20 for 2020: These Alaska athletes brought their best this year
With 2020 in our rearview, let’s look back on the top 20 Alaska athletes from this year.
Here is the list for our 20 for 2020.
They represent the best of the best from The Last Frontier. History makers, record setters, world champions and more.
From the ski trails to the track and the hardwood to the gridiron, Alaska athletes stole the show in 2020 with historic performances worth celebrating.
Ruthy Hebard, Fairbanks – The Chicago Sky rookie led the WNBA in field-goal percentage, made a playoff appearance and finished the season with the most rebounds by an Alaskan in league history. She currently ranks top-5 in points and rebounds in the Turkish League. As a college senior with the University of Oregon Ducks, she won the McClain Award and earned First Team All-American honors.
Gus Schumacher, Anchorage – The 19-year-old made U.S. Ski Team history by becoming the first American male to win an individual Junior World gold medal. He also won gold and silver medals at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, made his World Cup debut and was named winner of the Beck International Trophy, given to the country’s top skier.
Jeremy Swayman, Anchorage – In his junior season with the University of Maine Black Bears, the goalie was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and won the Mike Richter Award. He was a First Team All-American and captured Hockey East Player of the Year honors. He signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins, passing up his senior season.
Daishen Nix, Anchorage – The prep-to-pro basketball player was the fourth Alaskan ever to be named a McDonald’s All-American before he turned professional straight out of high school, signing a six-figure contract with the NBA G League and passing up a college scholarship offer from the UCLA Bruins. He was also MVP of The Grind Session in his final prep season and led the Trinity Thunder to the Alaska Airlines Classic title.
Alissa Pili, Anchorage – The University of Southern California Trojans basketball star became the first Alaskan to win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. She also earned All-Pac-12 honors and scored the most points in a season for a USC freshman in 29 years. She became the youngest Alaskan to score 30 points in a NCAA D1 game. Now a sophomore, she is on the preseason watch list for both the Naismith Trophy and McClain Award.
Lydia Jacoby, Seward – The prep swimmer popped a blistering time of 1:07.57 in the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Open Championships, the second-fastest time in American history among girls 15 to 16 years old. Her time was .52 seconds off the record set in 2000. Her time qualified her for the 2021 Olympic Trials. The high school junior announced she will swim in college for the University of Texas Longhorns.
Rosie Brennan, Anchorage – The Alaska Pacific University veteran became only the second American cross-country skier in U.S. Ski Team history to win back-to-back World Cup races after claiming the 1.5K sprint and 10K titles in the Swiss Alps. She’s one of only six Americans and the second Alaskan to win a World Cup race.
Lauren Murphy, Eagle River – The veteran top-ranked mixed-martial arts fighter won all three of her UFC fights this year to improve her professional record to 14-4. She ranks No. 2 in UFC history with five wins in the women’s flyweight division. Her six UFC wins are tied for first all-time among Alaskans and her ten UFC appearances are second.
Tristian Merchant, Anchorage – The Anchorage Christian School senior cross-country runner clocked what is believed to be the fastest 5K time for an Alaska high school runner in 14:41 at the Region III championships. He won the Alaska D2 state title and will run track and cross country in college at Northern Arizona University.
Travante Williams, Anchorage – The fifth-year professional basketball player earned MVP honors for the second time in his career, this time in the Portuguese League. He led Sporting Lisbon to a 21-1 record and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight season. He also had his seventh 30-point game of his career.
Kelsey Griffin, Eagle River – The veteran professional basketball player won her fourth WNBL championship in her eighth season in Australia. She ripped down a game-high 13 rebounds in the title game for the Canberra Capitals. The star forward led the league in rebounds per game and ranked top-10 in both points and steals.
Hunter Sulte, Anchorage – The 18-year-old soccer prodigy agreed to terms on a four-year deal with the Portland Timbers, making him the first Alaskan to sign a Homegrown Player contract with a Major League Soccer team. The goalkeeper turned down a scholarship offer from reigning NCAA champion Georgetown University in favor of a pro contract.
Sydnee Kimber, Sitka – The McKendree University sophomore wrestler won two national championships and earned her first All-American recognition. She finished the season with a 25-1 record, including a 10-2 upset win over her No. 1-ranked opponent to secure her team’s first-place finish at the NCAA D2 National Duals. At the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship, she outscored her opponents 24-0 at 191 pounds.
Elaina Mack, King Cove – The prep basketball player won Class 1A Player of the Year honors and averaged a state-best 40.1 points per game. Her high game was 58. She led her team to a 25-0 record as a senior and ended her high school career on a 55-game winning streak. Mack ended her high school career with 2,577 points. She will play college hoops for the UAA Seawolves.
Jessica Yeaton, Anchorage – The veteran nordic skier won the 46th American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America. She finished the grueling 50K race in 2 hours, 13 minutes, 20 seconds to beat five-time Olympian Riitta-Liisa Roponen of Finland by 41 seconds. Yeaton is the sixth Alaskan ever to claim a renowned Birkie title.
Josh Rolston, Eagle River – The Chugiak Mustangs senior kicked the longest field goal in Alaska high school football history after splitting the uprights from 56 yards out. The two-time Alaska Kicker of the Year bettered the previous state record of 53 yards set in 2010. Rolston is nationally ranked at his position and has college scholarship offers from NCAA D1 programs.
Max Germain, Anchorage – The 18-year-old shocked the biathlon world after winning a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in Switzerland. In the youth sprint at the IBU Championships the previous two years he had placed 74th and 66th. But in the 7.5-kilometer sprint he captured the bronze medal after skiing strong and missing just one of his rifle shots. A total of 106 athletes from all around the globe participated.
Finnigan Donley, Anchorage – The teenage downhill skier won the giant slalom and finished fourth overall and third among Americans in the slalom at the Western Regional technical series in Washington. His performance secured him a spot on the U.S. team for the Alpe Cimbra Children’s Cup, the first Alaskan to qualify in 13 years.
Clair DeGeorge, Anchorage – The Bemidji State University skater was the lone Alaskan invited to the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team Evaluation Camp. At college, the all-conference forward had a pair of goals to power a 3-2 upset win over No. 1-ranked Wisconsin. In a 3-1 win against Minnesota State, she set a school record for fastest back-to-back goals in a span of 11 seconds. She also buried her first-career OT goal to secure 3-2 win over St. Cloud State.
Bill Balog, North Pole – The veteran sprint car driver known as the ‘North Pole Nightmare’ won the points series champion of the Upper Midwest’s Interstate Racing Association for a record 10th time. He closed out the season in style by winning the 30-lap main event for winged 410s on a lightning quick half-mile dirt track in Wisconsin. It was his 12th victory in 20 races, his most wins in a season since 2017.