It’s been a long and interesting year of UCF Athletics in 2011-2012, one that is not quite over, and what better way to put it all in perspective than by listing off the top 10 Knights of the school year?
The Central Florida Future sports staff compiled a list using a variety of criteria, including impact on and off the field, career achievements, success of the program and buzz and exposure created for the school.
While things seemed pretty clear at the top of the list, it got a bit complicated as we neared the bottom, so included at the end is a “first four out,” which lists a few other deserving Knights.
Here are the Future’s top 10 most valuable Knights:
- Octavious Freeman, sprinter, track & field — This isn’t even a question. Freeman may very well be the fastest woman on the planet (her 11.10 in the 100 meters in Gainesville is the fastest time for a woman in the event this year, professional or amateur), or at least among them. Freeman came to campus as arguably the most sought-after recruit ever to choose the black and gold. Most importantly, a likely future Olympian, perhaps even a gold-medalist, is a UCF Knight.
- D.J. Hicks, first baseman, baseball — He’s the guy carrying the big stick for the resident top-15 baseball team. Hicks was voted the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year and a preseason All American, and he’s delivered. He’s done it in ways outside of just sending the ball over the fence. Hicks is batting .329 with a team-leading 55 RBIs (Chris Taladay comes in second with 30). Hicks provides a lot of the excitement to be had at Jay Bergman Field, leading the team with 10 home runs. In short, Hicks is the face of a program that may be contending for a national championship in Omaha, Neb., this summer.
- Mackenzie Audas, pitcher, softball — In a sport where a pitcher can dominate and take the mound nearly every game, there truly is nothing more valuable than an ace. The Knights have theirs. The freshman has come in and in a flash become the face of the program, posting shutout after shutout, including this biggest win of the season, a 2-0 victory over the then-No. 3 Florida Gators at the UCF Softball Complex. What’s more? She’s going to be rocking the black and gold for three more years.
- Keith Clanton, forward, men’s basketball — He’s Mr. Reliable for a program that is on an upward trend and has embraced increasing expectations. Clanton is one of the few players who can quietly register a double-double, racking up rebounds and often scoring at ease in the paint or on the perimeter. Clanton led the Knights, averaging 14.5 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game, and perhaps most importantly hit the go-ahead free throw with just seconds remaining in UCF’s historic win over Memphis.
- Kevan George, midfielder, men’s soccer — The 29th pick in the this year’s MLS SuperDraft, selected by Columbus Crew, was an integral part of a loaded men’s soccer team that took the program to new heights in 2011. George led the team in assists (7) and had two game-winning goals to his credit in 2011, one of which game in the first round of the NCAA Championship against Florida Gulf Coast.
- Isaiah Sykes, guard/forward, men’s basketball — Sykes was easily the most improved player on the roster this season and made a strong case for most improved player in the nation. The sophomore from Detroit continued doing the things he did well as a freshman: rebounding, defending and grabbing loose balls. But in the 2011-12 season he started scoring. A lot. Sykes averaged 12.3 points per game and had a few 20-point efforts to his name. Sykes got more confident in his jump shot as the season went on and, of course, delivered more than a few SportsCenter-worthy highlights.
- Josh Robinson, defensive back, football — The Knights’ defensive backfield took a blow when this junior defender declared for the NFL Draft. Then, the program enjoyed some exposure when Robinson made a huge splash at the NFL Combine. Robinson’s 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash was the fastest of any athlete at any position at the Combine. Accordingly, Robinson, who came to the program as a four-star recruit out of high school, saw his stock shoot upward. Any time a Knight goes in the earlier rounds of the Draft, it’s a victory for everybody.
- Tishia Jewell, forward, women’s soccer — The 5-foot-6 senior out of Satellite Beach was an integral part of a women’s soccer program that ranked among the top in the nation. Jewell finished 2011 as a Third Team All-American and a C-USA First Team honoree. Jewell dished out 10 assists, putting her at No. 24 nationally, and scored seven goals. On a program that has been consistently good for quite some time, Jewell shined this year, scoring two game-winning goals.
- Jackie Coward, sprinter, track & field — She is the most accomplished athlete in the program’s history, and Coward is also the commitment that started it all. Coward was the first All-American to come to UCF and join coach Caryl Smith Gilbert in her vision of what the program could become. Speedsters like Freeman and Aurieyall Scott may not have selected UCF out of high school had it not been for Coward. The senior sprinter will be chasing Olympic dreams at the U.S. Trials this summer.
- Alex Friedrich, right fielder, baseball — It’s probably the best sports story on campus. Friedrich, who graduated from nearby University High School, had no major college offers despite his stellar high school career. Undaunted, Friedrich came to UCF and walked on with the program, no small achievement. But he wasn’t done. Friedrich gradually earned more and more playing time, and now the senior right fielder who came to campus without a scholarship offer is one of the top hitters on one of the top baseball teams in the country. Friedrich is batting .351 and also has quite the arm in the outfield with five assists this season.
Just missed out:
- Blake Bortles, quarterback, football — showed flashes of greatness during 2011, including amazing late-game drive against Southern Miss.
- Aisha Patrick, guard, women’s basketball — ended storied career (including two C-USA championships) by averaging 13.7 points per game and providing some thrills in disappointing season for program.
- Brad Schneider, golfer, men’s golf — lone senior and leader of No. 20 men’s golf, looking for fourth consecutive C-USA title.
- Aline Reis, goalkeeper, women’s soccer — Lowe’s Senior Class First Team and C-USA Second Team honoree was key part of talented women’s soccer team in 2011.