Features for the Orange County Register:
Cal State Fullerton pitcher John Gavin won’t settle for anything less than great (4.4.17):
John Gavin replayed bits of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas game in his head, combing through his pitches that night. The junior southpaw for No. 5 Cal State Fullerton (17-10, 2-1) rated himself on a scale of 1 to 10, as he does after every game, with the scrutiny of a pathologist conducting an autopsy. Except it was just Gavin, alone with his thoughts, in the lab that is his mind. 8? No way (Gavin doesn’t consider 8s, let alone 9s or 10s). 7.5? Nope (He remembered some pitches he left up. He hurried his pitches. He didn’t have as much command of his slider as he had hoped). 7? Hmm. 7.25? Alright, he thought, shrugging his shoulders. I’ll go with that. Gavin, who pitched a then career-high 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball to help the Titans to a 5-0 win on Feb. 26, measures himself with a different yardstick from his peers. Even as he leads the Big West Conference in earned run average (1.63) in 38.2 innings of work (and, prior to giving up two runs in Sunday’s win over UC Riverside, had tossed 17 consecutive shutout innings), he expects more of himself. Gavin (3-0) doesn’t want to pitch alright. To pitch so-so. To even pitch well. He wants to be great. Nothing less. “John’s the hardest person on John,” said Jim Gavin, his father. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Queens of the Court (5.4.16):
The women file into the gym, most in their late 40s to early 60s and most Asian American, every one of them eager for tipoff. It’s a Sunday morning at a high school in Huntington Beach, but these women have been playing basketball in gyms like this, on mornings like this, for decades. Today, it’s the High Rollers against Forever Kidz. Both teams are part of the Orange Coast Sports Association, which sponsors a basketball league of mostly Japanese American women age 40 and older. They play today because they still love the game more than they hate the sprained ankles and floor burns that come with it. But for much of the 1970s and ’80s, the best players from each squad were teammates on Imperials Purple, the most loved, feared and copied women’s basketball team of its day. In the vibrant world of Japanese American basketball, the Imperials of a certain era were a blend of Showtime Lakers and John Wooden-era UCLA Bruins. Only perhaps even a little more dominant. “I always knew we were going to win,” said Stacey Honda, an Imperial during that era and after. “It was just a matter of what the score was going to be.” (READ FULL STORY HERE.)
Finding his rhythm: Kyle Allman having breakout season for Fullerton hoops (12.6.16):
Kyle Allman sprinted toward the basket on a fastbreak. He didn’t care that Washington’s Markelle Fultz, considered by some to be the No. 1 2017 NBA Draft pick, trailed closely during a non-conference game in November. Receiving the pass from point guard Lionheart Leslie, Allman leapt toward the sky, hammering the ball over Fultz for the dunk. Though Allman was blocked, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Brooklyn, N.Y., native landed undeterred, as his motto has always been: attack, attack, attack. “He’s just a dog, man,” said guard Jamal Smith, shaking his head, praising Allman’s competitiveness. “He always wants to be that Alpha.” But Allman, who worked to mold all aspects of his game in the offseason, is more than athletic. With a silky jab step and crossover, a budding, true mid-range jump-shot — where Allman elevates and releases the ball at its highest peak — he is also the team’s lockdown defender. Against Nebraska-Omaha last week he rose up and tossed out an opponent’s attempt like a bad dream. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Dillon Persinger shines at first for No. 8 Titan baseball (4.17.17):
Dillon Persinger didn’t waste any time. During the first inning against UC Davis, the 5-foot-11 junior blasted the first homer of his Division I career, a two-run shot over the left field fence, giving the Titans a 3-0 lead. Finishing the game 3-for-3 plus two runs scored, a career-high three RBI and a walk, Persinger sparked the No. 8 Titans (23-11, 5-1) to an 8-5 victory on April 9. You’d never know this season is the first time Persinger is playing first base. Ever. Well, maybe once, when he was 8, playing Fountain Valley Pony baseball, when the bat stretched across half his body. But that doesn’t really count. Though accustomed to playing second, Persinger wouldn’t dare object, as coach Rick Vanderhook walked up to him against San Jose State on March 14. “You ever played first before?” “Nope.” “Alright, you’re playing first next inning.” “Alright.” But Persinger, in his first season with the Titans, needed a first base glove. Leading the team with 12 stolen bases while hitting .316 in conference, he’s the catalyst Fullerton needed to spark its offense. When starting at second, the Titans were 7-5. Since starting at first, 13-6. That’s “Pers,” as his teammates call him: he doesn’t care much which role he is given. As long as it involves a ball, bat and bases, the former Junior College Player of the Year will find a way to make it work. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Colton Eastman of No. 7 Cal State Fullerton baseball remains poised under pressure (2.27.17):
“What’s up, big time!” said John Gavin, junior southpaw, nodding to Colton Eastman. Eastman, a sophomore right-hander, named to USA Baseball’s preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list, shrugged his shoulders. He offered a quiet smile, the same steely stare he exhibits on the mound for the No. 7 Cal State Fullerton Titans (4-3). It was about 6:30 p.m. Practice had just ended. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Fresno native sat in the dugout at Goodwin Field, his back pressed against the bright-orange paint displaying the program’s national crowns: 1979, 1984, 1995, 2004. He clasped his hands together, revealing two names tattooed in cursive on each of his forearms: Shawn William Eastman on his right, Jenny Christina Eastman on his left — his parents. Those arms helped him record an 8-3 record last season, earn the 2016 Louisville Slugger Freshman Pitcher of the Year and help the Titans win the Big West Conference crown. The tattoos remind him that his parents gave him his arms, his hands, his fingers; they sacrificed so he could throw. “I haven’t done half of what they have,” said Eastman, who was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-American Second Team. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Kelsey Kessler stays in the moment for CSUF softball (3.27.17):
Sitting on the couches in the Titan baseball clubhouse, wearing a red sweatshirt adorned with white letters displaying “Peppers,” black leggings and black sandals, Kelsey Kessler lifts up her right hand — the one she pitches with day after day for Cal State Fullerton softball (17-15). On the side of her fourth finger is a red tattoo of the ace of hearts. She smiles, recalling how it came to be: 2015, her friend’s birthday, a tattoo shop. Her friend got “IX,” her softball number, tattooed, and urged Kessler: “You gotta get something! You gotta get something!” “Okay,” Kessler said, shrugging her shoulders, flashing a wide smile. “Why not?” That’s how she pitches: she goes with the flow, she stays in the moment and she’s not afraid of anything. Her calm demeanor in the circle almost looks like she isn’t even trying, like she isn’t even there. “It almost looks like it’s too easy for her,” said Tori Tyson, CSUF’s pitching coach. But the 5-foot-10 Kessler is so locked in — so in tune with the count, the batters — a reflection of the hours of work she put in prior, that by the time she throws, there are no thoughts swirling through her head. No fear. No excitement. No stress. Nothing. “Pitching is almost like a meditation for me,” Kessler said. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Shooter’s touch: Kaden Rasheed lights up scoreboard for No. 2 Santa Margarita (1.13.17):
