1. THE END OF AN ERA: He just walked away. Which was staggering in itself because it was always thought that Jim Calhoun would either have to be pulled away kicking and screaming or carried off on his shield. For 26 seasons at UConn he stormed up and down the sidelines as the men's basketball coach, first in the Civic Center and the Field House and then in Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center (new name, same place) making the Huskies into one of the elite programs in college basketball.
From Big East bottom feeders when he arrived to winning three NCAA titles, Calhoun turned the Huskies from chumps to champions.
Before Calhoun was hired in May of 1986, UConn had only been to the NCAA tournament once since 1967. Since, the Huskies have gone to the Big Dance 18 times and made six trips to the NIT. Four times he got his teams to the Final Four. Three times he won it all, 1999, 2004 and 2011.
Calhoun, 70, had been battling health issues of late, surviving prostate cancer, along with two bouts with skin cancer. He announced recently that he had a lump removed from his lung in May.
He left UConn with 873 career wins and 17 Big East regular-season and tournament crowns. "The first step in being special is that you have to believe you're special," Calhoun said the day he announced his retirement. "You can't do something special without believing it can happen. I was foolish enough, being stubborn and Irish, I believed it. I believed every bit of it. It took players from all over the country that truly believed we were doing something very special here. Initially, it was based upon trust, on a dream. You just believed."
2. PAYING THE PRICE: No one was minding the store and now, the Huskies are paying the price. Because they disregarded rules and allowed their academic standards not just to slip but to crash to the floor, the UConn men's basketball team will not play in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The minimum NCAA Academic Progress Rating is 925. Back in May of 2011, UConn reported an APR of 893 -- far below the necessary requirement.
Because of that, the team initially lost two scholarships. Then, in October, the NCAA upped the ante, making the APR standards for 2013 tournament eligibility either a four-year rolling APR of 900 or a score of 930 for both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.
In 2009-10, the Huskies academic score was an abysmal 826, some 99 points below the NCAA's standard.
Twice, the university applied for a waiver against the NCAA rule. Twice, it was denied.
"Schools have known since 2006 that APRs below 900 could result in serious penalties, including postseason restrictions," said the NCAA in a statement. "In UConn's first waiver denial, NCAA staff noted the men's basketball team's overall lack of academic achievement and minimal academic progress over several years."
Because of the postseason ban, UConn put new academic rules in place. There will be weekly academic progress reports to president Susan Herbst. There will be sanctions for any basketball player who misses three or more classes during the academic year. There will be daily checking of class work for a player who has a GPA of 2.3 or lower and each player has to take nine hours of summer school.
"While we as a University and coaching staff clearly should have done a better job academically with our men's basketball student-athletes in the past," coach Jim Calhoun said, "the changes we have implemented have already had a significant impact and have helped us achieve the success we expect in the classroom. We will continue to strive to maintain that success as we move forward."
3. FINAL FOUR FAILURE: In the end, it came down to a missed rebound. As the final seconds of regulation ticked away at the 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four in Denver, UConn led Notre Dame by two points. A date with Baylor for the national championship was a heartbeat away. But in those last few ticks of the clock, a putback basket by Natalie Novosel tied the game and the Irish went on to win in overtime, ending the Huskies season.
In the end, UConn's youth couldn't overcome Notre Dame's experience and tenacity. There were just too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities, and they all came back to beat the Huskies. Still, a 33-5 record -- three of those losses were to the Irish -- was nothing to complain about. It was a season where just about everyone, including coach Geno Auriemma, didn't think this team had enough to make it to the Final Four, but, in fact, it did.
They just didn't have enough to beat the Irish.
"We did some things tonight (21 turnovers, allowing 20 offensive rebounds) that we haven't done in a long, long time," Auriemma said after that game. "And I don't have an explanation for it. We just passed up too many opportunities. You can't do that against Notre Dame, you can't come away empty-handed, they're just too good. You can't give them that many chances."
Sadly, senior Tiffany Hayes struggled badly in her last game, making six turnovers and managing just 10 points.
"We accomplished a lot. Not a lot of people thought that we were going to make it this far," Hayes said. "In the beginning, nobody thought we would be here. I'm definitely proud of our team, proud of how far we got and proud that we fought to the end."
