Best Of 2017

2. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

3. Camp Joy

Sports
Art: Phil Valois


2. Troy Caupain

3. Gary Clark

2. Andy Dalton

3. Tyler Eifert

The University of Cincinnati 1992 Final Four team put a young Bob Huggins on the college basketball map. Just three years into his tenure at UC, Huggy Bear put together one of the best squads he would ever field at UC, and only a loss against Michigan’s vaunted Fab Five kept the ’Cats from playing in the National Championship game. We all know what happened next: Fourteen straight NCAA Tournament appearances, Kenyon Martin’s broken ankle, a DUI charge and subsequent dismissal that sent the Bearcats program into disarray for more than a year. One-time Huggins protégé Mick Cronin has rebuilt the UC basketball program, and this year the school celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the team that started it all. The Bearcats wore badass 1992 throwback uniforms during a thorough dismantling of UConn in March, with members of the Final Four team Corie Blount, Curtis Bostic, Anthony Buford, Tarrice Gibson, Herb Jones and Terry Nelson in attendance. Huggins, who has since returned to the Final Four with his current program, West Virginia, sent along a video tribute for the dudes.

Nuge, we hardly knew you. Actually, we knew Bengals kicker Mike Nugent quite well going back to his days at Ohio State, where he was an All-American kicker before being drafted by the New York Jets. He became the Bengals’ kicker in 2010 and went on to set a team record for points and field goals the following year. Then came the 2015 rule change moving the point-after attempt from the 2-yard line back to the 15. After making 98 percent of his PATs the first year of the change, Nugent scuffled in 2016, missing six of 29 and another six field goals to boot. With the wheels falling off for both the kicker and the team in general, the Bengals released Nugent in December. The downfall of the team’s kicker pretty much symbolized the Bengals struggles in 2016, a year when many hoped they would avenge the ugly 2015 playoff loss to the Steelers. 

University of Cincinnati point guard Troy Caupain this spring wrapped up a tremendous career on the hardwood for the Bearcats. When he showed up in Clifton from Midlothian, Va. four years ago, the then-17-year-old hit the ground running, contributing significant minutes on a good team as a true freshman. He’s been UC’s floor general ever since, knocking in an acrobatic, game-tying layup in an NCAA Tournament game the ’Cats would win in overtime, winning first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors his junior year and entering his senior season AAC co-player of the year. Amid the litany of on-court accolades Caupain has amassed during his four years at UC, he’s also been a model student. This past year he was honored as a finalist for the NCAA’s Senior CLASS Award, given each year to the outstanding senior student athlete in nine different sports. Caupain’s bio notes various academic achievements, leadership traits, community service and volunteer efforts as well as basketball accomplishments. Caupain’s mother Renee, who was known to drive from Virginia to watch almost all his games throughout his career, is surely proud. 

Kenyon Martin’s broken ankle. The Reds being no-hit in the playoffs or blowing a 2-games-to-0 lead on the Giants. Jeremy Hill and Vontaze Burfict snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Steelers. The past 20 years of Cincinnati teams’ playoff appearances have been demoralizing enough to cause even the most optimistic fans to wonder why we put ourselves through it all. This city’s seemingly endless playoff-win drought has manifested itself in a couple of unfortunate streaks for the men who have led the Reds and Bengals through such sorrow. The Bengals’ 2015 playoff loss to Pittsburgh marked head coach Marvin Lewis’ seventh-straight playoff loss, the longest-ever streak for a head coach without a win. Former Reds manager Dusty Baker took over the Washington Nationals in 2016 only to extend his own dubious record of losing potential series-clinching games to nine — the longest ever. Marvin will attempt to break his streak leading the Who Deys this coming fall, while Dusty’s Cincinnati karma will undoubtedly remain with him in D.C. should the Nationals again make the playoffs this year. 

