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The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2020 BY CLAYTON SAYFIE M ichigan athletics' men's and women's teams en- joyed plenty of success this past year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic cutting many of the seasons short. U-M's men's swimming and diving team won the title at the Big Ten Championship, and the women's gymnastics team took home the Big Ten regular-season crown — but did not get to compete at its conference championship event, canceled due to the coronavirus. Nine squads finished in the top three in the Big Ten Conference, showing just how competitive the Wolverines were across the board. In addition to our athletes and teams of the year (pages 26-33), here is a breakdown of the best of the rest in U-M athletics for the 2019-20 year: Coaches Of The Year Male Sport — Juwan Howard, Basketball: He returned to his alma mater and took over for former head coach John Beilein. In year one at the helm, U-M was able to continue some of the same success it was hav- ing under Beilein, despite not being able to finish out the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In NBA Draft early entrees Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole, U-M had to replace 39.8 points per game from the year prior. Howard was able to connect with his players early on, and leaned heavily on veteran leaders Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske, Eli Brooks and Isaiah Livers. The highlight of the season and the first sign that Howard was the man for the job was the Wolverines win- ning the Battle 4 Atlantis in Novem- ber, after wins over Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga. Those victo- ries allowed the Wolverines to tie the biggest jump in the 70-year history of the Associated Press poll, going from outside the top 25 to No. 4 nationally. Those games also marked the first of several wins over blue-chip pro- grams and coaches. In Howard's head coaching debut, he took down Gonzaga's Mark Few, UNC's Roy Williams, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Creighton's Greg McDermott and Purdue's Matt Painter, who are No. 1, No. 3, No. 15, No. 26 and No. 38 in career win percentage among active head coaches, respectively. U-M finished the year at 19-12, and would have competed in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament if they had not been canceled. Female Sport — Dr. Marcelo Leonardi, Water Polo: In his sixth season at the helm, he led his team to an 11-8 record and a No. 7 national ranking at the end of the shortened season. The Wolverines took down eight ranked opponents in the 19 matches played. The most impressive part of the success U-M enjoyed is that it was excelling despite losing several major contributors from the prior campaign that had won the CWPA crown and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Leonardi was tasked with replacing six players overall, including his top five offensive point scorers that had accumulated a combined 242 goals and 180 assists the prior season. Under Leonardi's guidance, others stepped up. Junior Maddie O'Reilly led the Wolverines with 36 goals and 34 as- sists. Senior goalkeeper Heidi Ritner, U-M's all-time career wins leader, shined in her final season wearing the Maize and Blue. She posted 139 saves on the season and was one of three from the squad to earn All- America honors (honorable men- tion), along with second-teamer Sofie Pontré and fellow honorable mention Erin Neustrom. It marked the second straight year U-M boasted a trio of All-Americans. THE BEST Of The Best Looking Back At A Successful Year Cut Short For Michigan Athletics Juwan Howard's debut campaign included wins over college basketball luminaries such as Gonzaga's Mark Few, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who are all ranked in the top 15 for career winning percentage among active head coaches. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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