The rise of Ronda Rousey tops the Glendale News-Press' Top 10 Sports Moments of 2012

1) Glendale-trained Ronda Rousey takes titles and MMA world by storm — Much like her six professional bouts — which have never extended past the first round — the year 2012 was a whirlwind of success for “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey.

“She’s the biggest rising star in women’s mixed martial arts, if not the sport as a whole. Ronda Rousey’s rise has been meteoric,” wrote Sports Illustrated when it crowned Rousey’s rise as the No. 65 sports moment of the year.

Indeed, Rousey’s rise to stardom and becoming a full-fledged star in the burgeoning realm of MMA — and in the mainstream — has grabbed headlines in the Glendale News-Press and myriad other forms of media, big and small.

Viewed by many as the complete package of beauty, brawn and intelligence, Rousey’s year has been one characterized by landmarks for her career and that of the sport of women’s MMA.

“There’s a reason I do this, it fulfills me as a person,” Rousey, a 25-year-old former Olympic bronze medalist in judo, said in a December interview in Burbank. “The brighter the lights are, the better I see.”

In between winning a Strikeforce championship in March and signing on as the first woman to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship before being crowned the organization’s first-ever women’s champion in November, Rousey’s roller-coaster ride of notoriety and prominence has had media of all kinds searching for superlatives and Rousey working overtime.

Tabbed “a rock star” by UFC President Dana White, Rousey, who trains under Edmond Tarverdyan at the Glendale Fighting Club along with at Team Hayastan in Hollywood, has made news over and over. She grabbed Internet buzz with controversial statements about Kim Kardashian being a bad role model and Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps being stand-offish with U.S. teammates. She had stories penned about her in Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Maxim and was on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” She guest-hosted an episode of TMZ, was a guest on “Conan” and Jim Rome’s Showtime talk show and rang the Nasdaq bell in New York City. She’s become a sex symbol and a sought-after sound byte, as her fan base has grown — her Twitter followers are right around 155,000 — and media attention and demand is never ending.

“This is what I chose to do and I’m not gonna complain,” Rousey said.

At the heart of it all, though, was the fact that Rousey became the baddest woman on the planet as it relates to the world of MMA.

In just her fifth fight, she submitted nemesis Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight (135 pounds) title on March 3, using her trademark armbar in a performance that earned submission of the year honors from a multitude of Internet sites and MMA television shows. Maybe more impressive was her first defense of the title, coming against former Strikeforce titlist Sarah Kaufman on Aug. 18. Kaufman, who had previously defeated Tate and was seen as a far superior striker to Rousey, succumbed to the armbar in just 54 seconds and it came after Rousey, showing her ever-improving game, threw out three jabs, landed a 1-2 combo and used it to transition into a clinch that led to a takedown and the inevitable end for Kaufman.

Then, in November, with rumors looming that Strikeforce, Rousey’s home and a sibling company to the UFC, would cease operations, Rousey signed on as the first women’s fighter to the UFC roster. And then, she became the first-ever UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Finally, it was announced that Rousey would headline UFC 157 in Anaheim on Feb. 23, taking on Liz Carmouche.

It was a 2012 to be remembered for Rousey. Alas, it seems 2013 is set to be an even better one.

“It’s very serendipitous,” Rousey said. “Everything came together. I couldn’t have written it any better. People’s dreams done come true like that.”

2) Championship dreams come true for Falcons — The Crescenta Valley High boys’ soccer team figured it might be able to win the program’s first CIF championship. What lied ahead was a roller-coaster ride to prominence.

The Falcons had a new coach in Grant Clark, who was familiar with the Falcons' personnel after previously coaching the school's junior varsity team. With forward Pavle Atanackovic, midfielder Alex Berger and goalkeeper Nick Ruiz as the core of an ultra-talented squad, the Falcons achieved championship status.

Crescenta Valley finished 23-1-6, 12-0-2 in the Pacific League and won the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship. Crescenta Valley knocked off top-seeded El Rancho, 3-0, in the championship match. For good measure, the Falcons advanced to the title game of the CIF Southern California Regional Championships Division I final, falling to Paramount, 2-1.