Beer and sports go together beautifully. Everyone knows this. The campus of East Side brewery Fifty West has gone way beyond simply providing pints to sip while watching the big game or sixers to chug on the bench during a summer night softball game. The brewery’s Production Works facility is a straight-up adult beer-themed playland: a brewery and taproom adjacent to volleyball courts and a bike shop, with canoe and kayak rentals on the banks of the Little Miami River. This isn’t your typical taproom, though there are plenty of TVs playing sports and a brewpub across the street serving seasonal ingredients alongside a variety of freshly brewed beers. You can stop by and join in a friendly game of sand volleyball or get in a weekly league. Rent bikes to cruise down the the Little Miami Scenic Trail or join cycling and running groups. It’s basically like pretending to be on vacation at a brewery just 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati. And it’s easy to find your way home — literally just follow U.S. Route 50 west toward the city. Fifty West Brewing Company, 7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, 513-834-8789, fiftywestbrew.com.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Cincinnati Reds boasted a number of straight-up freaky athletes, from the 105-mph flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman to the quirky windup of Johnny Cueto and the enigma that is star first baseman Joey Votto. With the departures of the two aforementioned pitchers, Votto these days is flanked on the “all-freak” team by center fielder Billy Hamilton, the fastest man in baseball. Hamilton routinely scores tagging up on shallow pop-ups, taking extra bases on passed balls (sometimes two bases) and is the most disruptive baserunner in the game since probably Rickey Henderson. Hamilton has already stolen more than 50 bases three times in his young career, and two of those seasons he played in fewer than 120 games. He’s also an amazing center fielder who often appears to be running faster than a fly ball. Hamilton’s freakishness has gone a long way toward making the rebuilding Reds fun to watch despite the team’s struggles as a whole. 

The 2016 Xavier men’s baseball team rode a hot late-season streak to Big East regular season and tournament titles, catapulting them to their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons. The Musketeers went 18-4 down the stretch, winning eight of their last 10 and beating Creighton 8-7 in a dramatic championship game. The Musketeers nearly made noise in the NCAA Tournament, too. Though they failed to get out of their region, Xavier whooped No. 1 seed Vanderbilt 15-1 and won a game against Washington but couldn’t quite get past UC Santa Barbara, losing games 5-4 and 14-5. Catcher Daniel Rizzie was later drafted by the New York Mets, and shortstop Andre Jernigan went to the Minnesota Twins. 

There are mid-major men’s college basketball programs that wait decades for their first taste of the NCAA Tournament. Others come and go during a single Cinderella season now and then. The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team hopes to fall into a third category after winning the Horizon League tournament and advancing to the Big Dance after just a season of eligibility. The Norse ripped through the league tourney as a 4-seed, knocking off Milwaukee’s attempted Cinderella run in the finals and earning a 15 seed against No. 2 Kentucky in the NCAAs. NKU’s first-round game took place the day this magazine went to press, so we don’t know how the dudes fared. Google it!

Just across campus, another NKU squad powered through the four-year reclassification process to find success in its first year of Division I eligibility. The Northern Kentucky University women’s soccer team wasted little time breaking through with a league championship, also playing in the NCAA Tournament for their first time. The Norse lost in the first round to national runners-up West Virginia, but they’ll be back. 

Things didn’t go Xavier’s way during the 2016-17 men’s basketball season. After starting the year ranked in the top 10, the Muskies struggled against the better teams in the stacked Big East, failing to separate themselves from the middle of the conference pack. The daunting conference schedule didn’t make things easy — during a five-game stretch in January, Xavier played four games against ranked opponents, including an out-of-conference game against crosstown rival UC, losing all four. Then the really unfortunate happened: Star point guard Edmond Sumner went down with a torn ACL and was lost for the year. Sumner had been projected by many NBA mock drafts as a potential first-round pick. Instead, the talented junior-to-be will rehab for the next year or so hoping to contribute on the court sometime during 2018. With a medical redshirt season as an option, the lanky point guard will have plenty of time to prove himself worthy of a draft pick in the years to come.

The Bengals’ offensive stars in recent years have enjoyed much of the team’s limelight — wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the best in the game, and quarterback Andy Dalton and running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill get to score all the touchdowns. But there are some pretty legit dudes on the other side of the ball, too, starting with defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The 29-year-old has made the Pro Bowl in five out of his seven years in the league, the most ever for a Bengals defensive lineman and just one behind the record for any Bengals defensive player. Atkins has twice led the NFL in interior-line sacks and shared the accolade twice. Defensive tackle is one of the toughest gigs in the game, and Atkins’ dominance allows the freaky defensive ends to really get after the quarterback. The team smartly locked up the former fourth-round pick with a five-year, $52 million contract in 2013, retaining his services through 2019. If he stays healthy, he’s likely looking at another extension in the near future and could potentially be a Bengal for life. 

