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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Locals earn honors in the Big West

Five players with local ties were among those honored when the Big West announced its All-Conference baseball selections.

Cal State Fullerton junior outfielder Josh Fellhauer was named to the first team. The Rancho Cucamonga product hit an impressive .391 with 51 RBI in leading the Titans to a 42-14 mark.

UC Riverside standouts Paul Applebee and Carl Uhl were named to the second team. Applebee, a junior left-hander out of Upland, went 10-2 on the mound with a 3.74 ERA.

Uhl, a senior outfielder, hit .329 with 36 RBI. He was a prep standout at Serrano High school, leading both the football and baseball teams to CIF titles his senior year.

Honorable mention went to UC Irvine freshman Tommy Reyes (.348) as well as Cal State Fullerton sophomore Gary Brown (.329). Brown is out of Diamond Bar while Reyes is from Rancho Cucamonga but spent his prep career at Bishop Amat..

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Martinez, Austin earn top athlete honors at UCR

The UC Riverside Athletics Department hosted its 2008-09 Athletics Awards Ceremony on Tuesday evening at The Barn on UCR’s campus, honoring the achievements of the 2008-09 Highlander student-athletes and staff.

This year, the UC Riverside Athletics Department handed out five awards to distinguished student-athletes for their accomplishments during the 2008-09 season. The first award went to Men’s Golfer Scott Clayton, the recipient of the Harper Scholar-Athlete Award, presented annually to the UCR varsity athlete – a freshman, sophomore or junior – whose athletic and scholarly achievements are deemed most outstanding. The recipient must have a GPA of at least 3.20.

Clayton finished tied for third this season at the Big West Men’s Golf Championship, which is the second highest finish ever at the championship by a UCR men’s golfer. During his academic career at UC Riverside, the San Bernardino, CA native has all As except for one A-minus.

Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field athlete Danielle Evans was the winner of the evening’s second award, the Lindy Award, given annually to the student-athlete or service group member who has demonstrated exceptional dedication by participating in extracurricular activities in the community and at the university, during the current school year and who is in satisfactory academic standing.

Evans is the current president of SAAC, a captain on the track team, president of the track and running club at UCR, a mentor for her church group, secretary of the Black Graduation Committee, a member of African Americans in Humanities, and a frequent helping hand at basketball games and special development events. Not only is she an excellent student, but she was UCR’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the Big West.

Men’s Soccer player David Watson was the recipient of UCR’s Best Teammate Award presented annually to the UCR student and varsity athlete whose actions both on and off the field exemplify the concepts and ideals of team and teamwork.

This past spring, the men’s soccer program was hit with a number of injuries and barely had enough players to compete in matches. Watson, who finished his playing career in the fall, began coming to 8:30 am practices and traveling for matches so the team would have enough players and subs to be competitive. That kind of initiative and selflessness is the perfect embodiment of what a teammate should be.

The Male and Female Student-Athlete of the Year awards went respectively to Highlanders men’s basketball player Kyle Austin and women’s cross country and track & field athlete Brenda Martinez.

The men’s basketball program this year set a number of Division I-era standards including overall wins, conference wins and highest finish in the Big West, and Kyle Austin was a big reason why. The sophomore transfer led the Highlanders in scoring and minutes played and was second in rebounding and free throw percentage, while earning First-Team All-Big West honors in the process. In doing so, he became the first UCR men’s basketball player to earn First-Team accolades from the Big West.

Brenda Martinez was named an All-American in indoor track this year after finishing seventh in the mile at the NCAAs. She was recently named Big West Female Track Athlete of the Year after winning the 800m and 1500m at the conference championship, and her times in those events are both among the top 20 in the entire world. After competing in the US Olympic Trials last summer, she is set to compete in the USA Championships this June in Eugene, Oregon.

Throughout the evening, the Highlanders also celebrated their Big West All-Conference award winners, Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members, graduating seniors, and Big West Scholar Athletes.

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