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Recapping a memorable 2021 in Memphis sports

Ja Morant's ascent to stardom, Tigers No. 1 recruiting class highlight top sports moments in 2021

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The 2021 sports calendar was filled with small but steady steps towards normal.

As vaccines rolled out, stadiums slowly eased capacity limits, reminding us just how sweet the roar of a crowd can be.

There were Fireworks at AutoZone Park. There was a gallery at the World Golf Championship, and Memphis Madness at FedExForum.

Another welcomed return to normalcy: Playoff basketball on Beale Street.

Whether it was 47 points in their first-round series against the Jazz, Or 41 in this week's win over the Lakers, Ja Morant's meteoric rise showed no signs of slowing down.

 Grizz Next Gen ends 2021 as the No. 4 seed in the West, and lightyears ahead of schedule.

Though it was another March without Madness, Tigers men's basketball grabbed an NIT championship—and headlines throughout the summer. There was the panic that Penny Hardaway may leave to coach the Orlando Magic before he announced his intention to stay at Memphis.

 Then with a wave of his wand, Penny added two legendary figures to his coaching staff in Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace, while simultaneously assembling the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation—again.

After a lackluster non-conference slate, the Tigers hope to put their second COVID pause of 2021 behind them  and finally get back inside the bubble in 2022.

Memphis women's basketball dawned a new era introducing Katrina Merriweather as head coach. Her Tigers enter league play with a 9-2 record, already more than doubling last year's win total.

Tigers football enjoyed high points with wins over Mississippi State and SMU but failed to reach eight wins for the first time since 2013. While the Hawaii Bowl was cancelled, they still came back with their second-straight bowl trophy.

Women's soccer earned their fourth-straight NCAA tournament appearance, and topped LSU in the opening round.

Memphis 901 FC reached the playoffs for the first time in team history. Another Bluff City soccer franchise was resurrected in Southaven.

St. Agnes alum Rachel Heck solidified herself among golf's brightest young stars, winning a national championship as a freshman and competing in the US Open.

Memphis honored an NFL Hall of Famer in Isaac Bruce, and remembers another with the passing of Claude Humphrey. 

Larry Finch's long-awaited statue was unveiled. Zach Randolph's number went into the rafters.

And athletes in Shelby County Schools finally returned to play.

The comeback of sports amid COVID has been far from a straight line. But we will always have the moments, the thrills, and the memories from 2021 with plenty more to come in the new year.

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