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Mark Story: Rhyne Howard to Jensen Castle to Brooke Forde, what voters said about Nos. 11-25

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 1/31/2022 Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader

Jan. 25—What media members who cast votes for the 2021 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award said about those who finished 11 through 25:

11. Rhyne Howard

2021 claim to fame: The Kentucky Wildcats women's basketball star was chosen SEC Player of the Year and AP First-Team All-America for the second straight season.

What voters said: "Rhyne Howard will eventually go down as one of the two greatest Kentucky women's basketball hoopers of all time. ... Players like Howard are generational-type talents and Kentucky is lucky that she can call Lexington home." — Zack Geoghegan, Kentucky Sports Radio

"(The) greatest UK women's basketball player I've ever seen (apologies to Valerie Still, but I didn't see her play)." — Sean Seay, WLXG-AM 1300, Lexington

"The face of UK women's basketball. An exceptional player who is fun to watch and could be the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick." — Jamie Vaught,, Middlesboro

12. Brad Cox

2021 claim to fame: The Louisville-based trainer was first in North America in earnings with a record $31.832 million. He trained Knicks Go to wins in Pegasus World Cup in Dubai and Breeders' Cup Classic. Cox trained Essential Quality to wins in Blue Grass Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes.

What the voters said: "Louisville-born trainer has taken the horse racing world by storm; what a year when he led the U.S. in earnings, won training titles at Churchill Downs and Keeneland and so many big races. Oh, and don't forget at some point the Kentucky Derby will be added to his résumé!" — Jody Demling,, Louisville

"Brad Cox (is) the new training rock star of horse racing." — Fred Cowgill, WLKY-TV, Louisville

"Louisville native won all the big races — and may add that Kentucky Derby win yet." — Kent Taylor, WAVE-TV, Louisville

13. Will Shaner

2021 claim to fame: The Kentucky Wildcats rifle star won Olympic gold medal in 10m air rifle, the first American male to win that event. He helped UK win its third NCAA team title and was named First-Team All-America by Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association in air rifle, smallbore and aggregate.

What the voters said: "(Shaner) became the standard by which all future 10m air rifle competitors in the world will be measured. ...Have a year why don't you!" — Tom Kenny, WTVQ-TV, Lexington

"It would be one thing to lead UK to a national championship. But he also won gold at the Olympics." — Keith Farmer, WLEX-TV, Lexington

"In Tokyo, Shaner moved from the third qualifying spot in the finals to the top by keeping his composure while outlasting the other competitors as they were eliminated round by round. ..." — Brad Laux, freelance writer, Morehead/Ashland

14. Devin Booker

2021 claim to fame: In the NBA playoffs, the ex-UK star led Phoenix Suns on surprise run to NBA Finals, averaging 27.3 points per game. Made the NBA All-Star Game for the second time. Won an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo with Team USA.

What the voters said: "He led his team to a surprise run to the NBA Finals, then was a key figure for the U.S. Olympic team winning the gold. Lot of accomplishments in a few months." — Gene Abell, Lexington Herald-Leader, retired

"How does scoring 27 points a game in the NBA playoffs not get more publicity? Wonder how often (John Calipari) has thought about why he didn't start him (at Kentucky)? Might have beaten Wisconsin." — Alan Cutler, WLEX-TV, Lexington, retired

"The best player on the NBA Western Conference champions; had an incredible run in his first playoff appearance in leading the Suns to the NBA Finals. Also scored 47 in the game that eliminated the Lakers in the first round." — Steve Bittenbender, freelance writer, Louisville

15. Dani Busboom Kelly

2021 claim to fame: In the fall season, Louisville women's volleyball coach led the Cardinals to an undefeated regular season (28-0) and the NCAA Tournament Final Four for the first time in school history.

What the voters said: "Dani made Louisville volleyball a 'must-see' event." — Paul Rogers, Louisville Cardinals football and men's basketball radio play-by-play announcer

"Women's volleyball is THE shining light at the University of Louisville right now. By guiding the Cardinals to their first ever Final Four, Coach Dani Busboom Kelly showed the university and the Louisville community what true leadership looks like." — Doug Ormay, Bellarmine University men's basketball radio play-by-play announcer

"(Busboom-Kelly's) team captivated a lot of fans in the Louisville area, even "non-volleyball" fans. And, they packed Freedom Hall for an electric atmosphere as they won a pair of matches in the (NCAA Tournament) regional to get to the Final Four. Did all of it coming off a Sweet 16 in the spring season, too." — Nick Curran, Louisville Bats and Louisville Cardinals women's basketball radio play-by-play announcer

16. Julian Tackett

2021 claim to fame: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the KHSAA commissioner was able to provide Kentucky high school students some sense of normalcy by successfully playing sports seasons throughout 2021.

