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2020 in Reflection and What a New Year Could Bring for the Miami Hurricanes

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Whether it be football, hoops, or baseball, the Miami Hurricanes have not had a calendar year filled with much prominence since what seems like forever ago. Can 2021 bring momentum to an athletics program longing for a dose or two of just that?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Miami
Miami Hurricanes mascot Sebastian the Ibis cheers on at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 24, 2018. (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

What a mixed year it has been in light of Miami Hurricanes athletics.

Some may have just stopped at what a mixed year it has been from a generic standpoint. Living amidst a global health crisis while attempting to rejuvenate sporting events has proven challenging to say the least. Every college athlete who steps onto a field or court may just contract something called the coronavirus that could halt preseason practices or a schedule right in its tracks.

But diving into what this calendar year has meant for the Canes, they have faced adversity in almost every way possible from the gridiron to the hardwood to the diamond, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s start with the school’s cream of the crop. Coming off of arguably the darkest night in program history with a loss to FIU last November followed by a shutout defeat at the hands of Louisiana Tech in December, Miami head coach Manny Diaz and his crew have written an almost entirely different story this year.

Having an orchestrator in D’Eriq King has brought a load of highlights and national media coverage, and not only in the blowout wins over ACC rivals like Florida State. The team has indeed found ways to pull out wins on late drives and defensive stops, unlike the previous decade of almost expecting games to fall into their laps. Remember trying that against those Gators last August?

Recent recent victories against programs like NC State and Virginia Tech have come at a cost, however. Injuries and confirmed COVID-19 cases have hindered, if not almost restricted Miami from playing. The team may not even be able to complete the regular season should they only manage to squeeze in one more contest before their bowl season.

Speaking of which, the bowl projections have been rumbling without an exact winning percentage of .500 or higher required to qualify for a postseason. The Hurricanes have now been predicted by multiple sources to appear in a New Year’s Six bowl, whether it be the Orange Bowl or Peach Bowl, for the first time since 2017.

Yet Diaz and his crew remain locked in on going 1-0. Every. Single. Week. And there’s potentially a lot to look forward to, should they keep that mentality. Especially when you are likely to leave a team like Notre Dame—who could have had no season without any ACC competition—hanging out to dry in facing a program like Clemson for as many as two more rounds this winter.

A New Year’s Six bowl win could potentially leave Diaz and the Canes in a wonderful state of mind, while making the perseverance through a Clemson loss and lack of depth seem worthwhile. To say it would be a one-season turnaround would be more than an understatement.

Moving onto Canes basketball, their season’s end did not go as hoped for back in the ACC Tournament last March. The quarterfinals were not even played due to the cancelation of the tournament’s remaining games, but who knows how far Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga’s program could have reached had they beaten Clemson once again? A deep run towards the semifinals or even the finals, let alone receiving an auto-bid to March Madness by shocking the conference, would be more than something to hang your hat on.

But this fall has brought another level of hope for their upcoming season, despite the news of Sam Waardenburg’s season-ending foot injury towards the end of October. The Hurricanes actually have the depth to fill the void of Sam Waardenburg (out for season with a foot injury) in the starting power forward slot.

For starters, there’s Deng Gak who likely has a chip on his shoulder after being sidelined with knee injuries over the past two seasons. Then there’s sophomore forward Anthony Walker, who has practiced well in the preseason. Not to mention four-star recruits in forward Matt Cross, who offers a physical play style and a sweet stroke, and Earl Timberlake, a guard that is not your average first-year college basketball player given his athleticism and feel for the game.

Miami brings back senior guards in Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty, plus an improved Isaiah Wong who exploded in the second half of last season as a starting guard. Transfer center Nysier Brooks will likely bolster the paint, too.

The Canes’ season has not tipped off as of yet, but there’s a fair amount of excitement and determination to take the ACC by storm and pursue a March Madness run as well. Health will be of critical factor with a gauntlet of 20 consecutive ACC competitions.

Then there’s Miami coach Gino DiMare’s ballclub, that was on the verge of potentially winning the school’s fifth national championship in baseball prior the coronavirus’ lockdown impact. Sure, the Florida Gators came into Coral Gables and left The Light with a weekend series sweep. A road loss to FAU in Boca Raton, Fla., did not fuel the Canes’ fire either.

But the team’s pitching, hitting, and fielding were essentially all there, and it certainly showed in the 2020 MLB Draft. Not only did starters in Brian Van Belle, Chris McMahon, and Slade Cecconi all get picked up by an MLB franchise, but shortstop Freddy Zamora and pitcher Tyler Keysor followed their tracks as well. The U represented itself quite well in June, to say the least.

Facing 2021, Miami will return catcher Adrian Del Castillo, infielder Raymond Gil, and starting outfielders in Tony Jenkins and Jordan Lala. In addition, the program has ranked No. 1 in Baseball America’s recruiting class for the first time in UM history.

Backing that prestigious ranking means welcoming top-ranked prospects in infielder Yohandy Morales, as well as right-handers Victor Mederos and Jake Smith to the team. Former Columbus High School quarterback Anthony Arguelles will also be joining the Canes on the mound, whether he serves as a starter or whenever else he receives the ball. The Miami native only pitched in relief for a few games at Santa Fe College, but will strive to remain versatile as a junior this spring.

The Hurricanes last saw NCAA Tournament action in the 2019 NCAA Regionals as the No. 2 seed against the No. 1 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs, after posting a 41-20 (18-12 ACC) record. Control of the contest was relinquished in the fourth inning that night, losing 5-2 after leading 1-0 early on.

Should DiMare be able to yield similar results in his fourth season while keeping his pitching and lineup healthy, another trip to the College World Series could be in store after appearing in Omaha and winning the Coral Gables Super Regional round in 2016.

With all that being said, almost none of these teams may live much regular or postseason success. Just one minor interruption, whether it be an injury, interception, buzzer beater, or walk off hit can end any team’s road to prominence, instead of the coronavirus’ mass threat.

What if all three of the school’s flagship sports teams all found their unique rhythms in harmony, though? One could only imagine the refreshing, everlasting impacts an Orange Bowl win, ACC Tournament title, or a College World Series appearance could garner for many Floridians and Americans. The talk of the town is almost always “Is The U back?” and while that may be subjective in so many minds, doses of victory would certainly reestablish multiple legacies.

That reestablishment may just all begin on Jan. 2 with a potential Orange Bowl win against an SEC program like a Texas A&M or a Sunshine State rival in Florida.

Here’s to what will hopefully bring a revolutionary 2021.