Most nights, around 10 p.m., Kaden Rasheed shoots at Life Time Athletic in Laguna Niguel. There is no one else there – just how he likes it – only the bright light, the open space and the hoop. And eight minutes. Rasheed, the 6-foot-1 go-to-scorer for No. 2 Santa Margarita High School (12-3), forces himself to make 100 3-pointers in eight minutes, all the while grabbing his own rebounds. This is no small feat, but the senior has been working at it since fifth grade. Back then, he could only reach 60. Now? That’s unacceptable – he’ll do the drill over until he reaches 100. “Once you get to 90 and you’re close, your hustle just goes up – it skyrockets,” Rasheed said, “because you want it so bad.” Fortunately for Santa Margarita, Rasheed is usually spot on. The senior, who grew up studying 3-point guru Ray Allen while his peers were watching cartoons, is averaging 15.5 points per game, including shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent on free throws. Able to attack the rim or stop and pop along the perimeter, Rasheed – also averaging 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night – wants the last shot when time is running out. Facing Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), then No. 17 in the nation, on the road earlier this month, he nailed two big 3s in the fourth quarter en route to 30 points, lifting Santa Margarita to an 83-78 upset. “This is my last year,” Rasheed said. “I’m just trying to give it everything I can so I can look back and say I gave it 100 percent.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Taylor Bryant making the most of his comeback season for Titan baseball (3.21.17):
The Titans trailed by one run, 4-3, to New Mexico on Saturday night with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Fullerton, whose five-game win streak was in jeopardy, had clawed back from an early three-run deficit, thanks to stellar bullpen play. But the Titans (14-5) were running out of time, down to their last five outs. Then Scott Hurst, the second Titan to bat in the bottom of the eighth, was hit by a pitch. Taylor Bryant, a 6-foot redshirt junior infielder, doubled to left field to score Hurst all the way from first, knotting the game, 4-4. But Bryant wasn’t done. The next batter, Hank LoForte, struck out, but the catcher dropped the third strike and was forced to throw the batter out at first. Bryant made the heads up play to advance to third. With two outs and the game tied, the next batter, Sahid Valenzuela, hit a two-strike pitch through the left side of the infield, easily scoring Bryant, giving Fullerton a 5-4 victory. Bryant, who went 1-for-3 with a hit, two runs scored, an RBI and a walk, is playing the best ball of his career. He’s hit safely in 15 of the last 17 games and he’s scored in 10 of the last 13. Bryant wasn’t sure if he’d even suit up for the Titans this season. At one point, he wasn’t even sure if he’d be alive. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Troy’s Kianna Smith morphs into one of the nation’s top recruits (12.27.16):
It had been seven, long minutes since Troy converted a bucket. So long, Warriors coach Roger Anderson joked on the sideline in the early December game against Legacy of South Gate: “We haven’t scored in oh, maybe, I don’t know, a month?”Senior Kianna Smith – face stone cold, hair slicked back in her signature bun – caught the ball at the three-point line in the corner. Everyone knew: the 6-0 Cal commit was about go for the kill. “She can always get a shot off, whenever she wants,” Troy point guard Hope Kakihara said. Smith paused with her dribble – getting a rise out of her defender – then exploded past. Running into a help defender, Smith shook free, floating to the rim for two points. “She makes moves look so effortless,” Anderson said. “But you know how hard what she’s doing is.” There’s a coolness to Smith, who scored 18 points in the 69-41 victory, a smoothness that lets her to attack at freeway speeds but finish amid standstill traffic. She spends hours perfecting these moves. Smith was named to the 2017 Naismith Trophy Girls High School Player of the Year Preseason Watch List and has been notified that she is a McDonald’s All American nominee. “You always have to have goals to reach,” she said before the game, hugging a basketball on her lap. “I’m never settling. I’m always trying to reach the next goal.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Baker relishes scoring role for Capistrano Valley (2.1.17):
Dawson Baker isn’t missing. He’s mostly swishing. The 6-foot-3 junior guard for Capistrano Valley starts at the elbow as a recent practice winds down. Then he releases step-backs — dribble, dribble, lean in, step back, shoot. With every swish, his banana-yellow, black and grey custom-made Adidas Crazylight Boost sneakers that have his nickname, D. Bake, stitched on the back, seemed to shine brighter. He makes five in a row. He misses the sixth. “He’ll be mad at himself,” Capistrano Valley’s coach, Brian Mulligan, says near half court. “He cares.” It’s as if Baker didn’t remember that the night before this practice, where he dropped 35 to help Capistrano Valley (17-5, 5-0 as of Jan. 30) edge Dos Pueblos, 76-74; or earlier this season, he dropped 43 against Cypress. Now, he’s averaging 22.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists a night. “He can flat out score,” Mulligan said. “You can try to take him away and he’s still going to get his shot off.” When he has “off” games, he comes home, laces up his sneakers again, still sweaty and sore from the game that ended an hour earlier, and heads to the house next door (they have an outdoor court with lights). He shoots and shoots, beginning at 10 at night and not ending until midnight. “He wakes up the neighbors,” said his father, Dave Baker. “He just works harder. It’s something he has in himself.” Baker was born into a family where shooting was as natural as brushing teeth. Baker’s first word in life was “ball.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Rookie jumper Naiah Boardingham off to a fast start (2.7.17):
The long jump, Naiah Boardingham’s bread and butter, was about to start. The Cal State Fullerton rookie paced back and forth; last month’s Lumberjack Team Challenge, hosted by Northern Arizona, was her first-ever indoor collegiate meet. She whispered to herself between breaths: Do what you do. You’ve been doing track for years now, you have no reason to get nervous. Go out and do what you’ve been doing this whole time. Savoring the moment, she jumped, and the adrenaline still swirled in her body as she huddled with her teammates afterward. Titans assistant Cortney Stafford, who coaches jumps and combined events, came over: “It looks like we have a new school record now!” Stafford said, turning to Boardingham, whose mark of 18 feet, 8.5 inches set a program indoor record previously held by Montiqua Sargent, who jumped 18-4 in 2002. Boardingham, who finished fourth overall, beamed, not expecting to break the record. “It felt so cool,” she said. Most impressive, she jumped with a short approach – taking 10 to 12 strides – compared with her competitors’ 16 to 18 strides. “We’re just getting started,” said Stafford. “Her potential, her coachability, is just far beyond.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Myles Franklin uses his size to his advantage as Villa Park’s floor general (12.28.16):
Myles Franklin was developing a rhythm before a recent practice at Villa Park. He released a shot directly under the basket. In. A few inches back, in. Some more inches back, in. It went this way all the way until the three-point line, when a teammate rushed up on him out of nowhere. The teammate, laughing, shaking his head and toying with Franklin, wasn’t really intending to guard the Spartans’ 6-foot-4, 175-pound senior point guard and Northeastern commit. Franklin didn’t seem to get the memo. Or maybe he didn’t care? All of a sudden Franklin’s wiry, lanky frame lulled his defender into a trap with a slow behind-the-legs-move before exploding with a behind-the-back move – so quick his white and turquoise sneakers blurred. The defender lost his footing and Franklin had the space he craved. He leaned back, kicked his foot out and calmly drained a shot at the elbow. “That’s unique these days, you don’t see the mid-range very much,” Villa Park coach Kevin Reynolds said. “SportsCenter just shows the dunk, shows the three.” Franklin, who has guided Villa Park to a 7-2 start, doesn’t take plays off, even meaningless jests before practice. “I just try to go out there and prove myself. That’s pretty much been my outlook from day one,” Franklin said. “I don’t let people bring me down.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
T-Time: Tyiona Watkins steps into more prominent role for Brea Olinda (11.23.16):
