It’s a sure thing hordes of Arizona basketball fans will be cheering for St. Mary’s (28-5) when the California college takes on Baylor (27-7) this evening, March 26, in a Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
The fervor for the Gaels is not because St. Mary’s (No. 10 seed) is a decided underdog against Baylor (No. 3), but because the team’s coach, one of its stars and the pair’s families have roots in Arizona.
St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett played basketball at Mesa Westwood, then at Mesa Community College where his father was a highly renowned coach.
Mickey McConnell, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior guard for the Gaels, once starred for Mesa Dobson High School, and is also the son and grandson of two of Arizona’s most successful basketball coaches.
With ties like those to the state, local fans can’t help but cheer for St. Mary’s.
Bennett attended MCC from 1980 to 1982 where he was a team captain. During his freshman season, he helped the Thunderbirds finish 31-4 and earn the Arizona Junior College championship. During his sophomore season, the T-Birds were 25-6.
At MCC, his father, Tom Bennett, now a Hall of Fame member and one of the most respected coaches in the state, coached him.
Tom Bennett also coached many Payson youths who, in past years, attended Arizona Sports Camp in Prescott.
McConnell lettered three years in basketball at Dobson, where he set several school hardwood records.
At Dobson, his father Rick — a member of the University of Arizona’s 1976 College World Series Championship baseball team — coached him in basketball.
Randy’s grandfather, Dick, holds the record for most coaching wins in the state, is a Hall of Fame member and a legend among high school basketball coaches.
SMC has set a record for the most wins in the history of the program and will be making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1959.
The Gaels advanced with a first-round win over No. 7 seed Richmond (80-71), and a second-round stunning upset of No. 2 seed Villanova (75-68).
Baylor and St. Mary’s have never met in basketball.
The game is to be aired live on CBS.
PWGA calls for new members
It’s not too late for the Rim Country’s link hopefuls to hook up with Claudia Bullard and her Payson Women’s Golf Association counterparts for an enjoyable summer of exercise and friendly competition.
“We have a fun season with lots of social activities as well as tournaments,” Bullard said. “Come join us for a great year and fun on the course.”
The season tees off at 9 a.m., Tuesday, March 30 with the traditional first-day breakfast to be held at the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino.
League play gets underway at 9 a.m., Tuesday, April 6 at Payson Golf Course, the site of most PWGA tournaments.
This season, the PWGA will be well represented at Arizona Women’s Golf Association and Northern Arizona Women’s Golf Association tournaments around the state. For those competitions, the PWGA sends “a group of women that play in a team format against other state women’s groups,” Bullard said.
Weekly tournaments are played each Tuesday morning at PGC. To register for PWGA play, call Bullard at (602) 284-4812.
Golf for a good cause
St. Vincent de Paul Rim Country Food Bank is preparing for its ninth annual golf tournament, “Tee Off for Hunger,” to raise funds to help those in need.
The April 24 benefit at Payson Golf Course will be a 4-person shotgun scramble, with teams balanced according to handicap.
All proceeds from the tournament go to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, which helps about 480 families a month.
To register, call Richard Roy at (928) 474-9559; or Mary Smith at (928) 468-8766.
Mail registration along with your donation of $70 ($45 for Payson Golf Course members) to HC4 Box 3M, Payson, AZ 85541-9571. The entry deadline is April 19.