James Burns: Remember these names -- the top 50 for 2009

James Burns

It's no easy task whittling thousands of athletes, coaches and administrative-types down to a select list.

But we've done it.

We've searched each sport, each season and every level, looking for the Top 50 sports personalities we believe will define this new year.

Some names -- and where they fall on our list -- may surprise you. Maybe even apall you.


Not so much.

A few things to note as you follow our countdown over the next few days:

The personalities were ranked according to promise and potential, mass appeal and, of course, expectations.

Though many of you may view this list as a popularity contest, I can assure you that we didn't accept any cash bribes or special gifts during the selection process.

(That's not to say that we weren't tempted.)

What's more, the list will not dictate our coverage of local sports. We will continue to give every sport, big or small, and every athlete and coach, male or female, the press they deserve.

The Top 50, we hope, will be released each year in two parts.

At the end of this year, we'll revisit our list and grade our rankings. Who deserved their ranking? Who didn't? Who was snubbed?

And as we move into January 2010, we'll debut a new Top 50.

Finally, the countdown will begin with Nos. 50-26 today. On Monday, we'll debut the Top 25, finishing with the top sports personality of 2009.

Now then...

On with the countdown.

50 Bradin Hagens: Merced College pitcher returns for his sophomore season after being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB draft.

49 Doug Fluetsch: The founder and coordinator of the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic watched as his event drew thousands to the city of Merced in 2008.

48 Luciana Naldi: The Livingston coach probably does more with less than any other girls basketball coach in the area.

47 Jon Dibblee: Led a young Merced girls water polo team to an undefeated season in Central California Conference play. Pieces are in place for an encore performance.

46 Alonso Lara: Livingston goalie nearly landed a pro deal in 2008. What's next?

45 Omar Aguilar: Former Merced College standout stands a good chance of making the Milwaukee Brewers' Opening Day roster. Aguilar had two saves and 1.54 ERA for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.

44 Kyle Espinola: Led Chowchilla to two Valley titles in 2008 (football, baseball). Could add a third this spring.

43 Octavio Murillo: Merced striker was named the CCC MVP in 2008 and was one of the cornerstones of the school's first-ever section championship team. The best part: He's got two seasons left.

42 Jake Messina: Left his position as Merced's defensive coordinator to explore head coaching opportunities. His search will be of keen interest to many across the Valley.

41 Aly Gleason: All-world goalie from Buhach Colony headed to Stanford on scholarship. Is the U.S. national team also in her future?

40 Chris Urquizo: After a year away from the mats, Merced wrestler should challenge for a spot at the CIF state championships.

39 Lou Souza: After a six-year hiatus, Souza returns as head coach of the Merced baseball team. Was co-coach of Merced's 2002 section title team.

38 Bart McAfee: Merced boys soccer coach returns top two players from Division I section championship team.

37 Nick Steitz: Offensive lineman revived his career with the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League in 2008. Will Steitz take another shot at the NFL now that the AFL has folded its 2009 season?

36 Asako Maningo: One of the most decorated senior swimmers in the country qualified for five events at the 2009 Senior Nationals at Stanford.

35 Rollo Adams: Led the Volunteers American Legion baseball team to a second straight state championship. The Vols will be the heavy favorite to three-peat in 2009.

34 Chopper Mello: Has a young Golden Valley wrestling program turning heads. Again.

33 Bernard Berrian: Former Atwater star caught 48 passes for 968 yards and 7 touchdowns, leading the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs.

32 Bobby and Morgana Dallas: Last shot for Buhach Colony softball's father-daughter combo to make a serious Sac-Joaquin Section postseason run.

31 Wayne Fitzgerald: His Buhach Colony baseball team won back-to-back CCC titles and reached the SJS Division I championship round in 2008.

30 Matt Hansen: The former Atwater star golfer earned nearly $100,000 on Nationwide Tour. Hansen had four top 10 finishes.

29 Michelle Osmer: This could be Osmer's final season as the Buhach Colony volleyball coach.

28 Frank Marques: Led Hilmar to the SJS Division IV championship.

27 Dusty Ryan: Batted .318 with two homers and seven RBI in a September call-up with the Detroit Tigers. Ryan has an outside-shot of making the Tigers' roster this spring.

26 Steve Cassidy: Merced College athletic director oversees a department that went 34-56 in four fall sports in 2008, including just 2-8 in football.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at

Top 50 Sports People

The Sun-Star will continue its countdown of the top sports personalities of the new year on Monday with the final 25 players, coaches and administrators.

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