Players weren’t scoring. They weren’t even shooting. They were over-passing – deferring instead of attacking, thinking instead of reacting. Brea Olinda High School girl’s basketball coach Jeff Sink, pacing the gym’s green sidelines, saw too many missed opportunities, and as a result, too many turnovers. He stopped practice. “Will you even look at the basket? Shoot the ball!” Sink said, before giving one more chance. “We need a bucket inside,” he said. “Right now.” Something clicked for Tyiona Watkins. Though the 5-foot-11 junior known as “TT” dropped 22 points in the Division I state finals to lead Brea to its 10th state championship last season, she was as guilty as anyone of deferring. Not this time. Watkins, sprained thumb and all, demanded the ball in the post. Though her teammate shot a three-pointer instead, Watkins tracked the ball, and, when it rattled out of the rim, yanked it out of the air and put in the layup – saving her team from running suicide sprints. “She shows flashes of the ability to just completely dominate a game,” Sink said. “Her humility is her strength and ironically her weakness. Sometimes, that humility though, gets in the way of her stepping up and she’ll wait too long in a game before she realizes, ‘Whoa, I am the only option. I hope this year she recognizes when, in fact, it’s T-Time, as we call it,” Sink said, “that she must take over.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
John and Jamal Smith continue basketball bond with Titans (11.21.16):
Cal State Fullerton needed a bucket. The Titans swung the ball around the perimeter, trailing Portland State by three points in double overtime earlier this month. Freshman guard Jamal Smith waited on the wing — legs bent, palms open — ready to catch the ball. Jamal’s father, John Smith, the Titans’ associate head coach, prepares the team for moments like this, often sharing a lesson he learned from his father, the late former NBA point guard Lucky Smith: You’ve got a carrot, an egg and a coffee bean. If you boil a big bowl of hot water, which represents adversity, and you put the carrot in there, it gets soft and mushy. You don’t want to be the carrot. If you put an egg in there, it gets stiff. You don’t want to be the egg. But when you put a coffee bean in there? “It changes the aroma,” John said. “That sweet-smelling aroma. It changes your mentality to get through whatever challenge is in front of you.” Jamal has heard this analogy all his life. That’s why when the ball flew into his hands against Portland State, he didn’t hesitate to release a high-arc three in the corner. Swish. Jamal held his follow-through, tying the game at 94, as he sprinted past his team’s bench, past his father, and maybe, somewhere up in the rafters, past his grandpa Lucky, too. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Walk-on becomes X-factor for Titan soccer (11.8.16):
Jacob Perez needed to be one of the 11 on the field for Cal State Fullerton. He probably would have given an arm or a leg to be one of the 11. But instead he was one of thousands in the crowd at Titan Stadium, sitting in the orange seats, gazing onto the field his freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years at the university. “I was just a regular student,” said Perez, now a fifth-year senior sitting in those same orange seats late afternoon Friday. No one knew he was a soccer player. No one knew he had tried out and been cut from the team numerous times. No one knew how many sprints he endured in his chase for a Titan jersey. Perez never missed a Titan home game. He didn’t want popcorn or Twizzlers and he certainly didn’t want to do ‘the wave.’” “I was just talking to friends, having a good time,” said senior Carlos Andrade, a friend on Fullerton’s club soccer team, “but Jacob would be paying attention, studying his competition. He wanted to change the game.” Perez grew more driven. “I said to myself, I’m going to play on this field by the time I graduate,” he said. The 5-foot-9 forward not only made the team this season, but he’s making a difference for the two-time defending Big West champion Titans (9-8-4 overall). Perez, who scored a game-winning goal for CSUF in mid-October, finally lets out a smile; he realizes he is no longer a spectator. “I never thought I was going to quit. That just wasn’t an option for me,” Perez said. “If I put my mind to something, I’m going to do it.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
The chase for perfection: CSUF golfer looks to continue dominance (11.14.16):
Waking up with a fever in Memphis the morning of her final fall tournament in late October, Martina Edberg’s throat burned and her face turned pale. Shaking as she dressed herself, Cal State Fullerton’s senior golfer convinced herself she could compete. She always does. Edberg, a three-time Big West First Team selection, was sick all fall, including at the Cougar Cup at Washington State, where she coughed and wheezed and could barely speak at every turn of the hilly course en route to first place. “She just fights through it,” sophomore Felicia Medalla said. “Martina has one of the strongest mental games I’ve seen any golfer have.” Though Edberg missed the practice round in Memphis — unable to plan her mode of attack — she popped some Advil, drove once around the course and pulled out her clubs. “I just had to get the job done,” said Edberg, who took first at the Memphis Women’s Intercollegiate, shooting 2-under 211, later finding out she had played through mono. It was her third win in four fall tournaments — and the seventh victory of her decorated Titan career. “I just have the ability to kind of remove myself from hitting the perfect shots,” Edberg said, “and just like accept the fact that the ball might not end up where I want it.” Edberg, already one of the program’s all-time great golfers, has thrice broken Fullerton’s single-season scoring record and is the first Titan since the program’s revitalization in ’09 to be invited to NCAA Regionals. She chases perfectionism while accepting that it is unattainable. It is a never-ending pursuit — but Edberg is closer than ever before. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
These girls rock in flag football in Garden Grove (11.3.16):
Ten-year-old Bea Dolan, a.k.a B Dough, whose nickname honors the pint-sized, yellow “Minions” who squeal “Beeeeeeeee Do,” sprints with all her might up the left side of the field. Natalie Oca (Natty-O), 9, throws a perfect pass to B Dough, who catches it and scores her first touchdown of the season. The boys trailing her huff and puff in defeat as the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the only all-girls flag football team in the Garden Grove Friday Night Lights League, take an early lead in a game last week. B Dough, named vice president of the Student Council at Barker Elementary School earlier that day, unclenched her teeth and jumped up and down in her lime-green cleats, letting out a wide smile. Riley Clausi (Ri Ri), 9, bear-hugs her, as exuberant as if she herself had been the one to score. Danielle Alvarez (Danger), 10, pops out her purple mouth guard and screams, shimmying B Dough’s shoulders. The Gopher faithful – the parents, grandparents, cousins and friends sitting in fold-up chairs along the grassy sidelines, decked in Minnesota maroon and gold – roar as the sky turns blue, red, purple. The opponents, the boys of the Purdue Boilermakers, are not pleased; more fuel for the Gophers. “Girls can do anything,” said Quinn Gomez (Go Go), 8, who is B Dough’s cousin. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Anaheim teen fighting his way through competition (10.4.16):
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. A man in the corner punishes a punching bag. Another takes swings at air as if it robbed him of something. Then there’s 16-year-old Nickie Eustace, a junior at Western High School, the youngest fighter that Thursday night at former MMA veteran John De La O’s Jiu Jitsu Training Center in Stanton. Eustace, dressed in all black and beat-up Nikes, with the top half of his hair in a short ponytail and the bottom half shaved, warms up in the boxing ring. He’s earned dozen of medals in mixed martial arts, wrestling, boxing, Pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing) and jiu jitsu. This night he’ll train by fighting a 17-year-old and a 32-year-old for two-minute increments. Within seconds Eustace tackles his first opponent. Eustace, who is set to represent Team USA in Eboli, Italy at the seventh World Pankration Championship in November, shuts down his second opponent. “The boys like to call it, ‘manstrength,’” De La O said. “He’s a formidable force in that room.” Ever since he was 5 years old, Eustace said he’s hungered to be a UFC fighter. Eustace said he never cared who he was up against. When he was 11 and 120 pounds, he faced a 165-pound boy at the National Pankration Championships in Las Vegas. “No way,” Eustace’s mother, Ana, had said. “My son is not going to fight this kid. Forget it.” Eustace begged. Mom conceded. Eustace won. The next year, he faced the same boy, who had grown to 195 pounds. Eustace had added five pounds. He still won again. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Times got tough for soccer player Amirgy Pineda, but he isn’t quitting (10.3.16):
