Kendall Ellis’ sprint into history and other sports highlights from 2018
The 2018 sports year in Los Angeles can best be described by its greatest sporting moment.
You may have seen it on video. If not, you should find it, and watch it now.
It was USC runner Kendall Ellis sprinting into history with a comeback for the ages, flying from fourth place into a last-instant victory on the final lap of the 1,600-meter relay at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in June, giving the Trojans the title on the final steps of the final race.
Ellis won even though she bobbled the baton handoff from Deanna Hill. She won even though, entering the final 100 yards, she will still rooted in third place. She won even though ESPN announcer Dwight Stones declared, “There’s no way’’ she could win.
If you watch the video, you can hear the announcers then cry out, “Oh, my goodness … oh, my goodness … oh, my God!’’
It was the race that epitomized a Los Angeles sports year that was essentially one dramatic comeback.
Oh my, did we ever go from mundane to marvelous in a hurry.
In the spring, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the franchise-record fifth consecutive year. In the summer, they signed LeBron James and everyone pretty much lost their minds.
Early in the season, the Dodgers began defense of their National League pennant by going 16-26. Then Max Muncy showed up out of nowhere. Then Manny Machado arrived by trade. By October, they were back in the World Series for a second consecutive season for the first time in 40 years, and all the doomsayers were back on the edge of their seats.
(But not for long. They lost again. This time to the Boston Red Sox. It wasn’t close. Don’t ask.)
An undisciplined and unfocused USC football team struggled throughout the fall, going 5-7, missing a bowl game after a nonprobation season for the first time in 18 years, emptying the Coliseum of fans and sparking outrage over the retention of struggling coach Clay Helton. But within two weeks of the final loss, they had hired the hottest available college coaching candidate in the country to run their offense, former Texas Tech boss and flashy innovator Kliff Kingsbury, and everyone has stopped screaming. For now.
Then there was the UCLA football team, which botched its first five games under celebrated new coach Chip Kelly. It looked like the Bruins might never win. But somehow, they did, righting themselves to win three of their last seven, including the only one that matters. Nobody is going to remember that UCLA went 3-9, but everyone is going to remember that they beat favored USC 34-27.
The Clippers also began the year in shambles, missing the playoffs and losing DeAndre Jordan and seemingly resigning themselves to a rebuild. That was in July. Five months later, with a team of anonymous and fringe players, they found themselves, briefly, in first place in the Western Conference. Watch Montrezl Harrell barreling around the court for five minutes and you realize, no, this is no longer Lob City. This is more fun.
Through all the comebacks, there were changes. A new stadium opened, and old monuments closed their doors.
Banc of California Stadium debuted as the home of the new Los Angeles Football Club team in Major League Soccer. Meanwhile, Mike Scioscia left the Angels after 19 years as their manager while broadcaster Ralph Lawler announced his retirement at the end of the this season after 40 years with the Clippers.
There were also changes with guys who were barely here. The Kings fired coach John Stevens, who lasted about 18 months, and replaced him with interim Willie Desjardins. The Galaxy fired Sigi Schmid, who lasted all of 13 months, and replaced him with interim coach Dominic Kinnear.
Finally, no accounting of the 2018 sports year in Los Angeles would be complete without one last great comeback story. On a gymnastics landscape tainted by the sexual abuse horrors revealed in the January conviction of former national team doctor Larry Nassar, the UCLA women’s team offered a literal beam of hope.
In the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships in April, the Bruins were trailing two-time defending champion Oklahoma heading into the final rotation, then scored a record number on the balance beam to steal the national title.
“It was epic,’’ said Coach Valorie Kondos Field to The Times’ Helene Elliott.
That was the moment. That was the year.