A Look Back At The 2011-12 Big West Sports Season
A national championship in the 800 meters for UC Irvine men’s track standout Charles Jock and Long Beach State’s trip to the women’s soccer NCAA Tournament Elite Eight highlighted an outstanding 2011-12 season for Big West teams and student-athletes.
Jock, a three-time All-American and potential future United States Olympian, became UC Irvine’s first national champion in 34 years after he ran 1:45.59 in the 800 meters at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. Jock, who will compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in June for a spot in the 2012 London Olympics, was the first Big West national champion since Cal State Northridge’s Dashalle Andrews accomplished the feat in 2007 in the long jump. Former Anteaters Steve Scott (1500 meters) and Mauricio Bardales (decathlon) won their respective championships at the 1978 NCAA Track and Field Championships. Jock claimed the Big West’s 13th NCAA individual men’s track title and 27th individual title overall.
Long Beach State became the first Big West women’s soccer program to advance to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight to cap a magnificent season in one of the conference’s rapidly rising sports. The 49ers won three straight 1-0 games – Pepperdine (First Round), Miami (Second Round) and San Diego (Sweet 16) – to come within one game of reaching the College Cup. The 49ers won a school record 18 games, shattering the old mark of 14, and tied for the third-most victories in a season by a Big West club. The three postseason victories also represented the first ones in Long Beach State program history after falling short in its first two appearances.
The 2011-12 season offered a multitude of other achievements by Big West schools.
In men’s soccer, the Big West placed multiple teams in the postseason as UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara earned NCAA Tournament first round byes. The Gauchos, who participated in their 10th straight NCAA Tournament, defeated Providence, 3-2, in the second round. It was the ninth time in those 10 trips that UCSB won at least one NCAA game. The Anteaters won the Big West regular season and tournament titles for the third time in the last four seasons to claim their third NCAA Tournament bid. UCI lost to Saint Mary’s in the second round but finished the season with a school record 16 wins. UCSB also led the nation in attendance for the fifth consecutive year. An average of 4,782 fans per game witnessed the Gauchos play, including the nation’s largest attended game of 13,822 on Nov. 4 against Cal Poly.
Women’s volleyball witnessed a continuance of tradition as Long Beach State won its 12th Big West title and made its 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The 49ers finished 23-7 overall and went 14-2 in Big West play. It was the 15th season that LBSU recorded 20 or more victories. UC Davis joined the 49ers in the 20-win column. Meanwhile, UC Santa Barbara head coach continued to pad her résumé in an already decorated career with her 850th win early during the season. She ranks third all-time among active Division I head coaches.
Cross country featured a combination of the familiar and the new in 2012. On the men’s side, Cal Poly recaptured the title after having a seven-year reign snapped in 2011 by a mere two points. The Mustangs placed seven runners among the top 14 for a low score of 36 points, clinching their 11th championship in the last 14 seasons. The UC Davis women placed three runners in the top 10 to claim their first conference championship as a Big West member. UC Riverside’s Chad Hall became the program’s first Division I runner – men or women – to capture the individual crown as he ran a 23:41.9 at the Big West meet. He later advanced to the NCAA Championship and was the highest Big West finisher in 44th place. UC Davis senior Jonathan Peterson also competed at the NCAA’s along with the Cal Poly men’s team. Cal Poly also sent a women’s duo to the national meet as senior Leanne Fogg and freshman Meghan Breadmore finished 105th and 146th, respectively.
The winter sports campaign featured plenty of national attention via the Long Beach State men’s basketball program. Led by a senior foursome – Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps – the 49ers played the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule and picked up wins against notable opponents such as Pittsburgh and Xavier. LBSU was only the sixth team in league history to begin conference play with 15 straight wins, having its bid for an undefeated season dashed on the final day of the regular season. With back-to-back regular season titles safely tucked under their belts, the 49ers then shooed away a nemesis in the Big West Tournament. After losing twice in a row to UC Santa Barbara in the finals, LBSU made the third time a charm with a dominating second half run and punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. LBSU’s T.J. Robinson became the Big West’s career rebounding leader and UC Santa Barbara’s Orlando Johnson was the first three-time scoring champion in league history to highlight a list of noteworthy individual accomplishments. Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara competed in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament to give the Big West three postseason teams.
The Big West sent a record five women’s basketball programs to the postseason. UC Santa Barbara, led by first-year head coach Carlene Mitchell, represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament after becoming the first No. 6 seed to win the Big West Tournament. It was the 12th conference tournament title for the Gauchos in the last 16 years. Meanwhile, regular season champion Cal Poly joined Cal State Northridge, UC Davis and Pacific in the National Invitation Tournament. The Tigers, the lone hosting team among the four WNIT representatives, took advantage of home court in the first round with a 77-62 win against Arizona State. That marked the first win in the WNIT by a Big West team since 2007. Cal State Northridge changed course in a major way with a 13-win improvement from the 2010-11 to 2012-13 seasons, finishing 17-12 this season.
Big West clubs did not take a break from making achievements in a very busy spring sports season.