Jimmy Obleda never wanted Amirgy Pineda to feel entitled because he was good. Everyone in the local Santa Ana soccer community knew of Pineda’s talent. Few could stop Pineda one-on-one even as an 8-year-old. Fewer could contain him as he reached 10, 13 and eventually 15 – the year he joined the U15 U.S. national team. But Obleda, Pineda’s long-time club coach at the Fullerton Rangers, said he had seen what happened to kids like Pineda. Kids who were ranked on recruiting lists before they received driver’s licenses. Kids who were promised free gear and pro contracts from academies. Kids who ended up trading their soccer dreams for a 9-to-5 job. Obleda said he never wanted that to happen to his young star. So he pushed him. “With my players, it was never coddle them and tell them how great they are,” Obleda said. “It was always, ‘You think you’re great, but there’s somebody out there better than you.’” Obleda, now head coach at Santiago Canyon College, sits across from Pineda, a 19-year-old, 5-foot-7 freshman forward, on a bench after practice. The two look across the field. Pineda has played on fields in England, Japan, Azerbaijan, Uruguay, Spain and Mexico. He never thought his journey would take him to Santiago Canyon. He still has something to prove. “This is like a new start for me,” Pineda said. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Rookie runner keeps her eye on the distance (9.27.16):
Samantha Huerta recites each word by heart. Sitting in the stands overlooking Cal State Fullerton’s track, the freshman runner holds up her left forearm, revealing a tattoo: “James 1:12.” “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial,” Huerta begins, “because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Her teammates on the Titan cross-country team don’t know why that passage speaks to her. They just know she can run. Fast. John Elders, in his 29th season as the head coach of Titan cross country and track, says that Huerta is one of his best freshmen in the last 5 to 10 years. Earlier this month, she was the Titans’ top finisher (third) in the Mark Covert Classic in the 5,000-meter run. Here, on the track, Huerta shines. Here, she is free. Here, she doesn’t have to think about the things she has been running from. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Explosive midfielder hustles for Division I dream (9.6.16):
Love. Sacrifice. Loyalty. The three tattoos on Ronaldo Pineda’s left forearm catch the sun. Taking off one of his cleats, the 5-foot-11 sophomore midfielder who runs opponents ragged hops toward the bleachers with a bandage over his toe. Bloody blisters. No biggie.“This is heaven,” said Pineda, pointing to Cal State Fullerton’s practice field. Two days earlier, the pre-season All-Big West Conference selection had five shots against No. 16 UCLA, though the two-time defending Big-West champion Titans (1-3) fell, 1-0, in overtime. “He’s relentless,” Titan coach George Kuntz said. “He has that intangible bite that you look for, that toughness.”There is not a play Pineda will neglect or a teammate he won’t protect, as he learned love, sacrifice and loyalty from his mother — the inspiration behind the tattoos. Maria Sosa worked two jobs as a single mother to provide for Pineda and his two older brothers in Santa Ana. Pineda didn’t see his mother some days because she’d leave early in the morning and return late at night, walking everywhere without a car. Sometimes, he felt ashamed, showing up to school with ripped jeans. He’d pretend he already ate when friends offered food, not wanting people to think he didn’t have any. “Back then I was embarrassed, but I was like, ‘Why am I embarrassed? I can’t front with people—I’m not rich.’ So I embraced it,” Pineda said. “I was so worried about other people when all my mom wanted me to be was happy and to succeed.” “I grew up realizing I didn’t have much, but what I have is enough to prove that what my mom did wasn’t in vain,” Pineda said. “It was for the best of us, for us to succeed. She sacrificed so much … repaying her is to show her I could be someone in life.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Hard work turns Buena Park defensive back into national recruit (8.24.16):
A Pico Rivera Pop-Warner player was running with the ball, flying down the field as if the only thing stopping him was wind itself. Everybody thought he was gone for good – except for Elijah Gates. Gates, just 9 years old and playing for the Pasadena Panthers, was the smallest on the field. His helmet flopped around on his head. His shoulder pads looked bigger than he was. But without hesitation, Gates took off from the opposite end of the field and chased the Pico-Rivera player down, tackling him at the 3-yard line. “He had the biggest heart on the team,” said Ivan Bell, Gates’ Pop-Warner coach. Because Gates was too slight at the time to hit kids at their waist, he had to tackle them at their ankles. By the fourth game of the season, he was hitting kids around their thighs, bringing them down with ease. “This kid, by his junior year in high school,” Bell thought to himself, “you’re going to hear a lot about him.” Gates, now 18 and a senior at Buena Park High School, has far more college-scholarship offers than he can count with his two hands. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound defensive back said he has 22, including Oregon, Texas Christian University, UCLA, Notre Dame and Michigan. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Speedy Laguna Hills receiver makes a fast rise to the top (8.17.16):
Some call it fast. Some call it explosive. Some call it shifty. Some call it jittery. Some call it twitchy. There are many ways to describe the freakish speed of 6-foot, 175-pound Logan Montgomery — a senior wide receiver for Laguna Hills High — but one thing is for sure: few can catch up to him. With lightening-quick footwork, Montgomery, who is also on the track team, can out-run anyone. Take the time he dashed down the field last season for a 97-yard kickoff return to beat Trabuco Hills, 35-29, in the final 52 seconds of the game. Montgomery, who takes after his mother, Marcee’, who set several high-school track records, clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.43, his personal best, at the UCLA Camp in late June. “One step and he’s gone,” said Laguna Hills coach Mike Maceranka. “He’s the most explosive player I’ve ever coached.” “He looked faster in a football uniform than he did running a 40,” said Bruce Ingalls, former Laguna Hills coach of 30 years. “That set him apart.” With 14 touchdowns in 2015, Montgomery collected 16 Division I scholarship offers. But his ascent to the recruiting ranks wasn’t nearly as quick as his first-step. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
“Quiet Leader”: Ricardo Covarrubias rises to become defensive anchor for Cal State Fullerton soccer (8.15.16):
Ricardo Covarrubias wasn’t one of the “big-name” players at the tip of college-coaches’ tongues. He didn’t play for a well-known high school and he didn’t play club soccer. He played pick-up games in the streets in Bell Gardens, starting at 6 years old. He tagged along with his older brother, Alejandro, who now plays with the Los Angeles Galaxy II of the United Soccer League, playing from sun up until midnight — sometimes 1 a.m. “Until our mom would get mad and tell us to come home,” Alejandro said. Covarrubias, usually the smallest on the field, didn’t sub in until Alejandro signaled. Most of the time, Covarrubias observed the movements around him, memorizing every trick he saw. With players much older, bigger, stronger and faster than him, he learned to not run from a challenge. He learned to use his speed and smarts to make up for his stature. Now, the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Covarrubias, a center back who competes against 6-foot-1 players or taller, has morphed into Cal State Fullerton’s defensive anchor. “When teams see me, they feel a certain way like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be easy.’ But it really motivates me every day,” Covarrubias said. “It’s always in the back of my mind that they see me this way, but I’m going to prove them wrong.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Kelsie Whitmore eyes a pro baseball career (7.19.16):