He came to the newly opened school in 1962, expecting to coach baseball, but there was no field. There was a gym, however, so Montelli took basketball. After 11 state titles and 878 victories, Montelli, 80 years young, walked away in August, handing his coaching whistle to former player Chris Watts.
"Fifty years. You can't envision that," Montelli said. "I never gave that much thought. I just wanted to be here as long as I could. That's it."
Over the course of his remarkable career, more than 30 of Montelli's players have gone on to play Division I basketball. Over 40 others played at the Division II or III levels. He has won a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance, was elected into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005. And in 2010, Montelli was inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Commission Hall of Fame in the Community Service wing.
"I don't think that (passion) has ever left me. It's been a wonderful 50 years here," Montelli said. "My kids (all six of them) went here. My wife (Dolores) even worked here, upstairs in the cafeteria. We're very attached to St. Joe's."
But Montelli was so much more than a coach. For 50 years, he was a father, a mentor and a friend to each and every one of his players. He taught life lessons. He molded young boys into grown men.
"It's the end of a great era." Watts said.
5. FOUR-PEAT PERFORMANCE: The balance beam is just four inches wide. It's 16-feet long and stands four-feet high. And for the last four years, in the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships, it's been the apparatus that's been the difference for the University of Bridgeport women's gymnastics team.
In winning its fourth straight USA Gymnastics championship, the Purple Knights dominated in the beam and defeated Texas Women's University, Air Force and Penn at the Webster Bank Arena.
"To do it with that kind of pressure ... everyone knew that we had to hit beam," said UB coach Byron Knox. "All we said to them was just think of one element at a time, one routine at a time. We've been talking about this moment since day one of practice. It was in the cards for us."
It was the 16th championship in gymnastics for UB, which won two United States Gymnastics Federation New England Regional titles in 1989 and 1990 and 10 ECAC Division II Championships between 1985-2003.
Monica Mesalles-Sallares tied the program record with her beam routine, scoring a 9.900, but that mark lasted just seconds as Emily Repko scored a 9.925 on the beam.
"The closest to perfect that I'm going to get. That's what I strive for ... perfection," said Repko. "It didn't matter what was going on, I was going to do my routine. For me, I love that kind of pressure."
So did all the Purple Knights, who delivered a big-time performance.
6. ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: First, it was West Virginia that left for the Big 12. Then, Syracuse and Pitt bolted for the ACC. Next, it was Notre Dame that also headed for the ACC. Finally, Rutgers decided to join the Big Ten and Louisville accepted an invitation to the ACC.
UConn didn't go anywhere.
As the Big East continued to slowly crumble around them because of the ever-changing conference landscape, the Huskies have been forced to sit by the phone and pray for a call. Despite a strong academic background, despite NCAA championship men's and women's basketball teams, despite a solid history of overall athletic success, UConn is the bridesmaid that never seems to catch the bouquet.
"I know this may seem like a tough moment for our fans, but we need to focus on the fundamentals of academic success across the university and in our athletic program as well," UConn president Susan Herbst said after Louisville was invited to the ACC. "We are winners -- we win, we like to win and we will continue to play the best possible opponents.
"We will be athletically successful, regardless of our conference, because of our successes in NCAA competition. We will keep building our winning record through the lens of a great university that focuses on academics, not on the fluid and unpredictable nature of conference realignment."
She might want to reconsider that remark, especially after the seven non-football schools -- Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette, Villanova and DePaul -- are leaving the Big East to form their own conference.
Maybe UConn should go with them.
7. ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE: One went to London. The other to Omaha.
Fairfield's Craig Kinsley earned a place on the 2012 United States Olympic track and field team in the javelin after capturing third place with a personal-best throw of 79.92 meter (262-feet, 2-inches) -- despite a torn muscle in his throwing shoulder.
"I sure would have loved to win the trials, but making the team is a nice consolation prize," said Kinsley. "This was the first year I felt 100 percent comfortable. Instead of feeling like a young kid trying to compete with the big dogs, I felt like one of the big dogs."
Kinsley took up the javelin during his junior year at Fairfield Prep -- Kinsley had broken his hand playing basketball and the baseball coach wouldn't save a roster spot for him -- and making the Olympic team had been his major focus.
After winning the CIAC title for the Jesuits, he went to Brown and won four straight Ivy League javelin crowns and added an NCAA championship his junior year.
And even though Kinsley graduated with a degree in economics last May, he decided to put the business world on hold to see if he could realize his Olympic dream.
