In the spirit of the ESPY Awards next month, we have decided to take that concept with the major awards and apply it to the past year of Michigan State athletics. Readers will have an opportunity to vote for the Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete, Best Game, Best Coach and Best Team. When looking for nominees, we actively tried to avoid putting multiple representatives from a single sport in each individual category. We will announce all of the winners once we get past each of these categories. You can also use the links above to go back and vote for Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete and Best Game if you missed it when those articles were published.
Tom Izzo (Men’s Basketball) – It wasn’t the greatest year for Michigan State basketball. A disappointing finish in the NCAA Tournament and during the regular season of the Big Ten overshadowed how good this team could have been. Part of that was due to injuries. Throughout the year, injuries to Gavin Schilling, Marvin Clark Jr., Denzel Valentine and Kenny Goins probably stopped this team from being the number one overall seed on Selection Sunday. There was also the injury that hindered Lourawls Nairn Jr. for the entire season. In response to that, Izzo turned small forward and Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year into the team’s starting point guard. The move ended up being rewarded as he led Michigan State to a record-tying fifth Big Ten Tournament Championship. Izzo also led the Spartans to an undefeated non-conference record. That is a rarity given his “anyone, anywhere, anytime” policy.
Mark Dantonio (Football) – If injuries may have been to blame for the “disappointing” season for the men’s basketball team, how do you grade how Mark Dantonio handled the injuries to the football team? It has to be an “A+.” Injuries throughout the year to Connor Cook, Jack Allen, Jack Conklin, Jake Hartbarger, Kodi Kieler, Ed Davis, Darian Hicks, Vayante Copeland and Madre London tested this team’s depth as those were just the starters who missed time. Despite that, the Spartans won road games in Ann Arbor and Columbus on their way to winning the Big Ten East. They also beat Oregon and embarrassed Penn State at Spartan Stadium. As the Spartans were still recovering from a few of those injuries (mainly the Connor Cook one), they earned their way to Indianapolis to take on Iowa. They beat the Hawkeyes to win their third Big Ten Championship in five seasons. Though the Spartans were blasted by Alabama, he also led MSU to their first College Football Playoff appearance. He also won 11 games for the fifth time in six years, becoming the first Big Ten coach to reach that milestone.
Suzy Merchant (Women’s Basketball) – In eight of Suzy Merchant’s nine seasons at the helm, the Spartans were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the second round or didn’t even make the field. While they were knocked out once again before the first weekend ended, there was plenty of controversy surrounding MSU’s spot in the tourney. Typically, the top four teams in each region are entitled to host the opening weekend. Before this became a regular occurrence in NCAA women’s basketball, Michigan State and the MHSAA agreed to a deal that allowed the high school final four to be played at the Breslin Center. When a scenario like this happens and the host school doesn’t have the means to a facility within 30 miles, the opening weekend takes place at the next best seed’s home. The Spartans went to Mississippi State were they were bounced in the second round in a game that itself was surrounded in controversy. A win would have had the Spartans in the Sweet 16 in what would have been a program-measuring game against UConn. They wrapped up the season third in the Big Ten and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament Championship before being knocked out by Maryland.
Jake Boss (Baseball) – The Spartans have gradually improved under Jake Boss. He has half of the 12 winningest seasons in school history and seemed destined to make the NCAA Tournament for just the sixth time in program history. He led the Spartans to their best start ever. While there was a late-season collapse aided by seemingly everyone in the lineup going cold simultaneously, the Spartans still had an opportunity to win the Big Ten Tournament and get in the field as the lower-seeded teams found success in Omaha, Nebraska. Two straight losses to the eventual Big Ten Tournament Champion Ohio State ended any hopes of the Spartans prolonging their season. While the Spartans finished sixth in the conference, they had the second-best overall win percentage (.643) in the Big Ten, trailing only the Buckeyes. While there is some star power leaving, Boss did this with what is a rather young team.
Walt Drenth (Men’s and Women’s Cross Country) – The Director of Cross Country and Track & Field, Walt Drenth continued his incredible success with the women’s cross country team while, at the same time, appeared to lock the men’s team as a top 25 program. The women finished third in the Big Ten Championships and Great Lakes Regional. In the NCAA Championships, they were the third Big Ten team to finish and they finished 13th overall. The men had similar success. The finished fifth in the Big Ten Championships and second in the Great Lakes Regional. They made the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season and finished 25th overall.
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