Focus on your game, Kelsie Whitmore told herself. Just play ball. It was a Friday, the first weekend of July, a few hours before Whitmore’s first game with the Sonoma Stompers, an independent-league men’s baseball team in California. Whitmore, a 5-foot-6 outfielder/pitcher, and teammate Stacy Piagno were making history. It was the first time since the 1950s that two women would play in a pro baseball game. Whitmore felt eyes burning her. Dozens of questions flew at her. Microphones, cameras and recorders crowded her. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the girl who aspires to play Major League Baseball. Whitmore, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton this fall on a softball scholarship, made several plays in left field during her start that night. The 17-year-old won’t stop until she achieves her pro baseball dream. “The one thing that girls in baseball lack is opportunity. So when I got this opportunity, I didn’t let go,” she said.“I want to show that even if there are times I may be embarrassed because I’m the only girl, even if there are times that I may be scared because I feel uncomfortable, no matter what, I’m always going to go out there because I want it so bad,” Whitmore said. “When you want something so bad, you’ll do whatever you can to get it.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
La Habra football player is in the fight of his life–and he won’t give up (6.29.16):
Diego Sanchez clutches a copy of a OC Varsity from Dec. 5, 2015. He and his La Habra High football teammates are on the cover raising helmets and fists to the sky, celebrating their 39-36 CIF Championship victory over San Clemente. Surrounded by his brothers, Sanchez’ smile stretches wide as the goal post. “That was one of the best nights of my entire life,” Sanchez said, as his championship ring glimmered in the light of his La Habra home. Sanchez, now a senior, said he would give anything to blend into the ink on the page. To return to the huddle. To return to life as he knew it. He is battling lymphoma. The tumor, which started in his foot, has spread throughout his body. He is three months into chemotherapy, with an estimated two years to go. “He’s one of the toughest guys,” Highlanders coach Frank Mazzotta said. “That’s why when he got diagnosed with cancer, I knew, there’s a guy that will fight.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Titan alum Justin Garza isn’t letting Tommy John surgery break his MLB dream (6.14.16):
Justin Garza remembers the burning pain shooting up his forearm. He remembers someone helping him shower and bathe himself. He remembers not being able to cut his own chicken. Scoop his own cereal. Brush his own teeth. May 27 marked one year from when the Cal State Fullerton All-American right-hander had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow. A year of rehabilitation, of placing his major-league dreams on hold, of chasing a sport that seemed stolen from him, has Garza determined to make a comeback. “How bad do you really want to play again?” Garza would tell himself, pushing through rehab. “You want to give up sometimes, you want to take the easy way. … But if I ever want to go out there and pitch again like I used to, the only option is to do this. Then do it again tomorrow. Then do it again the next day.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
43 and counting: Yorba Linda man travels across America’s ballparks (6.3.16):
“Anyone who wants to run the bases, come on down and line up!” an announcer howled during the seventh inning of a Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds game. Bill Hyde, who had traveled from Yorba Linda to Cincinnati for the June 1998 game, rushed from his seat and shuffled into line with 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds near first base. Hyde didn’t care that he was 54. Or that most of the 150 kids lapped him. The crowd roared. The bases shined. He had made it. “That was so cool,” remembered Hyde, now 71, rocking back and forth in a maroon chair in his Yorba Linda home, his feet tapping the carpet as if craving another run. “I was just a big kid out there.” Hyde, raised in Flint, Mich., said he has visited all 30 active Major League Baseball stadiums as well as 13 retired ballparks. Hyde can tell you where to snag the best garlic fries. How architecture makes each ballpark unique. Who was traded, who might get traded and who should get traded. “It’s his passion,” said his wife, Pat, who accompanies him to many games. “It’s really his love.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Adversity gives family a clear focus (6.29.16):
Serve. Who has the ball now? Kill. Who missed an opportunity? Pass. What’s the score? Next play. Who’s in? Tara Strange wants to know every movement that happens on the court, especially those of her daughter, Alexa, a senior on USC’s beach volleyball team. Other parents tell Tara that her daughter is usually covered in sand from head to toe by the match’s end; that she dives for any play, no matter the cost to her body, to secure wins. “Tara was the same way growing up,” said her husband, Greg Strange. Tara had played high-school volleyball. “She couldn’t stand losing.” Greg, who narrates each sequence of play to Tara, cannot afford to miss a beat. Tara cannot see the game, as she has Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that left her completely blind. Tara does not let it stop her from cheering loudly in the stands. From cooking her favorite Indian curry in the family’s San Clemente home. From being the best mother she can be. That is why Alexa dives for balls, unafraid of the consequences. She helped USC to the first-ever NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship in May. “Anything I want in my life, there’s no excuse at this point. I have to go out and get it,” Alexa said. “Because that’s exactly what she has done without her eyesight.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Former Titan recalls “The golden age of baseball” (4.19.16):
Dick Golec can’t believe he’s sitting in the Titans dugout at Goodwin Field on a Monday in early April. “Wow,” said Golec, 74, smiling. His blue eyes sparkle, his hands tap against the seat. “We didn’t have dugouts. We just had a bench.” Golec played baseball for Cal State Fullerton in 1963 and 1964, when the university was called Orange State College, and the team was a club rather than varsity sport. This was before Fullerton won four national championships (1979, 1984, 1995 and 2004). Before the television broadcasts, the national rankings. Before dozens of players became major league draft picks. Before Goodwin Field, the blue and orange seats, the clubhouse. Before the sponsored uniforms, hats and bats.During the Orange State days, if you hit a foul ball over the backstop, the ball would soar into a cornfield. If you hit a home run, the ball would dash into an orange grove. Orange State didn’t have fences, stands for spectators or drinking fountains; just a dirt infield, a backstop, bases and most of all, a love of the game. “It’s like a horse and buggy to a Corvette,” said Golec, comparing his team to Fullerton’s present-day powerhouse. “It’s like going into a time warp.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Faithful Warrior: USC Center Toa Lobendahn (6.10.16):
Toa Lobendahn doesn’t hide his scars. Just below his baggy, burgundy shorts, his left knee bears a thick, straight scar from an anterior cruciate ligament surgery last fall. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound center for USC’s football team is seven months into a nine-month rehabilitation program. Lobendahn leans down and reveals the same scar on his other knee. The La Habra native tore his other ACL as a sophomore in high school when an opponent pulled his face mask, causing his knee to twist in a way it shouldn’t. “I’m used to it now,” said Lobendahn, upbeat, as if an ACL tear was akin to a paper cut. It takes a lot to remove Lobendahn, a former standout at La Habra High, from the field. He played three more games after tearing his ACL in high school. He readied himself for the next play moments after tearing his ACL at USC. His name means “faithful warrior” in Samoan, as his parents hoped he would be both brave and devoted. Entering his junior season, Lobendahn is pushing to return to play and to earn the starting spot at center for the Trojans come training camp in August. “He’s always ready,” said his mother, Michelle. “He’s just always ready to get out there and compete, if not battle.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Cal State Fullerton’s pitching coach is a mentor on the mound (3.22.16):
