Top 10 local sports stories of 2010

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Most people live in this little slice of heaven because they like to fall off the map. But every once in a while, civilization finds us.

In 2010, several Redwood Empire athletes went big-time.

Cloverdale's Robby Rowland became the region's all-time leading scorer in basketball in February, then threw a no-hitter in April. Photo by CRISTA JEREMISON / The Press Democrat

Koa Misi, who played football at Montgomery High and Santa Rosa JC, went to the Miami Dolphins in the second round, sacked Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, and even scored an NFL touchdown. Rancho Cotate product Brandon Morrow went from the Seattle bullpen to the Toronto starting rotation and threw a one-hitter. Maria Carrillo’s Katie Mohr was invited to a training camp for the U.S. under-15 national soccer team, and Windsor golf pro Jason Schmuhl competed with the world’s best at the PGA Championship.

Other young athletes, like Robby Rowland and Nick Sherry, were poised to embark on high-profile quests. Rowland is currently pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, and Sherry will almost certainly be joining a Div. I college program as a quarterback.
Here are the major local stories of 2010.

1. ROWLAND ON A ROLL
It was pretty much Robby Rowland’s Redwood Empire in 2010; the rest of us just hung out here and gawked. Rowland, Cloverdale’s multi-sport prep star, became the region’s all-time scoring leader in basketball, breaking Rich Waller’s 13-year-old record vs. St. Helena on Feb. 5. Rowland turned to baseball in the spring, pitched a perfect game against Clear Lake on April 14 and finished his high school career in style, getting drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third round of the MLB amateur draft.

2. BEARS IN HIBERNATION
The Ursuline nuns shocked the community on Nov. 9 by announcing that the 130-year-old institution would shut its doors at the end of the school year. This was, of course, more than a sports story. But closing down one of Sonoma County’s top girls’ athletic programs affected hundreds of athletes and promised to tilt the balance of power in the North Bay League.

3. SOLO FLIGHT
It wasn’t simply that Montgomery senior Julie Nacouzi took first place at the West Regional cross country championship at Mount SAC on Dec. 4, or that she finished third at the national final a week later in San Diego. Most impressive, Nacouzi did it all unattached after splitting from the Vikings cross-country team.

4. HEARTBREAK X 2
It was a season that will live in glory for Santa Rosa JC, but a day that will live in infamy. The women’s soccer and volleyball teams both lost in their respective state championship games, on the same day (Dec. 5) and just 35 miles apart in Southern California. SRJC women’s soccer went into the final undefeated and finished 18-1-5 after losing 1-0 to San Bernardino Valley. The volleyball squad had to win three matches in 21 hours to get a shot at L.A. Pierce, but lost the one-set showdown 25-23.

5. SPRINT TO THE FINISH LINE
In January, Rachel Alexandra won the Eclipse Award as horse of the year, tribute for going undefeated in eight races in 2009. Eight months later, Jess Jackson — the Kendall-Jackson winery founder and Rachel Alexandra’s principal owner — retired his champion filly.

6. LUCKY NO. 11
After going 1-2 in the preseason, the Cardinal Newman football team fought back to capture the North Coast Section Division 3 crown, downing Encinal 35-7 on Dec. 10 to cap a dominant postseason run. It was the Cardinals’ 11th NCS title.
The only sour note: They were bypassed for the state title game.

7. TWO CLOSE
The night after Cardinal Newman claimed its trophy, two other Empire football teams fell one play short of NCS glory. Rancho Cotate, which went undefeated in the NBL, matched powerful Concord yard for yard until Division 2’s No. 1 seed scored the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left at the Oakland Coliseum. Over in Martinez, Middletown took a lead over Salesian in the Division 4 final, but ultimately lost in overtime.

8. LIFE IS GRAN
Part festival, part sporting event, part chamber-of-commerce flag-waving, Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo has become a can’t-miss event in Sonoma County. The 2010 version drew more than 6,000 cyclists on Oct. 9, divided into 35-, 65- and 103-mile rides.

9. STALL TACTIC FAILS
It looked like the Toyota/Save Mart 350 belonged to Marcos Ambrose.
But the Australian driver turned off his engine to conserve fuel while leading on Lap 103, and NASCAR officials ruled that he failed to maintain his speed. They moved Ambrose back to seventh place, opening the door for Jimmie Johnson, who got his first NASCAR road-course victory.

10. UNDEFEATED NO LONGER
The Maria Carrillo girls entered the NCS Division I soccer final with a 19-0-1 record. But Casa Grande had the big-game experience. The Gauchos withstood several near-miss attacks in the opening minutes of the game, kept their composure and left with a championship. Casa outscored opponents 18-0 in the playoffs.

HONORABLE MENTION
Ursuline pole vaulter Michelle Stone named CIF/Farmers Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year … Casa Grande’s Jacque Taylor, Petaluma’s Hugh Dowdy qualify for 1,600-meter state finals at Clovis … Organizers leave Santa Rosa off 2011 Tour of California route … Maria Carrillo’s Maya DiRado, Healdsburg’s Ben Whitenack each wins two events at NCS swim meet … Montgomery grad Koa Misi is drafted by Miami Dolphins and starts as a rookie linebacker … SSU softball makes it to NCAA Div. II regionals … Adobe Creek Golf Club announces its closing … SSU golf winds up No. 8 in NCAA Div. II rankings … Healdsburg football coach Tom Kirkpatrick steers team bus to safety after driver suffers heart attack … Rancho Cotate alum Brandon Morrow throws one-hitter for Toronto Blue Jays … Casa QB Nick Sherry commits to Colorado — then has offer rescinded by new coach … Windsor’s Jason Schmuhl competes in PGA Championship … Barbara Walter, owner 1996 Kentucky Derby runner-up Cavonnier, dies at 79 … Levi Leipheimer denied fourth straight Tour of California title as Michael Rogers wins … Carrillo soccer player Katie Mohr selected for U.S. under-15 national training camp … Rincon Valley Christian girls win NCS Div. VI basketball title … Maddy Densberger leads St. Helena into NorCal volleyball playoffs … Eight SRJC wrestlers qualify for state tournament … Wine Country Baseball makes its debut as amateur hardball league.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.