Recapping a banner year for area college athletics

It was quite a year for local colleges on the playing field as five teams finished as national runner-up. That is huge accomplishment but it’s still a little disappointing that none were able to seal the deal. Of those five, four were literally a play away.

So here’s the top 10. Yes, it’s pretty hard to decide who gets the No. 1 and who gets No. 2 and on so on. I’ll explain as I proceed.

1 – Cal Poly Pomona men’s basketball – The Broncos (25-8) get the top spot for one main reason, their finish was the most unexpected of the five second-place finishers. The Broncos were not ranked and were only 5-5 through the first round of CCAA play. They had to run the table the last 10 games just to finish in a tie for first.

They had injuries. Three players were lost for the season before the first game was played. And they ended up traveling 10,000 miles with playoff games in three different time zones. The season ended with a 56-53 loss to No. 1 and undefeated Findlay in the nationally televised championship game. Give Larry Gordon much of the credit for putting this team on his back and carrying it!

2 – Cal State San Bernardino golf – Unfortunately the Coyotes go here because of how they lost. Yes it was the best finish for the school in 13 trips to the national championship. But they had an eight-stroke lead going into the final round and finally lost that lead on the 18th hole, the 72nd and last of the tournament when Gene Webster double bogeyed the last hole.

The Coyotes finished tied with Sonoma State, then lost in a one-hole playoff. That error also cost Webster medalist honors and he ended up third individually.

3 – Cal State San Bernardino volleyball – The Coyotes finish might have been No. 1 any other year. Cal State (30-4) won its sixth CCAA title in eight years and that is a significant accomplishment in a conference with so much talent in that sport.

The Coyotes lost to No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul 3-2, 15-13 in the fifth set on Concordia’s home floor in what was likely the best title match in Division II history. Concordia’s only loss of the season came to the Coyotes in a season opener.

4 – University of La Verne volleyball – The Leopards (27-3) steamrolled their competition in the SCIAC as usual. Their biggest win in the tournament run came when they upset No. 1 Juniata (Penn.) in the semifinal 3-2 but coach Don Flora’s team ran out of gas and lost to No. 2 Emory 3-1 in the title tile.

La Verne went in ranked No. 3 so it slightly surpassed expectations, led by super senior Brianna Gonzales.

5 – University of La Verne golf – The Leopards finished second to Oglethorpe (Ga.) in the national tournament held at the PGA Club in Florida. The Leopards entered ranked No. 2 behind Methodist which placed third. Upland’s Mitchell Fedorka tied for medalist honors but lost in a playoff.

It was La Verne’s third straight top 10 finish following a second in 2007 and a ninth in 2008. The more ironic thing is that makes six straight national runner-up finishes for a SCIAC team as Redlands was the bridesmaid in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

6 – San Bernardino Valley College men’s cross country – The Wolverines won their third straight state title at Woodward Park In Fresno which is pretty impressive at the community college level given the constant turnover.

The team was led by the third place individual finish of Carlos Perez who ran a 20:19.05, smashing the previous school record.

7 – Pomona-Pitzer baseball – The Sagehens (37-7) had their best season in school history, highlighted by win streaks of 15 and 17 games. They were ranked No. 1 much of the season, only to have the storybook run end with losses to George Fox and Chapman at the West regional in Oregon. Senior Drew Hedman, named Division III Player of the Year, ignited the run.

8 – San Bernardino Valley College men’s basketball – The Wolverines made it all the way to the Elite Eight in Fresno but lost a three-overtime thriller to San Francisco 92-87. If they had made some free throws, who knows how far they would have gone. They team had a great run under first-year coach Quincy Brewer and it did so with just one sophomore on the team. The sky is the limit next year.

9 – Cal State San Bernardino men’s basketball – The Coyotes (20-10) won a share of the CCAA title, making it eight in 10 years. If it weren’t for Larry Gordon’s desperation 3-pointer that sent the regional quarterfinal into overtime, it may have been Cal State in the national title game.

10 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps hosts Division III national tennis – It is always nice to have a national championship in our own backyard and the Stags got hosting honors this year at their immaculate new complex. It was too bad the Stags lost out on a chance to win the team title after dropping the regional final at UC Santa Cruz. But senior Larry Wang capped a storied career with a couple of wins in the individual competition.

Coming soon – the top 10 athletes who made the headlines.

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