Sitting on the couches in the Doubek VIP Room overlooking Goodwin Field at Cal State Fullerton, Jason Dietrich isn’t used to this. The Titans’ fourth-year pitching coach, soft-spoken by nature, shies away from the attention of an interview and photo shoot, let alone a story about him. He was the same way when he pitched for Mater Dei High School, Rancho Santiago College (now Santa Ana College), Pepperdine and then four years with the Colorado Rockies organization. With long, flowing hair and glasses then, he focused on working as hard as he could, being a good teammate and earning wins. Now as a coach at Fullerton, he’s driven to mentoring elite pitchers. He’s helped develop major league draft picks Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza, Michael Lorenzen and Tyler Peitzmeier. His staffs have shattered the program record for earned-run average, as well as ranking near the top in most shutouts, lowest opponent batting average, fewest hits, fewest runs, fewest walks and fewest home runs allowed. “It’s all for the player,” said Dietrich, 43. “That’s why I do it: I do it for the players.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Soccer star thrives after overcoming homelessness, personal challenges (10.6.15):
The soccer field isn’t just a field to Christina Burkenroad. It’s more than two goals, freshly cut grass, scattered cones, teammates running, coaches shouting and soccer balls whirling into the back of the net. This is her refuge. With a Sharpie she wrote a few lines on her Nikes inspired by the Bible verse Ezra 10:4. On top of the lime and pink swoosh: “Rise up, take courage, and do it”; On the inside of the shoe: “Trust in your ability.” The senior midfielder and reigning Big West Conference Tournament MVP has always had to rise up to challenges off the field that never seemed to relent. Years of financial instability that at one point left her homeless have caused Burkenroad to cling to the field even tighter. “The stadium is my sanctuary,” said Burkenroad, 22. “I definitely consider it my home.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Fullerton father-daughter coaching duo bond over rugby (6.17.16):
Natasha Perera and her father, Ravi, sprint up and down the field, countering each other’s moves until they tire. Natasha Perera, 24, is usually able to outlast her father, 54, during the 30-minute scrimmage at the start of practice. “We like to get real competitive,” she said. The pair coaches the Lady Lions, a high school girl’s team in Fullerton Rugby, a nonprofit club organization Ravi Perera founded in 2000. They relish still jumping in on the action during practice. And, as Ravi Perera’s knees slow to a halt, he starts “refereeing,” handing out yellow cars to players for offenses such as smiling or laughing. Soon, players are bent over, their stomachs hurting from giggling. No one on the field enjoys the game more than Ravi and Natasha Perera – rugby has tied the father and daughter together for years. “We have no other life than rugby. Even our Sundays are gone too,” Ravi Perera said of the time volunteered training players on off days. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Building better pitchers at Cal State Fullerton (5.25.16):
Sitting in the seats at Goodwin Field before a recent team meeting, Chad Hockin looks surprised. How does it feel to be part of a pitching staff that owns the nation’s lowest ERA? “We actually … I don’t know,” the junior reliever said. “I didn’t know we led the nation in ERA. We don’t really look at it that way.” The staff, jokingly referred to by Coach Rick Vanderhook as his “punt team,” focuses on each pitch rather than stats. The approach is simple: “The hitter’s your enemy,” Hockin said. “Pound the zone,” sophomore starter Connor Seabold said. “No fear,” junior reliever Scott Serigstad said. Few predicted success on the mound, as the staff lost All-Americans Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza and Tyler Peitzmeier. But the staff put aside the doubts, and with credit to the program’s stellar defense, now boasts a 2.27 ERA. The group also ranks first in hits allowed per nine innings (6.82), first in WHIP (1.04) and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.44). “They have a blue-collar approach,” Fullerton pitching coach Jason Dietrich said. “They show up and work hard every day.” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Seizing the moment: Tanner Pinkston earns a key role with the Titans (5.12.16):
First game, second game, third game. Tanner Pinkston, then a high school junior playing club ball for the Danville HOOTS, collected hit after hit at a tournament in 2011 that happened to be held at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. Who was this kid from Dublin, a small Northern California city. And how did he command the field at 6-foot-5 and nearly 200 pounds, but move like a smaller guy? Pinkston was the only member of his Dougherty Valley High School team (a new school that hadn’t yet graduated its first senior class) who dreamed of playing college baseball. He wrote his goal on his page in the team’s yearbook, causing some parents to laugh. Nice thought. Pinkston was the kind of guy who drove his friends home on the weekends to make sure they were safe; the local police even knew him by his Honda Pilot. He was the kind of guy who spent hours in the batting cage in his garage, perfecting his swing. “From age 2, he used to grab my finger and beg to go outside,” said his mother, Karen Pinkston. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Titans guard Lionheart Leslie has the strength to match his distinctive name (1.27.16):
Lionheart Leslie wanted the ball. Cal State Fullerton’s 5-foot-10, 165-pound floor general jumped – beating out all of the trees – to rip down a rebound early in the game against Hawaii on Jan. 16. Two plays later, the junior dribbled between his legs and accelerated off a screen to make a jumpshot from near the foul line. He didn’t care that his defender, Hawaii’s Roderick Bobbitt, fouled him and caused him to fall to the hardwood. In a blink, Leslie popped up, clapped his hands together forcefully and knocked down the free throw.“He’s a small guy but he makes big things happen,” Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said. “He competes with a lot of heart.” With a name like Lionheart, he has to. “I know I’m 5-10, but I play like I’m 6-6,” said Leslie, who posted his first double-double that night with a career-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. “That’s my motive: being fearless, trying to live up to my name.” Leslie’s mother, Patricia Leslie, was eight months pregnant with him when she felt a sharp pain on her right side. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Santa Ana’s Josh Vargas embraces underdog role with No. 22 Fullerton baseball (3.7.16):
Josh Vargas stepped to the plate to lead off for Cal State Fullerton’s baseball team. He clutched the bat, steadied himself to swing – but this would not be an ordinary inning. The Titans were facing defending national champion Vanderbilt at the 2015 College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Cameras flashed in his face. Media sought him for interviews. Who was this kid? Months earlier, the 5-foot-10 lefty outfielder from Santa Ana College walked on to Fullerton’s team without a scholarship. Not many, including himself, predicted he would play Division I ball. But there he was, on the biggest stage of his life, ready to steal not just bases – but his dream.“Any breakout athlete you see at the professional level that comes out of nowhere? That’s what he was for that program and for college baseball,” said Chris Kobielus, Vargas’ close friend and mentor.“He went from: ‘Oh yeah, where are you going to play?’ to ‘Oh, that guy is the leadoff hitter for a prestigious program.’” (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Beyond the Beam: One-Armed All-American gymnast faces new challenge (10.16.13):
Carol Johnston didn’t see herself the way others saw her. Born without a right arm below her elbow, Johnston fell in love with gymnastics and didn’t think twice about competing. She had done everything else up to that point, learning how to tie her shoes, braid her hair, put on clothes, run, eat. Having one arm was normal – she didn’t know anything else. “Carol was more concerned about being 4-foot-10 than she was about having one arm,” said Johnston’s former Cal State Fullerton teammate and roommate, Julie Bowse. (READ FULL STORY HERE).