Cal State Fullerton maintained its dominant grip on the Big West in baseball. The Titans won their seventh conference title in the last nine years with a 17-7 record and kept their string of 21 straight NCAA appearances intact. It is the nation’s third longest active streak behind Miami (40) and Florida State (35). The Titans, who have never gone winless in regional play, continued that streak as they took the opener against Indian State before falling in consecutive games to host Oregon and Austin Peay at the Eugene Regional. A bright future appears to be in place for the conference as 10 players were named Louisville Slugger Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-Americans. Cal State Fullerton sophomore Michael Lorenzen captured Louisville Slugger Collegiate Baseball All-American First Team accolades. The 2012 season ended with the selection of 18 players in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft.
Softball featured a tight race down to the final weekend of the conference season. Long Beach State won the title by one game over UC Santa Barbara and two over UC Davis to become the Big West representative to the NCAA Tournament. The 49ers claimed one victory at the Tempe Arizona Regional and finished the campaign 29-25 overall. The program made its fourth NCAA Regional appearance in the last six years under the tutelage of head coach Kim Sowder. The dean of Big West head coaches, Pacific’s Brian Kolze, achieved a coaching milestone with his 600th career victory. He moved past Cal State Fullerton legend Judi Garman for second place on the all-time Big West career wins list with 614.
UC Irvine extended its dominant run through the Big West in women’s water polo, notching its fourth Big West Tournament crown in as many years. The top-seeded Anteaters improved to a perfect 10-0 all-time in league tournament contests. UCI ran the table in Big West play for the second year in a row and extended its winning streak to 13 straight in Big West regular season matches. The Anteaters attained a school record 25 wins and represented the conference at the NCAA Championship for the second straight year. After an opening round victory over Loyola Marymount propelled the ‘Eaters into the winner’s bracket, UCI finished in fourth place among the eight participants, nearly upsetting No. 2 seed UCLA in the process. UCI concluded the season ranked No. 6 in the Collegiate Women’s Water Polo poll, the highest ranking ever achieved by a Big West team. UC Santa Barbara also collected 20 wins in the first year of head coach Cathy Neushul’s tenure.
In golf, the Big West sent Long Beach State junior Philip Chian to the NCAA Men’s Championship as an individual. Chian earned his spot after tying for fourth place at the Athens Regional. Big West champion UC Davis and at-large selection Long Beach State joined individual competitors Alex Edfort (Pacific), Allan Jun (UC Irvine) and Chris Russo (Cal State Northridge) in the regional competitiions. The 49ers finished eighth among 13 teams to close out regionals, while the Aggies placed 12th in their second straight trip to postseason play. On the women’s side, UC Davis made it three straight Big West championships as three Aggies finished in the top five, including an individual title by frehman Bev Vatananugulkit. UCD competed at the West Regional in Colorado and finished seven shots away from qualifying for the NCAA Championship, carding a three-day total of 33-over 897.
Long Beach State headlined the 2012 tennis campaign. The 49ers finished conference play with an unblemished record for the fifth time in the last seven years. The 8-0 record in Big West play was just the start of success for LBSU. Head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello’s troops went on to claim their eighth Big West Tournament title in nine tries at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Making their ninth appearance in the NCAA Championships, the 49ers dispatched Arkansas of the Southeastern Conference in the first round to collect the program’s second postseason triumph all-time. The win was extra special for Hilt-Costello as No. 250 for her career. On the men’s side, Cal Poly also pulled off an undefeated Big West season. The Mustangs posted a 5-0 record to join UC Irvine (2011) and Cal Poly (2007) as just the third team in history to go undefeated. Cal Poly concluded the campaign 15-8 overall under first-year head coach Nick Carless. Individually, Long Beach State senior Anais Dallara and Cal Poly junior Andre Dome competed in the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Singles Championships, respectively. Dome and partner Matt Fawcett participated in the NCAA Doubles Championships and won a first round match against Mississippi before falling in the second round to a duo from Kentucky.
Led by Jock’s national championship in the 800 meters, the track and field campaign saw numerous accomplishments. Twelve Big West athletes were named All-Americans following their successes at the NCAA Championships. Jock and UC Santa Barbara’s Ryan Martin were named first team All-Americans in the 800 meters, while UC Santa Barbara’s Barbara Nwaba (heptathlon) and Ashley Hearn of UC Davis (discus) were first team recipients for finishing in the top three of their respective events. Cal Poly’s John Prader (pole vault), UC Riverside’s Ryan Swafford (triple jump) and Sarah Sumpter of UC Davis (10,000 meters) were second team honorees. Five other Big West student-athletes were selected honorable mention All-Americans. It was a year of firsts at the annual conference championship meet as the UC Santa Barbara men and UC Davis women won inaugural titles. UCSB head coach Pete Dolan was awarded West Region Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches of America (USTFCCCA).
In all, 13 Big West teams and 18 individual athletes participated in NCAA postseason competition this past season. A total of 27 Big West student-athletes earned All-America honors in 2011-12.