"We supported him every step of the way," his father, Tom Kinsley said. "You're only 23 once. His career could wait for a year if he wanted to give this a shot and this was his dream." Kinsley finished 23rd in London with a last throw of 78.18 meters.
Now, Omaha. Nebraska is not exactly as striking a city as London, but for James Campbell, it was equally as exciting. As a pitcher for Stony Brook University, Campbell, who attended St. Joseph High and played for the Bridgeport American Legion team, helped the Seawolves become the first team from the Northeast since Maine in 1986 to make it to the College World Series.
Campbell went 5-0 with three saves in 55 1/3 innings.
He allowed 39 hits, 19 earned runs, walked 16 and struck out 40 -- numbers that had him selected in the 12th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"It was awesome. The crowds, playing in front of that many people, I think we kind of embraced it and used it to our advantage," Campbell said. "I've never been a part of anything like it. Honestly, it was great."
8. ACE UP HER SLEEVE: As usual, all eyes (and rightfully so) were on Caroline Wozniacki as she attempted to win the New Haven Open at Yale (formerly the Pilot Pen) tennis tournament for a fifth consecutive time. But because of a balky right knee, that dream ended in the semifinals and a new champion, Petra Kvitova, was crowned.
"It's definitely meant a lot to me, this tournament," Wozniacki said. "It was a big tournament for me to win in 2008. Then coming back and defending in 2009 was huge because that was the first time I had to defend a title. That was something special." She also won in 2010 and 2011, tying Venus Williams' (1999-2002) run of four straight titles. However, after losing the first set to Maria Kirilenko in their semifinal match, Wozniacki's knee wouldn't allow her to continue.
New Haven had been her tournament, Caroline's special place. Her home away from home. But sometimes change is inevitable.
So it was 22-year-old Petra Kvitova, the No. 5 player in the world from the Czech Republic (who was also the 2011 Wimbledon champion) who won the title with a hard-fought 7-6 (9), 7-5 victory over Kirilenko.
"I think it is unbelievable," Kvitova said. "It's great for me."
9. MARCH GLADNESS: Five losses in six games in mid-January had dropped Fairfield to the .500 mark. There were questions of chemistry. Message boards twittered with disappointment. Some fans even whispered that the rookie head coach's job might be in jeopardy.
The Fairfield Stags were struggling.
"If we weren't getting booed at home," coach Sydney Johnson said, "it was booing-like. I don't think that people had faith in this team."
Only the coaching staff and the players believed and they proved it by reeling off eight wins in the next nine games, reached the MAAC championship game and also made it to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament semifinals -- despite not having Derek Needham, who missed the last eight games of the season with a broken foot.
The Stags beat Rider and upset Iona in the MAAC tournament before losing 48-44 in the finals to Loyola. In the CIT, Fairfield defeated Yale, Manhattan and Robert Morris before losing to Mercer and ending with a 22-15 record -- the first time in program history that Fairfield had three consecutive 20-plus win seasons.
The Fairfield women's team (24-9) also played in the postseason, earning a WNIT bid. They lost to Drexel after the Stags best player, Taryn Johnson, was lost early with an ankle injury.
Over on Park Avenue, the Sacred Heart women's basketball team (25-8) played in its third NCAA tournament, losing to Georgia Tech 76-50 in Chapel Hill, N.C., after beating Monmouth to win the Northeast Conference tournament title.
10. HAPPY HOSTS: Spring was a busy time for the Webster Bank Arena. Not only did the building host the 2012 NCAA Women's Basketball first and second rounds, highlighted by the UConn Huskies, the WBA also held the NCAA Hockey East Region tournament and the USA Gymnastics National Collegiate Championships.
On March 17, UConn defeated Prairie View and Kansas State beat Princeton before 4,563, and then on March 19 the Huskies beat the Wildcats in front of 4,372.
A week later, Union defeated Michigan State and UMass-Lowell beat Miami (Ohio) before 5,090 on March 23. The next night, the Dutchmen beat the Riverhawks before 5,328 to advance to the Frozen Four.
Then, on April 14, 1,619 came to see the Purple Knights capture their fourth straight USA Gymnastics team title.
Webster Bank Arena will host -- for the fifth time -- the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament when the East Region finals take place at the WBA on March 30 and April 1, 2013. And in 2014, NCAA Hockey returns.