Trailblazer: Carol Jue, the only Chinese-American head basketball coach in the NCAA (11.27.13):
Carol Jue was one of only three Asian players on Montebello High School’s girls basketball team in the mid-‘80s. The rest of her teammates, like the surrounding East Los Angeles neighborhood she grew up in, were Latino. Montebello played against teams comprised of mostly black, Latino and white players. Jue, a Chinese-American, knew she was different, but didn’t feel that way on the court. There, the only things that mattered were the arc on your jump-shot or the intensity of your defense. Jue didn’t see herself as an Asian ballplayer; she was just a ballplayer. “It was normal to be the only Asian. I never thought about it,” she said. “I didn’t really see those barriers yet.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Connie Caliz brings creativity to playoff-bound Fullerton (11.9.15):
It was raining. It was wet. It was cold. It was not a typical California day to hold a soccer identification camp for youth players. Diego Bocanegra, then an assistant coach for Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer who was helping out at the camp at UC Irvine, shivered on the sidelines. He couldn’t take it anymore so he jumped into the scrimmage. A girl named Connie Caliz, then just over five feet and 16 years old, received the ball and fooled everyone — including Bocanegra. “The first thing she tries to do is put it through my legs,” said Bocanegra, now an assistant coach at Notre Dame. “I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa whoa. Young, 16 year-old girls don’t try to do that, let alone to a coach that just subbed into the game.” “I had to work a little bit,” he said, laughing. “She caught my eye right away.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
For Bob and Mike Owens, football coaching is a family business (10.5.15):
A few years back, no one knew what to call Chapman football head coach Bob Owens and his brother, quarterbacks coach Michael Owens. When a player or coach yelled “Coach Owens” to ask a question, both Bob and Michael would turn their heads. Then, a solution surfaced: Bob would be called 1.0 and Michael would be 2.0. Bob, who is 16 years Michael’s senior, now goes by Coach O and Michael remains 2.0 (in case anyone forgets, Michael wears a maroon cap with “2.0” across the front and a Panther claw on the side). The two share a common goal: to positively impact the lives of young men through football. “I think anyone that has opportunity to coach, you’re very blessed to interact with young people on a daily basis,” said Bob, who was named conference coach of the year in 2014. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Defender Jazzmin Mancilla has stopping power (9.8.15):
Jazzmin Mancilla has earned a few nicknames. A Cal State Fullerton strength and conditioning coach calls her “juggernaut.” Coach Demian Brown calls her his “lockdown left back.” Her mother, Pat Mancilla, calls her a “brick wall,” as opponents immediately drop to the ground after running into the 5-foot-5, 130-pound left back defender who dons goggles and challenges players twice her size. Every game Mancilla is given the task of shutting down an opponent’s most skilled, quickest and productive player. And every game she delivers: “When they run into Jazz, they go down,” Pat Mancilla said. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Fullerton men’s soccer players learned to talk to each other–and started winning (8.26.15):
Kuntz inherited 12 seniors who were sick of losing but unsure of how to win. On the first day of training, Kuntz noticed players would curse at each other over mistakes. Were they trying to show their new coach they were tough? Was it simply nerves? Whatever it was, it was not constructive. “I told them that their communication habits were very, very poor, that they had to speak to each other better,” Kuntz said. Kuntz brought in mental skills expert Jim Madrid, who has worked with the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC as well as numerous college programs across the country. Madrid’s aim was to change the way players viewed themselves and each other; and to instill confidence in them that they could adopt a championship mentality. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Chapman produces local baseball coaches in big numbers (7.13.15):
Bob Zamora enters a classroom on the far end of Capistrano Valley High School’s campus and smiles. “Here’s the baseball room,” he says. “Coach Z,” the school’s coach of 38 years who boasts six CIF titles and 17 league titles – gazes at the team photos and newspaper clippings plastered on the walls. The white board displays a player’s name next to the number “2” (he has two hours of weed picking in the infield once school resumes in the fall). Zamora, 68, doesn’t believe in running as punishment. He teaches his players to work clippers and mow the lawn to instill discipline. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Former Olympian leaps past Cold War politics (2.27.14):
She turned on her TV for the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games. Athletes from all over the world walked in unison and waved to the audience in Russia, proudly clutching their country’s flag. Anna Wlodarczyk was one of millions of viewers watching that night. But she also was one of those athletes once, representing her native country Poland as one of the world’s best long jumpers. For the 62-year-old Wlodarczyk, who finished fourth in the long jump in the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics in Russia – watching the Sochi Winter Olympics was somewhat surreal. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Heat of the moment: Badwater 135 (4.8.14):
Sometimes the heat feels like 218 degrees. Nicole Matera and Nathan Longcrier train in an 8-foot-by-8-foot heat chamber, packed with a heater, a thermometer and a treadmill. The pair isn’t just running in that room; they’re learning how to handle sweat, how to be comfortable while uncomfortable, how to envision ice while being consumed by heat. Distraction helps. Running faster, they talk about waterfalls or running in the snow. Or a favorite: “We think about Yogurtland a lot,” Matera said. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Coach Kelly Ford has turned Titan softball into a contender (2.17.15):
Cal State Fullerton’s softball team was unranked. The defending national champion and No. 2-ranked team in the nation, Oklahoma, was in town for a game in February 2014. What business did Fullerton have taking the field against a national powerhouse? Five years had passed since CSUF made the NCAA playoffs, and many moons had set since the once-storied program won the national title in 1986. But Titan coach Kelly Ford didn’t count her team out. Since taking over the program in 2013, she has nourished it with dreams of beating any opponent. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Overcoming personal heartbreak, Oliver Wyss seizes solace as coach of Orange County Blues FC (4.2.15):
The sun was beating down at just over 90 degrees last Thursday, but coach Oliver Wyss didn’t seem the least bit bothered. His pro team, the Orange County Blues FC out of the United Soccer League, had just finished training to prepare for its season opener, then two days away. You could hear the excitement in Wyss’ voice; you could see it in his players’ eyes. “He’s very passionate,” Blues midfielder Christopher Santana said. “I feel like sometimes he’s more anxious to play than we are. You can tell from training today – he just wants to get out there.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Coach’s key pitch is self-awareness (4.9.15):
Sitting in the dugout at Hart Park in Orange, Dave Edwards looks across the field to Chapman’s baseball banners. The program’s NCAA Western Regional appearances, College World Series appearances and national championships are displayed by year. Edwards has been Chapman’s associate head coach and pitching coach since the program’s 2003 national-title run. His pitching staff had the lowest earned-run average in the country that season. Over the past 12 years he’s made pitching a cornerstone of Chapman baseball. He’s dissected pitchers’ mechanics and taught them new pitches. “He’s pretty much the slider guru,” former Panther right-hander Travis McGee said. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Rugby player Sabrina Kraft aims for Olympic Games (12.2.14):
When Sabrina Kraft talks about rugby, she’s animated, moving her arms, kicking her legs and smiling from ear to ear like her team just won the championship. For Kraft, a fifth-year senior at Cal State Fullerton, rugby is more than a game. It’s the reason she eats only meat and vegetables. Carbohydrates and sugar are off-limits. It’s the reason she runs more than she rests and takes to heart the message on one of the posters in her room: “Your competition never sleeps.” Her goal is to make the Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. “This girl would sleep with the ball,” said her mother, Beatriz Kraft. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Long-time Fullerton ‘table crew’ tracks scores and stats (10.6.14):
