Best CU Basketball Player
CU's first-ever first-team All-American, the 5-6 senior guard from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, led her team to a phenomenal 30-3 record last year before that heartbreaking loss to Georgia in the NCAA tournament. Coach Ceal Barry will be hard-pressed to replace Sheetz in the 1995-1996 lineup, and the visions of a Final Four appearance that have long been dancing in the heads of Buffs fans may have to wait a season or three. But sociology major Sheetz's own hoop dreams aren't over: She plans to play pro ball in Europe, where women who can hit the trey rake in big bucks just like the guys.
Best Swan Song
Bear with us. Let's put that National Hockey League fever, appropriate as it may be, aside for a moment to honor the Denver Grizzlies. The International Hockey League expansion pucksters went the distance in their first season, providing fans with stellar play on the ice by capturing the IHL's Turner Cup championship. Their habit of drawing big crowds to McNichols Arena may have paved the way for NHL expansion; too bad they'll have to hit the road.
Best Intercollegiate Skiers
Bryan Sax and Scott Wither
The University of Colorado ski team won its 14th NCAA title (and first since 1991) in New Hampshire in March, led by giant slalom winner Sax, a senior from Aspen, and slalom champion Wither, a freshman from Steamboat Springs. The trick now for CU: keeping the U.S. Ski Team from luring Wither away.
Best Distance Runner
The CU freshman from Colorado Springs led his school to a second-place finish--its best ever--last fall in the NCAA cross-country championships at Fayetteville, Arkansas. The nineteen-year-old Goucher, who finished second overall in the big race, also holds three Big Eight distance-running titles in indoor and outdoor events.
Best DU Hockey Player
Back home in Vantaa, Finland, this 21-year-old senior-to-be is the lead singer in a rock band. On the ice at the DU Arena he's also quite an entertainer, a flamboyant, aggressive goalie who plays to the fans when he makes a great save and works up the student section with abandon. Last season, the Pioneers were mediocre, 25-15-2, but Wallinheimo was the super-tough Western Collegiate Hockey Association's top stopper with a .906 saves percentage--which, for some reason, earned him only second-team WCHA all-star honors. At 6-2 and 187 pounds, he has beef to go with his speed, and DU coach George Gwozdecky trusts number 33 will plug the nets even more effectively in his final collegiate season.
Best Pro Sports Executive
Strike, shmike. When the smoke started to clear this April, the general manager they call Gebby again opened his eagle eyes and the Colorado Rockies' corporate wallet and landed two of major-league baseball's premier free agents--Montreal slugger Larry Walker (.322, nineteen home runs in 1994) and San Francisco righty starter Bill Swift, who was just 8-7 with a 3.38 ERA last year but led his club with a 21-8 record and a 2.82 ERA in 1993. In the team's short history, Gebhard has worked tirelessly to build a pennant contender (which the Rockies now are): His choice of Don Baylor as the club's manager was superb, and his selections of guys named Bichette, Galarraga and Weiss have proven canny beyond expectation.
The most coveted player in this spring's wild free-agent sweepstakes came to the Rockies from the talent-rich Montreal Expos, where he hit .322 with nineteen home runs last season. Colorado paid a small fortune ($3 million plus per season) for the 6-3, 215-pound right-fielder, but his rifle arm and awesome left-handed power are a perfect match for Coors Field. The addition of Walker to a lineup already featuring sluggers Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga gives the club one of the most fearsome batting orders in the National League. Forget Walker's May batting slump: This guy can hit bombs, and his experience will no doubt be invaluable in the clubhouse.
Readers' choice: Dante Bichette
Best Mock Rockie
Major-league baseball's replacement players were themselves replaced by the real thing before Opening Day. But Garrison, a speedy utility infielder/outfielder from Marrero, Louisiana, made quite a name for himself in spring training before being shipped to the Rox's Colorado Springs farm club. He hit .377 in 22 Cactus League games, scored sixteen runs and batted in sixteen more. In the Rockies' exhibition games against the Yankees at Coors Field, he also thrilled the crowds with half a dozen sparkling defensive plays. He's 29, but look for him on the big club before his career ends.
Best Rockies Prospect
The club's number-one draft choice in 1994, this 6-4 lefty flamethrower out of Sarasota, Florida, by way of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, has simply mowed 'em down in the low minors: At Chandler (rookie league) last year he pitched twelve innings and struck out nineteen; at Bend (Class A), he was 5-3 with a 2.34 earned run average and struck out 75 batters in just under 58 innings. This season, his shoulder has bothered him a bit in starts for the Rox's newest farm club, the Salem (Massachusetts) Avalanche (Class A), but at age twenty, this future Million-aire has plenty of time to heal--and perhaps heal some of the parent club's pitching woes.