By Michelle Gardner
One can excuse Cal State San Bernardino mens basketball coach Jeff Oliver for looking for a positive omen as his team heads into the most important game of the season.
The Coyotes (21-5, 14-4) will play at Humboldt State (18-7, 13-5) Thursday with a win over the defending champions giving the Coyotes their seventh CCAA title in nine years.
Because of the importance of the game and the 700-mile distance, the Coyotes left Tuesday – a day earlier than is typical. But a series of delays resulted in the team not arriving until noon Wednesday, not much earlier than the womens team which left Wednesday and bussed to Oakland.
Oliver tried to take the delay in stride.
Were staying in the same hotel and I have the same room that I did last year when we won the West Region here, Oliver said. That has to be a good sign.
The mens team had a 7:30 p.m. flight out of LAX Tuesday. It was delayed a half hour. Then, after it did leave, had to return to Los Angeles after an emergency light went on.
The problem couldnt be fixed and another flight was not available so the team ended up checking into a hotel after midnight.
Wednesday morning all went well until it came time to land in Arcata, located on the coast about 50 miles from the Oregon border. Heavy fog made it necessary to circle for more than an hour before finally landing.
Such are the problems when playing a school so remotely located.
The week wont get any easier. After the tonights game the Coyotes will charter a bus and make a 230-mile trip to Rohnert Park to play Sonoma State Friday. That trip can take five hours, even if the weather is good. Oliver is hoping the team can arrive at the second destination by 2 a.m.
Cal Poly Pomona will play the teams in the opposite order. The Broncos (11-12, 10-8) flew into Oakland Wednesday. Coach Greg Kamansky said after tonights game with the Seawolves, his team will drive halfway, then make the other half of the trek Thursday morning.
It is by far the worst trip, Kamansky said. It really isnt safe to be doing it that late at night. And you really dont want to have to do it the day you play. There is no easy way to do it.
Last year the conference gave schools a day in between those games because of the hazards, not present in any of the other road trips between conference schools.
The situation was addressed at a meeting of athletic directors and the vote favored returning to the back-to-back nights. Cal Poly, Cal State and UC San Diego were the schools voting against that, citing safety concerns.
Cal State Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills were the lone South schools who voted for the back to backs.
Its tough no matter what you do, said Cal State L.A. athletic director Dan Bridges. We felt it was an unfair advantage for those teams to have a day between games.
But those against the move acknowledge that those schools also have an advantage if their opponent has to drive five hours after a game.
So the schools are doing the best they can to deal with the scenario. The Coyotes usually transport their teams in vans but athletic director Kevin Hatcher got a charter bus at a cost of about $4,000 – four times the cost of rental vans.
Bridges said his school did the same, even putting both the mens and womens team on one bus.
Cost is not an issue, Hatcher said. We felt this was the safest thing to do. We dont want our coaches having to drive their teams that late after a game, especially with the possibility of adverse weather conditions. At least with a charter you have a paid, professional driver trained to deal with all situations.
The stakes are a bit higher for the Coyotes, but the Broncos also need wins.
Cal Poly has qualified for the conference tournament but needs to finish in the top four to host a tournament quarterfinal at Kellogg Gymnasium Tuesday. Theyre currently tied with three teams for fourth.
Several north schools loom as a possible opponent for the Broncos. If they dont get to host they could be faced with having to head north again on Monday, two days after returning home from Humboldt.
If that happens the Broncos might decide to stay up north.
Despite the tough journey, Oliver expects a memorable game between teams establishing one of the top rivalries in Division II basketball.
I expect it to be every bit like the game we played in the regional final last year, Oliver said. It is a great atmosphere for college basketball, one our kids will never forget. They are very passionate and knowledegable about their basketball.