Brandon Phillips could be a fickle guy sometimes, as demonstrated by his resentful comments about team management after signing a lucrative contract extension in 2012. But for every instance of the somewhat self-conscious BP getting a little too defensive — let us not recall the on-base-percentage flap with The Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans — Reds fans will remember the mile-wide smile and genuine joy the longtime second baseman brought to the game. Not to mention the countless acrobatic defensive plays, behind-the-back and between-the-legs throws, the 2013 “butt slide” tag and the massive brawl with the Cardinals he basically started. Phillips’ 11-year Reds tenure ended this past offseason when he was traded to his hometown Atlanta Braves, where he has continued to demonstrate his trademark charm as @DatDudeBP on Twitter. The three-time All Star ranks among the top 10 Reds all-time in hits, doubles, total bases and games played. He’ll surely be a member of the team’s Hall of Fame someday. 

In 2016, the Reds received special permission to honor iconic hometown baseball star Pete Rose on the field for his induction into the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Pete wouldn’t see his lifetime ban from baseball officially overturned, however, as new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred denied his latest appeal after Manfred’s staff found “new evidence” of ongoing misconduct. The induction into the Reds Hall of Fame came shortly after Ichiro Suzuki broke Rose’s record for most hits — if you count Ichiro’s 1,000-plus hits when he played pro ball in Japan. Which Pete and all Reds fans most certainly do not, and Ichiro fans most certainly do. Rose told USA Today that Japan was trying to make him “the Hit Queen,” adding “the next thing you know, they’ll be counting (Ichiro’s) high school hits.” 

Cincinnati’s hottest sports ticket in town last year belonged to Futbol Club Cincinnati, which spread its orange-and-blue fandom all across town during its inaugural season. With uber-professional business and marketing efforts led by the deep pockets of Carl Lindner III and former Bengals executive Jeff Berding, the organization asked for — and did receive — the city’s utmost attention. Then it followed through on the pitch, making the United Soccer League playoffs and competing against top European teams in friendlies along the way. The team’s record-setting attendance numbers at UC’s Nippert Stadium piqued the interested of Major League Soccer, which is seriously considering the local club for inclusion during its next round of expansion. The team has already sold out of 2017 season tickets in “The Bailey” — the end zone section where the rowdiest fans set off flares and chant European-style soccer stuff. But general admission season tickets are still available and only cost $75 — total. FC Cincinnati, fccincinnati.com. 

Before last season, no Ohio high school had ever won three consecutive Division II state championships. Standing in La Salle’s way of such a prestigious accomplishment last fall was northern Ohio football powerhouse Massillon Perry, which La Salle had smoked in the 2015 state championship game 42-0. The Lancers again prevailed, this time in a 14-7 squeaker behind a late fourth-quarter touchdown run by senior quarterback TreSean Smith with 3:46 left in the game. The team finished the season ranked No. 32 in the country by high school sports website MaxPreps. Prior to the current three-year winning streak, La Salle had never won a state title. The Lancers will go for four in a row next season.

It didn’t take long for Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle to prove herself on the soccer field at the University of Wisconsin. After leaving Mount Notre Dame High School as its all-time leading scorer, Lavelle went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 and was named to the All-Big Ten team all four years in Madison. She became a first-team All-American and was twice named to the All-American second team, with two Big Ten Midfielder of the Year awards to boot. Lavelle’s high honors continued this past January, when she was selected by the Boston Breakers with the No. 1 overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft. By March she had earned her first appearance in international play, starting and playing all 90 minutes of a tough 1-0 Women’s National Team loss to England. Could World Cup 2019 be her next stop?

While all eyes were on FC Cincinnati’s ongoing bid to join Major League Soccer’s expansion efforts, Xavier footballer Jalen Brown was showing scouts why they should add him to an MLS roster. Brown’s efforts paid off — after participating in the 2017 MLS player combine in Los Angeles, the former Musketeer was drafted in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft by New York City FC. Brown led Xavier with six goals his senior year and was named to the Ohio Collegiate Soccer Association All-Ohio NCAA Men’s Division I Team. In New York City, he’ll be united with former FC Cincinnati star Sean Okoli.