Highs and lows in sports for 2011

Dec 29, 2011

There were some bright spots in the local sports scene in 2011. But not many. Find out what KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel named as the high points and low points of the year.

Storm and Sounders fizzle in playoffs

Art says the Seattle Storm and the Seattle Sounders FC both did "face plants" in the first round of the playoffs this year.

The defending WNBA champion Storm reverted to their old habit of getting eliminated in the first round of the post-season, in a shocking loss to the Phoenix Mercury.

Looking ahead to 2012, the Storm will be without superstar Lauren Jackson for much of the season. Art says she will be playing for her native Australia in the 2012 Olympics in London.

"She's been, I think, the most valuable player in the league ever since she's been in it. So, that's going to be a blow for them."

Sounders fans thought 2011 would be the year for the team to advance past the first round of the playoffs. It didn't happen. They exited in the first round for the third season in a row. Now, the team is without Olympia native and star goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who retired this year. Art says his departure leaves a huge hole.

"There was no one like Kasey Keller for the Sounders. He was a local guy, very experienced in international play and a true leader."

UW men's basketball and football teams shine

The local team that did advance in the playoffs this year was the University of Washington men's basketball team. They won the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) tournament and defeated Georgia in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They eventually lost to North Carolina.

Art says getting to the playoffs was a huge victory, given the legal troubles of player Venoy Overton that were a distraction throughout much of the Huskies' regular season. 

UW's football team made it to a bowl game for the second straight year in 2011. They lost to Baylor 67-56 Thurs., Dec. 29, in the Alamo Bowl - the highest-scoring bowl game in history. Art says they continue to improve under three-year head coach Steve Sarkisian - after ending 2008 with a record of 0-12.

Seahawks' mid-season correction

After starting the season 2-6, the Seahawks shifted to a running game featuring standout running back Marshawn Lynch. They started winning, giving them faint hopes of a playoff berth for awhile.

Art says Lynch emerged as the new local sports hero in Seattle.

"It's really an exciting thing to watch him play and he has captured a lot of people's imaginations in town, where there's been a dearth of colorful personalities."

Mariners dismal in 2011, but not without hope

It was another losing season for the Mariners and their fans. 95 losses to be exact.  But Art says there were some bright spots for the team in 2011.

"Rookie pitcher Michael Pineda, second baseman Dustin Ackley and several other young people came through and showed a lot of promise. It's still wait and see on even the best of these guys."

The Mariners are now focusing on 2012 and are said to still be in the hunt for pricey free agent slugger Prince Fielder. Art says it's possible that the Mariners might use Pineda or even Felix Hernandez as trade bait to try to get some offense.

"The Mariners have been last in the American League in scoring three consecutive years. They've got to do something dramatic because not only is the attendance falling, the TV ratings are falling and they're losing value in the franchise if they continue on this course."

We'll see what happens in 2012!

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.