What the voters said: "Julian has been fighting the battle for young kids almost his entire life, but his strong and determined mindset to keep kids on the playing field and actively participating in sports as kids should be during the past two years should never be taken for granted. He fought so many groups/politicians to stay the course. ... (He) is responsible for the 1,000s of high school athletes who someday will thank him." — Oscar Combs, The Cats' Pause, University of Kentucky Radio Network, retired

"Julian Tackett should be everyone's #1 choice. What Julian Tackett did was greatness in every facet of leadership." — William Warfield,, Nicholasville

"With uncertainty everywhere, (Julian Tackett) brought a needed degree of normality to high school sports." — Kenny Rice, NBC Sports, Lexington

"For the past two years, Mr. Tackett made tough decisions on almost a daily basis. And while his decisions and recommendations to the KHSAA board were sometimes unpopular, they were necessary for the safety of the thousands of high school student athletes in the state of Kentucky." — Steve Cornelius, Commonwealth Journal, Somerset

"I don't have adjectives in my vocabulary to adequately applaud the job Julian Tackett and the KHSAA he leads have done in providing championship opportunities for student-athletes, coaches and fans amid ever-changing COVID protocols." — John Herndon, The Anderson News, Lawrenceburg, retired

17. Jensen Castle

2021 claim to fame: As the No. 63 seed, the UK star won the U.S. Women's Amateur. As member of Team USA for the Curtis Cup, she helped Americans defeat Great Britain 12.5 to 7.5. She helped her UK team reach NCAA championship finals for first time since 1992.

What the voters said: "Jensen Castle's victory in the U.S. Women's Amateur may have been the best story in all of sports in 2021. She was ranked 248th in the world among amateur golfers going into the tournament, and she had to survive a 12-player playoff (for the final two spots) just to get into the match-play portion of the event.

"She won with a smile and an indomitable spirit while beating some of the best amateurs in the world. She made clutch putt after clutch putt — and even took time between strokes to repair random ball marks on the greens." — Rob Kandt, Lexington Herald-Leader, retired

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"To win the U.S. Amateur championship as 63-seed is an unbelievable accomplishment. And a real credit to the UK women's golf team who made the NCAA championships for the first time since 1992." — Jim Host, University of Kentucky Radio Network, retired

"(Castle's) story is one of the most amazing ones all year! I can't wait for the inspirational ESPN 30 for 30 or TV movie to get produced!" — Tim Estes, WPBK-FM 102.9, Stanford

18. Mitch Barnhart

2021 claim to fame: In calendar year 2021, the UK athletics director presided over a department that won two NCAA team titles (rifle, women's volleyball spring season); three SEC team titles (women's volleyball spring and fall seasons; women's swimming); a Conference USA Tournament title (men's soccer); and saw its football team wins 10 games (10-3) and win the Citrus Bowl.

What the voters said: "For his work leading the selection committee for the Men's NCAA basketball tournament during COVID as well as his role building the overall strength of the Kentucky athletic program, my choice is Mitch Barnhart." — Rick Bozich,, Louisville

"Mitch Barnhart is the author of UK's unprecedented athletics success." — Fred Cowgill, WLKY-TV, Louisivlle

"I rarely vote for an athlete or coach or administrator who gets the big bucks for doing their job — but what Mitch has done in elevating UK's Olympic sports to a championship level deserves attention." — Dennis George, The Kentucky Standard, Bardstown

19. Josh Paschal

2021 claim to fame: UK football defensive end was named First-Team All-SEC by the AP, Second-Team All-SEC by coaches, Second-Team All-America by CBS-24/7 Sports, and a COSIDA Academic All-American.

What the voters said: "Paschal left the (Kentucky football) program better than he found it. He battled through cancer and was able to lead the Wildcat defense to a 10-3 record on his way to a probable NFL Draft pick." — James Streble, WHBE-AM 680, Louisville

"(UK) team captain for three years. His leadership was the backbone of the UK football defense." — Ron Bailey, Maysville Ledger-Inquirer

"It's not just what Josh did on the field that impressed us all, it was his leadership and the example he set off of it that deserves all the recognition. Team captain, academic stalwart, community service vanguard, and cancer survivor. You'll be hard pressed to find a more upstanding young man." — John Huang, Nolan Media Group

20. Brooke Forde

2021 claim to fame: Ex-Sacred Heart Academy star won Olympic silver medal after swimming in preliminary round for Team USA in 800 freestyle relay. Won the NCAA championship in the 400 individual medley. Won the Pac-12 title in the 400 IM and 500 freestyle.