Atanackovic finished with a school-record 39 goals and nine assists for an area-leading 87 points and was named the All-Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year for the second straight season. Berger was named the All-CIF Division Player of the Year and Pacific League's Most Valuable Player after finishing with 10 goals and 29 assists for 49 points.

3) Down to the final lap for star-studded Crescenta Valley — After several seasons of falling short in their quest to win a CIF Southern Section division championship, the members of the Crescenta Valley High boys’ swimming team got back on the right track. Under coach Jan Sakonju, the pieces of the puzzle appeared in tact to win a CIF crown for the first time since 2000.

Led by a cast that included Young Tae Seo, Harrison Thai and Louis Wojciechowski, the Falcons were set to take on all challengers. It came down to the final race in the CIF Southern Section Division II Swimming and Diving Championships — the 400-yard freestyle relay — in Riverside for the Falcons to taste victory. Thai, Wojciechowski and Edward Yi teamed with Seo, who swam the final leg, to help the Falcons finish with a meet-record mark of 3 minutes 5.50 seconds and win the elusive crown.

Individually, Seo took the 500-yard freestyle in 4:28.95 seconds and the 100 breaststroke in a mark of 55.91 that was just .10 of a second off his own meet record set in 2011.

4) A rookie like no other on the links — When it was all said and done, John Huh, a 2008 Crescenta Valley High graduate, gained plenty of notoriety and rubbed elbows with many of the top professional golfers before being selected as the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

After receiving his card out of qualifying school in 2011, Huh proved he could compete within the ranks of the PGA Tour. After briefly playing on the Korean Tour several years ago, Huh fit in on the PGA Tour. His crowning moment came In February, when he captured the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He bested Robert Allenby in an eight-hole playoff at El Camaleon Golf Club in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Huh finished with an eight-under-par 65 on the final day to catch Allenby at 13-under 271 before parring all eight holes in the playoff to equal the second-longest playoff in PGA Tour history.

Huh, 22, became the youngest player to qualify for the Tour Championship since Sergio Garcia in 2001 at 21. Huh was the lone rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship. He became only the fifth rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship since the inauguration of the FedExCup in 2007.

For the season, Huh finished 29th in the FedExCup standings and was 28th on the final official money list at $2,692,113. Huh registered four top-10 finishes in 28 appearances, which included a tie for second at the Valero Texas Open.

Huh was one of three golfers to receive a berth into the British Open via a special exemption reserved for the top three and ties inside the top 20 in FedExCup points through the HP Byron Nelson Classic in May. He recorded a two-round score of 148 and missed the cut by five strokes at the British Open. At the PGA championship, Huh tied for 68th after making the cut.

5) Huge year on track for standout Nitro Mike Davis, a member of the Glendale High boys' track and field and football teams, encountered a year that he’ll likely not soon forget. After committing to Brigham Young University to play football, the junior hit the track and repeated as Pacific League champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Davis was far from done, as he turned in a mark of 21.40 seconds in the 200 to finish second at the CIF Southern Section Division I final at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut. Davis moved to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet, where he shattered his seeded time of 21.58 for a fifth-place effort overall.

Davis became the first Glendale male athlete to reach the state meet since 1986. At the CIF State Track and Field Championship preliminaries at Buchanan High in Clovis, Davis finished third in his heat of the 200-meter dash and ninth overall in a time of 21.67 seconds, good for the final qualifying spot to the championships state meet. He finished seventh at state in 21.85.

In football, Davis did more than his share. Glendale went 3-7 and 2-5 in the Pacific League, with wins over Crescenta Valley and Hoover, to take the city championship.

Davis, a wide receiver, played all over the field on offense. He was easily the Nitros’ go-to weapon, as he registered 33 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, Davis rushed for 258 yards and two touchdowns in 39 carries. He also returned five punts for 107 yards and 13 kickoffs for 394 yards to earn all-league first-team honors.

6) Rebels bounce back strong on the gridiron — It could be argued that the 2011 season was the worst in program history for Flintridge Prep football. But it also served as the precursor for a 2012 campaign that saw the Rebels pull off an unforgettable, feel-good turnaround that made history.

After going 1-9 with two defeats via forfeit due to a depleted roster and a winless Prep League campaign, Flintridge Prep, after a summer of recruiting on campus and hard work in the weight room to bolster the roster, ran off a 6-5 season.

