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Sifting through a lot of great team performances And individual efforts to find the best of 2017-18
>Athlete of the Year
Baker Mayfield and Trae Young were phenomenal, but they weren't in Maggie Nichols' league.
The sophomore rebounded from heartbreak at the 2017 NCAA Gymnastics Championships, when a fall from the beam kept her from the all-around title, by storming back to dominate the regular season, and then capture that elusive national all-around prize.
Nichols won the all-around three months after revealing she was victimized by Team USA physician and serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar.
"Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and Michigan State University," she wrote in a letter. "I want everyone to know that (Nassar) did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols."
Nichols could have fallen again at this year's NCAA meet and still been worthy of this award.
>Hardware of the Year
Mayfield's Heisman Trophy.
It wasn't that he blew away his competition, or brought the trophy home after being a finalist the previous year.
I kept thinking about that T-shirt the night of the Heisman ceremony. That's what Mayfield won in his first act as an athlete on OU's campus -- a T-shirt commemorating an intramural softball championship he won with some dorm mates.
A four-year journey from Muldrow Tower walk-on to the toast of New York and of college football. A story Walt Disney would find too hard to believe.
>Performance of the Year
For one mid-December afternoon at Intrust Bank Arena, Young's brilliance exceeded Mayfield's. It exceeded anything the rest of college basketball could offer. On this day it seemed to exceed anything Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry or the NBA could offer.
Young put Wichita State, then the No. 3-ranked team in the country, on a string for two hours. He scored 29 points and dished 10 assists, and did them with such a unique combination of flair and control you wondered whether he should just turn pro right then and there.
Five months later, Young did turn pro. By then, the rest of college basketball had caught up with him some. Wichita State had proven to be more like the No. 43 team in the nation.
But it didn't take away from that December day when a virtuoso playmaker/shotmaker reached his college peak. It still doesn't.
>Coach of the Year
Mark Williams, and not just for his ninth national gymnastics title (although that's a heck of a place to start).
Williams didn't just tweet about his team or his season over the course of that championship run, he shared his disgust over both the ongoing Nassar trial and his sport's slow pivot to change in the aftermath.
Williams engaged in another battle: the statewide fight on behalf of public education. The crux as the season arrived just as teachers stormed the state Capitol, and Williams was there with his fifth-grade son, Cooper.
You won't find a more aware coach on the OU campus, or a more successful one.
>Comeback Player of the Year
Remember when the 2017 started, we saw Trey Sermon, Abdul Adams and Marcelias Sutton getting more carries than Anderson, and we figured it just wasn't in the cards for the hard-luck kid coming off back-to-back seasons ruined by leg and neck injuries.
Eleven hundred yards later, Anderson proved his credibility and durability. He is no longer the forgotten back, but rather OU's most logical choice to replace Mayfield as a Heisman candidate.
>Cameo of the Year
Some believe Kyler Murray to be the Sooners' odds-on Heisman contender, based solely on his dynamic jump-start to OU's victory over West Virginia last November.
With the suspended Mayfield watching from the sideline, Murray took the game's first snap, faked a handoff to Anderson, cut into an alley around the right side of OU's offensive line, and flashed 66 yards to the West Virginia 3.
It's the play they kept showing the night Murray was drafted by the Oakland Athletics No. 9 overall. It's a play they'll keep showing until Murray rips off his first blazing run of next season.
>Gut Check of the Year
Her team was two-time defending national champion and crowd darling.
Her team faced sudden, shocking elimination after losing two days prior.
The sun and heat beat down.
Hitters from Arizona State and Florida bore down.
Paige Parker didn't flinch. She flourished.
The senior anchor threw back-to-back shutouts, a masterful display of pitching under the most adverse circumstances.
The crowd in Oklahoma City stood and roared. The Sooners played on to the WCWS semifinals.
Parker cemented her legacy as the greatest, gutsiest pitcher in OU softball history.
>Quotes of the Year
Mayfield on Riley trying to recruit him to East Carolina when he was still Pirates' offensive coordinator:
"That was the first time we talked. I had already made up my mind that I was coming here, but I hadn't told anybody. He was one of the first people to really find out. He thought I was crazy for doing that and rightfully so. I wouldn't say it was the most thought out decision. It was more heartfelt than anything, but I'm glad that I did it."
Reporter to Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: "Settle this once and for all. Is it 'O-G-B-O' or 'O-B-O?'"
Okoronwko: "O-G-B-O. The G is silent, like in lasagna."
(Editor's Note: This story appears in Sooner Spectator's June 2018 issue. To read more or subsribe, please call 405-364-4515)