What the voters said: "From Sacred Heart to the Olympics — what an inspiring story." — Dominique Yates, WLKY-TV, Louisville

"Her Olympic dream was postponed by the pandemic, but the Sacred Heart grad joins some Lakeside (Swim Club) elite with her silver medal." — Kent Taylor, WAVE-TV, Louisville

"The Louisville native represented Kentucky in the best possible light by winning a silver medal in the Tokyo games — and her college season was just as impressive. — Sam Gormley, WMTH-AM 870, WKHG-FM 104.9, Leitchfield

21. Darian Kinnard

2021 claim to fame: Kentucky right offensive tackle was the first Cats' offensive lineman since 1965 to earn consensus First-Team All-America status. Won Jacobs Blocking Trophy, representing the best blocker in the SEC

What the voters said: "Kentucky's offensive lineman bet on himself by returning to improve his NFL Draft stock. He exits as a rare consensus All-American. Mission accomplished." — Darrell Bird, The Cats' Pause

"Arguably the best offensive tackle in school history, Kentucky's success on the gridiron would not be possible without Kinnard's consistent contributions." — Nick Roush, Kentucky Sports Radio

"Arguably the best offensive linemen in Kentucky history. ... Captained the Big Blue Wall during a historic career that will lead to a retired jersey in Lexington." — Freddie Maggard, Kentucky Sports Radio

22. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn

2021 claim to fame: Ex-UK star won Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles (12.37 seconds) while running for Puerto Rico. Set the Olympic record for the 100-meter hurdles in the semifinals (12.26, fourth-fastest time in history).

What the voters said: "In the history of the Olympics, no woman has run the 100m hurdles faster than the former University of Kentucky star. ... When your name is at the top of the list of any Olympic record, you're in rare company." — Tom Kenny, WTVQ-TV, Lexington

"A great Olympics in her own right." — Kal Oakes, The Georgetown News-Graphic

23. Alli Stumler

2021 claim to fame: In the spring season, the UK outside hitter led Cats (24-1) to their first NCAA title. Had monster showing (26 kills) in title win over Texas. In the fall season, helped UK (25-5) win its fifth straight SEC title and was named SEC Player of the Year.

What the voters said: "A key part of taking UK volleyball to the next level." — Brad Munson,, Paducah

"Alli Stumler was the star for UK's run to the national championship, and she showed up when it mattered most." — Chris Leach, Lexington Herald-Leader

"She gave Kentuckians a reason to watch volleyball other than every four years at the Olympics. Led an incredible run for UK." — Scott Brown, WKDZ-FM 106.5, Cadiz

24. Mary Tucker

2021 claim to fame: UK rifle star led Wildcats to their third NCAA team title by winning the individual national championships in air rifle, smallbore and aggregate. Won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 10m air rifle mixed team competition.

What the voters said: "It's one thing to lead UK to a national championship. But she also won a silver medal at the Olympics." — Keith Farmer, WLEX-TV, Lexington

"Tucker has been a dominant force in college rifle throughout her time in Lexington." — Brad Laux, freelance writer, Morehead/Ashland

25. Henry Davis

2021 claim to fame: U of L catcher (.370 BA, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 46% of would-be base stealers thrown out) was the No. 1 overall pick in MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What the voters said: "The first player in Louisville baseball's incredibly rich (baseball) history to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft. That's worthy of recognition." — Dominique Yates, WLKY-TV, Louisville

"It's simple. Davis was picked number one overall and earned that by being named an All-American by virtually every major college baseball outlet." — Sam Gormley, WMTH-AM 870, WKHG-FM 104.9, Leitchfield

Below are comments about some who received first-place votes but finished outside the Top 25:

Walker Buehler

2021 claim to fame: Ex-Henry Clay star finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting after going 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

What the voters said: "Walker is a big-time pitcher who helped the Dodgers win 106 games. At 27, the future Cy Young Award winner has a bright future and will continue to dominate the National League." — Jamie Vaught,, Middlesboro

Ja Morant

2021 claim to fame: Ex-Murray State star led the Memphis Grizzlies to the NBA playoffs for first time in four seasons. Averaged 19.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists a game (eighth best in NBA).

What the voters said: "The former Murray State star is becoming a supernova in today's NBA. His game-changing speed, infectious attitude and consistent improvement are beginning to get recognized at the national and international levels." — Edward Marlowe, Edge Media Group, Cadiz

Preston Spradlin

2021 claim to fame: Morehead State men's basketball coach was named OVC Coach of the Year after leading the Eagles (23-8) to the OVC Tournament title and their first NCAA tourney berth since 2011.

What the voters said: "For me, (Preston) Spradlin was the best story." — Gary Kidwell, Lewis County Herald

Justin Haddix

2021 claim to fame: Coached Boyle County (14-1) to the Class 4A state title, the school's 10th, and the coach's second.

What the voters said: "How do follow a legendary figure? Haddix replaced Chuck Smith in February 2020 after Smith retired after winning six (state) championships. All Haddix did was win back-to-back Class 4A state titles and post a two-year record of 25-1." — Steve Bertram, Boyle County Rebels radio play-by-play announcer

This story was originally published January 25, 2022 9:14 AM.


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