But there was more to it than just the final record — though it served as the first winning season for the program since 2007. Behind the 1-2 running back punch of 1,000-yard rushers Stefan Smith and Kurt Kozacik, as well as the linebacking play of Chad Cosse, the Rebels achieved historical success. They beat Chadwick and Pasadena Poly for the first time in years en route to a second-place league finish and their goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There, Prep defeated Ribet Academy in the first round in an overtime thriller for the program’s first postseason win since 2003. Indeed, a year after historical tribulation, the Rebels surged to historical triumph.

“They’ve done something that no team at Flintridge Prep has done in 10 years,” third-year Rebels Coach Antonio Harrison said. “I told them when they come back in 10 years and Flintridge Prep tradition is strong where it used to be, it will be because of this team this year.”

7) Nitros dominate Pacific before making history — Expectations were raised after the Glendale High boys’ water polo team won the Pacific League championship in 2011. That proved to more apparent in 2012 with Nitros Coach Forest Holbrook believing Glendale could make a deep postseason run.

With a band of standout players, including Arman Momdzhyan and David Papazian, Glendale went undefeated in league for a second straight season. Its endurance was put to the test throughout the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs as the top seed.

Glendale (22-6) advanced to the program’s first CIF championship match and the first CIF championship final for any Glendale sports program since 1989. The Nitros suffered a 12-10 loss to third-seeded Pasadena Poly in Irvine.

Momdzhyan, a junior, tallied 136 goals and was named the league’s most valuable player.

8) Falcons enjoy playoff journey to state — The Crescenta Valley High boys’ basketball team figured to have an imposing team with the return of starters Cole Currie, Dylan Kilgour, Christian Misi, Rudy Avila and Davis Dragovich. The Falcons showed stretches of dominance throughout the regular season, finishing second in the Pacific League.

Under the guidance of coach Shawn Zargarian, the Falcons entered the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs brimming with confidence and soared to the semifinals for the first time since 1994.

For good measure, the Falcons (26-6) made an appearance in the state playoffs for the first time since 1994, losing to eventual state champion Santa Ana Mater Dei.

9) A major renaissance for the jubilant Wildcats — After several previous attempts to win the program’s first CIF Southern Section championship, things came together for the Renaissance Academy boys’ basketball team in 2012.

With the nucleus in tact, led by Jessy Cantinol and Vince de Guzman, the top-seeded Wildcats (27-7) roared through the Division VI playoffs after placing third in the Harbor League.

The Wildcats’ watershed moment came when they notched a 67-45 win against California Lutheran in the championship game of the playoffs. Its season finished with a 58-57 loss in the Southern California regional final against Village Christian, which went on to win the state championship.

De Guzman was named All-CIF Division VI Player of the Year and coach Sid Cooke was named the division’s coach of the year. Cantinol was tabbed the John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year in Division VI after averaging 15.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game en route to earning All-CIF first-team accolades.

10) Turmoil on and off the field for Andy Reid — Job stability hasn’t been an issue for Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid since the former Glendale Community College football player took over the job in 1999. At least until 2011, when a squad deemed the “Dream Team,” struggled mightily. Reid guided the Eagles to an appearance in the Super Bowl in 2004 and was expected to do the same in 2011. However, the Eagles and their high-priced talent failed to qualify for the postseason, putting Reid on the infamous coaching hot seat.

Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the 2012 season began that another mediocre record would not be acceptable and that the Eagles needed to show “substantial improvement” to justify handing Reid a contract extension. Reid has one year left on his contract for nearly $6 million.

During Reid’s tenure at Philadelphia, he’s registered a franchise-best 140 victories. He’s piloted the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, six National Football Conference East Division titles and five NFC championship contests.

Looking to help the Eagles regroup from last season’s 8-8 finish, things took a turn for the worse for Reid. His oldest son, Garrett, died during training camp following a lengthy battle with drug addiction.

A coroner ruled that the younger Reid, 29, died from an accidental heroin overdose.

The Eagles close out the season Sunday with a road contest against the rival New York Giants. The Eagles (4-11) will finish in last place in the division after a season that’s been mired in controversy, injuries and losses.

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