the program’s fifth overall) since 1955.
Chuck Winstead, himself a former LSU golfer, has built a program that promises great things in the future with a recruiting class headlined by Shreveport’s Sam Burns, the world No. 1 boys junior golfer. One has the sense that Ben Taylor’s sliding par putt to clinch the title over USC was only the beginning.
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Alex Bregman, baseball
You can get a lot of arguments here, but Bregman may be the best shortstop in LSU’s proud baseball history. His worth was certainly reflected in his being drafted second overall by the Houston Astros. And, yes, Bregman can play shortstop in the majors, too.
MUST-SEE EVENT: Gymnastics season
LSU’s gymnastics program has a long history of success, but there was something about this season that captured the imagination of Tigers fans and turned 2015 into a happening.
LSU drew a record crowd of 12,217 for its victory over No. 2 Florida, then broke that record with 13,179 fans for the home finale against Minnesota. When the Tigers failed to advance to the Super Six with a wobbly performance in the NCAA semifinals, there was a palpable sense of disappointment in Baton Rouge that rarely accompanies LSU women’s sports.
Overall, though, it was a great season, and there’s no departing athlete we’ll miss more than Lloimincia Hall and her bouncing, infectiously delightful floor routine.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Kentucky 71, LSU 69 in men’s basketball
In the wake of Kentucky’s Final Four semifinal loss to Wisconsin that ended the Wildcats’ unbeaten season, LSU’s close call against No. 1 UK doesn’t seem as significant.
At the time, though, Keith Hornsby’s game-ending 3-point try was the Wildcats’ closest call. This game was a 24-karat thriller and, when LSU rallied from a 13-point deficit to take a 66-60 lead with 7½ minutes left, the Deaf Dome had truly re-earned its nickname.
MELTDOWN OF THE YEAR: N.C. State 66, LSU 65 in men’s basketball
There are losses, and there are losses. The Kentucky loss was one thing. This loss, in the Tigers’ first game of the NCAA tournament, was epic in scope. Roll the ugliness:
LSU led 40-26 at halftime and 62-48 with 9:15 left. The Tigers scored only three more points the rest of the way, missing their last 12 field-goal attempts and last six free throws.
That seldom-used Wolfpack forward BeeJay Anya bounced in the game-winner with 0.1 seconds left only further made this a surreal loss for the ages.
CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR: LSU vs. Alabama in football
The flag on Vadal Alexander for shoving Bama’s A’Shawn Robinson near the Crimson Tide 5 — amid a lot of other post-play pushing and shoving — was a deplorable call. Especially since Robinson had grabbed Alexander’s leg.
The 15-yard penalty forced LSU to settle for a field goal and a 13-10 lead before Bama drove the field to tie the score and eventually win in overtime.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Chuck Winstead, men’s golf
You have to give it to Winstead for delivering LSU’s first title in golf since the year Disneyland opened. It was also, believe it or not, LSU’s first national title in any sport since baseball in 2009.
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT: Les Miles, football; Brian Lee, soccer
Miles’ seat is always warm. I suspect LSU’s remodeling job on the football complex will come complete with a air-cooled chair to keep his buns from bursting into flame.
As for Lee, his program hasn’t posted a winning record since 2012, finishing next to last in the SEC last season.
TEAM TO WATCH IN 2015-16: Softball
After a 25-0 start and a trip to essentially the final four of the Women’s College World Series, the softball Tigers should be one of the nation’s top teams again next year.
Beth Torina’s squad returns every pitcher and every starter except center fielder A.J. Andrews. But Torina’s expecting her third child, so perhaps that gap should be considered filled.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.