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Sports: The bests and worsts

Best Team: Football
Oregon played fast, played hard and finished in 12 consecutive games. In six of those, the Ducks entered with a No. 1 national ranking, the first such instance in school history. They led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 points per game) and total offense (530.69 yards per game); head coach Chip Kelly was universally lauded as one of the finest minds in the game of football, at any level. A blistering tempo, an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense culminated in a run to the BCS National Championship Game. Never mind the loss to Auburn on a last-second field goal. The Ducks made dreamers of us all. Big-time college football had truly made its mark on the state of Oregon.

Honorable mention:
softball, women’s indoor track and field, acrobatics and tumbling

Coach of the Year: Chip Kelly
Kelly has been so good, so consistently, that it’s almost easy to forget this was his second full year as head coach of the Ducks. In his sophomore season, he led the Ducks all the way to the BCS National Championship Game, and they were a Wes Byrum field goal away from winning the damn thing. Kelly had the help of Heisman finalist LaMichael James and breakout quarterback Darron Thomas, but make no mistake: Oregon’s no-nonsense head coach deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that extraordinary run.

Honorable mention:
Robert Johnson (track and field); Dana Altman (men’s basketball); Mike White (softball)

Male MVP: LaMichael James
LaMichael James, by all measures, is a rare breed. After going through off-the-field issues that kept him sidelined from Oregon’s season-opener against New Mexico, James went on to do great things both on and off the field in 2010. The Texarkana, Texas, native was an Academic All-Pac-10 selection and one of the most dangerous players in all of college football. He surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in just seven games, and finished as the FBS leading rusher with 144.25 yards per contest. The Doak Walker Award-winner and third-place Heisman Trophy finalist returns for his junior year with even higher expectations and an eye on a national championship trophy.

Honorable mention: Joevan Catron (men’s basketball), Danny Pulfer (baseball), Matthew Centrowitz (track and field, cross country)

Female MVP: Jessica Moore
In leading the Oregon softball team to its second-straight Super Regionals appearance, sophomore pitcher Jessica Moore proved she is among the Pac-10’s elite in the circle. The Sutter, Calif., native went 24-11 for the Ducks, including three straight wins at the College Station Regional, with 17 complete games and three saves to her credit. Moore helped the Ducks to a third-place finish in the Pac-10 — their best in seven years — by striking out 224 batters and holding opponents to a .203 batting average. Moore was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection and was also named a first team All-NFCA Pacific Region honoree.

Honorable mention:
Heather Meyers (volleyball), Jordan Hasay (track, cross country), Jana Drummond (lacrosse)

Female Unsung Hero: Kelsey Chambers

In her third season with the Ducks, Oregon shortstop Kelsey Chambers played a key role both defensively and offensively. Chambers started in 54 games for Oregon, bringing her three-year total to 160 starts in 161 games played. Despite a slump at the start of league play, Chambers led the team with 13 home runs on the season, and was the only player to surpass double digits in that category. She also tied for second in doubles (eight), third in RBI (30) and fifth in runs scored (26). The Concord, Calif., native and her twin sister, Lindsey, who played in 23 games in 2011, will return for their fourth and final season with the Ducks next year.

Honorable mention:
Alaina Bergsma (volleyball), Claire Michel (track and field, cross country)

Male Unsung Hero: Darron Thomas
LaMichael James may have grabbed the headlines for Oregon’s potent offense, but quietly, Darron Thomas established himself as one of the top signal-callers in the country. He was second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and threw 30 touchdowns to nine interceptions while consistently making good decisions in the Ducks’ spread-option attack. Moreover, Thomas proved to be a worthy — if not superior — replacement to former Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, quelling the fears of Oregon fans everywhere.

Honorable mention: Austin Ouderkirk (track and field), Bryson Littlejohn (football)

Biggest Surprise: Men’s basketball winning the CBI
E.J. Singler hit the go-ahead shot; the final two seconds ran off the clock; and the celebration was on. The much-maligned men’s basketball team was the champion of the College Basketball Invitational, and even in the midst of the jubilation, it was hard to believe what had happened. This was the same Oregon team that dropped seven of eight games earlier in the season, a team that was subject to more disparaging jokes than honest analysis. And yet, they came together when it mattered most, and the image of senior Joevan Catron holding up the CBI trophy won’t soon leave the minds of Ducks fans.

Honorable mention:
Boru Guyota (track and field) winning the 800-meter race at Pepsi Team Invitational

Male Newcomer of the Year: Mike Berry, track and field
The national reputation as a distance-running factory garners more headlines, but Oregon has a history of producing great sprinters as well. Berry, a freshman from Seattle, has more than established himself as the next in line. He won the Pacific-10 Conference Championships at 400 meters in 44.91, breaking the 51-year-old school record of two-time Olympic Gold medalist Otis Davis. He owns a part of the Ducks’ indoor distance medley relay school record as well. Berry appears to be on a one-man crusade to prove that championship-caliber sprinting does not just come from California and the Southeast.

Honorable mention:
Josh Huff (football), Jay-R Strowbridge (basketball), Ryon Healy (baseball), Steve Finley (track and field)

Female Newcomer of the Year: English Gardner, track and field
“Every time I step on the track,” Gardner said during the Pepsi Invitational on April 9, “my motto is, ‘Try to shock the world every time.’” The vivacious freshman sprinter with the memorable name is now the fastest woman in Oregon history, and she holds the fastest time ever run by an athlete 20 years old or younger over 100 meters. Her 11.03-second sprint at the Pac-10 Championships broke a meet record previously held by three-time Olympic Gold medalist Gail Devers. The Voorhees, N.J., native is still hungry for more in her enduring quest to shock the world.

Honorable mention:
Lauren Plum (volleyball), Ariel Thomas (women’s basketball), Alexa Peterson (softball)

Most Improved Individual: Anne Kesselring, women’s track and field
Ducks assistant coach Maurica Powell must be grateful that she called the Nurnberg, Germany native who marketed herself to several U.S. schools. Kesselring holds the top time among collegians at 800 meters this season (a personal-best 2:02.44, set at the Oregon Relays on April 23rd) and scored in the 800m (third) and the 1,500 meters (fifth) at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships. A five-time All-American who speaks four languages, Kesselring has blossomed into a middle-distance stalwart and an NCAA competitor.

Honorable Mentions: Nia Jackson (women’s basketball), Brandon Bair (football), Danny Pulfer (baseball)

Biggest Disappointment: Baseball team
Expectations were high for Oregon’s baseball program entering its third year of existence. The Ducks garnered a unanimous top-15 preseason ranking and had College World Series aspirations to boot. However, once the season got underway, it was obvious the Ducks were still far from being a postseason caliber squad, let alone an elite one. Though they did finish the season strong, an 11-16 record in Pac-10 play highlighted a disappointing year.

Honorable mention: women’s basketball, men’s golf

Cliff Harris Quote Awards:
“The buffet of failure makes us all sad.” — George Horton, baseball head coach, on the team’s struggles this season

“My only major right now is ‘N-F-L,’ you know what I mean?” — Cliff Harris, sophomore cornerback, on his choice of major, which remains undeclared

“Sixth inning got punched in the face, seventh inning we got slapped in the mouth, eighth inning we just got shot. It’s the story of our season.” — Danny Pulfer, junior second baseman, after a loss against Stanford

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