Titan volleyball players were in the heat of a match against Yale when Janeen Hill and Mindy Reeves began their routine on the sidelines. Hill called out sequences of numbers and plays to Reeves, who typed the information into a laptop with lightning-quick fingers. “Five, six, attack. Twelve coming in for us. And 16 and one on the other side.” Then, “Eight, six, block. Twelve, 18, five, 18, attack, over,” Hill said. This may sound like a foreign language to outsiders, but to Cal State Fullerton’s “table crew” – who could yell out jersey numbers and plays in their sleep – it’s the same melody the group has played at Titan volleyball and basketball games for decades. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
“Once a coach, always a coach” Athletic director retires after 52-year total run (2.23.15):
Games live on in David Currey’s office. A soccer ball signed by Chapman’s men’s soccer Final-Four team in 1995 sits next to a table with the university’s two national championship trophies: baseball in 2003 and softball in 1995. He beams while pointing to a framed black and white photo of the Los Angeles Rams’ formidable defensive line of the ’60s, the “Fearsome Foursome.” The Rams held training camp one summer at the then-Chapman College athletic field. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
1970 defeat spurs cross country win in 1971 (11.10.14):
They remember the cold. Not the kind of cold that makes you shiver, but the kind that makes you forget warmth ever existed. In 1970, Cal State Fullerton’s men’s cross country team hopped off the plane in Wheaton, Ill., for the NCAA national championship. Runner Tim Tubb spotted snow on the ground as well as a big sign that said “wind chills ahead.” He knew he wasn’t in California anymore. “It was like minus 20,” said Tubb, 64. “I go, ‘Whoa. I’m going to run in that?’” When 1970 comes to mind, the team members recall more than the chill through their bodies. They remember the icy reality of losing. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Mental Game: Ken Ravizza, one of the nation’s leading sports psychologists (4.1.14):
His office is filled with books on psychology and sports. “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” “The Inner Game of Tennis” and “Sacred Hoops”are among the stacks. But if you ask Ken Ravizza, who has occupied Room 262 at Cal State Fullerton for many years, the secret to reaching peak mental performance in sports can’t be found in the pages of a manuscript. Breathing deeply three times and visualizing winning gold minutes before the race starts doesn’t do the trick, either. By then it’s too late – the athlete has already lost. “They make it sound like if I just breathe and I believe, I can achieve and I can do anything,” Ravizza said. “No. It’s not that simple.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Finding Another Way: Former Fullerton basketball player turns tragedy into teaching (11.25.13):
He was conditioned to be alert at all times. Rodney Anderson knew the dangers waiting outside the walls of his home. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, he saw gangs, drugs, poverty and violence. But he could always count on a supportive family – and basketball. Anderson loved basketball, but was more in love with what it could do for him. His crossovers could create lanes to the basket, and they could transport his mother, father, sisters and brothers out of South Central. Going to the NBA was just as much their dream as it was his. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Travis McGee: Baseball player trying to go pro has to pay his dues (8.29.14):
When Travis McGee arrived this summer in Gary, Ind., to play for the SouthShore RailCats, he saw a player get released to open up a spot for him. He saw his roommate get traded to another team. He saw the team’s first baseman, a 28-year-old with a wife and a couple of kids, get traded too. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve been here and there’s three guys that have gotten traded already,’” McGee said. McGee, a right-handed pitcher from Brea, had never seen anything like it. He was fresh out of college, having played ball at Chapman University with the same group of friends for the previous five years. Now, after moving back and forth between two teams in one summer, McGee found himself caught in the maze that is independent league ball. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Soccer drives Soumah’s ambitions in U.S. (10.21.13):
A few minutes after practice, Amara Soumah catches his breath on a nearby bench. The junior transfer forward looks down at his cleats. Even after running them into the ground for a month, the shoes looked brand new: navy with a big yellow Nike swoosh stretching across the side. “We didn’t have these back home,” he says, untying his laces. Soumah was born in Conakry, Guinea, in West Africa. Soccer became his anchor in the face of rampant violence, poverty and war. Without a grass field, Soumah would play with friends for hours in the dirt or on the concrete. His family couldn’t afford a soccer ball, so he would make his own. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Chasing a Dream: Travis Tomsen Hopes to Springboard to the Big Leagues (6.14.13):
Every inning is the same for Travis Tomsen. He glides his finger across the mound, drawing the initials “M” and “T” next to each other, just faint enough for him to see when he looks down at the top of his cleats before a pitch. “In case my mind wanders,” he said. The field feels different without his father, Michael Tomsen, who died his freshman year at Riverside City College. Now, three schools and four years later, Tomsen hasn’t given up on his pro baseball dream – not with the memory of his dad reminding him to keep throwing. “I’m just like him, stubborn as an ox,” Tomsen said. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Wrestling with the past – or future? (3.9.14):
It’s wrestling season. Dan Hicks lived for those months of competition between November and March. But since the Cal State Fullerton wrestling program was terminated in 2011, those months have become nothing more than months. The former Titan coach doesn’t live in Southern California anymore. He returned to his home state of Oregon, running his own professional counseling practice, Lasting Impact Counseling. He spends his day talking to teens, married couples, children, elderly people, and even athletes. But his office is no gym, his floors no mat. Thoughts of Cal State Fullerton wrestling sometimes circle back to him. “It’s hard to watch on T.V.,” Hicks said of the sport. “There was a lot of joy in it.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Water polo’s Wilson Parnell competes without part of his left leg (9.26.14):
Depending on the day, sophomore Wilson Parnell wears a different design. He points to his left leg, which dons a royal blue-colored prosthetic below the knee. “This one’s kind of not as cool. It’s just straight blue, but I like to mix it up,” Parnell said. He has a tie-dye prosthetic and another made of different shades of wood. Sometimes he even paints them himself with bright colors. “I like to have fun with it. I like to be unique,” Parnell said. “I figure if I’m already going to stand out, I might as well stand out to the max.” (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Male practice players strengthen women’s teams (10.27.14):
Dashayla Johnson eyed an open lane during practice. With a single crossover, the freshman guard blew by her defender and sliced through the air for the layup. Her defender was one of a few in the gym without a ponytail: Joaquin Alatorre, a male practice player known for his hyper-quick speed on defense. “If you can get by Joaquin, you’re going to break ankles in the Big West,” said Titans assistant coach Tammi Reiss. Male practice squads are commonly used among intercollegiate women’s teams around the country. They dedicate hours to helping women’s teams prepare for opponents. They’re part of the team huddles, even though they aren’t part of the team. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Measuring Up: 7-6 and 5-10 roommates use size to advantage on court (12.9.13):
Mamadou Ndiaye and Jaron Martin are taking a world geography class together. But the two freshmen on UC Irvine’s men’s basketball team are two worlds apart. Martin, a Southern California native, is the shortest player on the team at a generous 5 feet 10, and is 160 pounds. Ndiaye, born in Senegal, is 7 feet 6, 290 pounds and currently the tallest player in all of college basketball. They have to sit in the back row of class so Ndiaye won’t block other students’ line of vision to the board. The move makes it difficult for Martin to see, but that’s the kind of sacrifice he makes for his roommate, teammate and friend. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
For the love of the game: Overseas (5.27.14):
Lauren Schoenherr packed four bags and left for Chemnitz, Germany, to play professional volleyball for nine months. It was 2005. A few months earlier, Schoenherr – formerly Lauren Goins – had graduated from Cal State Fullerton as the only Titan to amass 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs. Arriving in Germany, street signs looked like symbols. Songs on the radio sounded like muffled noise. Volleyball was the only language she knew. The outside hitter was excited to play overseas, even if Germans laughed at the flip flops she wore throughout the rough, cobblestoned city. (READ FULL STORY HERE)
Grandson of Hall of Fame water polo coach Ted Newland competes for Irvine (9.30.13):
They used to meet at Wahoo’s Fish Taco in Costa Mesa every Sunday night, but Ted Newland and his grandsons recently switched over to The Counter in Newport Beach. Most times, four of his six grandsons are present. “They know Sunday’s when the old man’s going out to dinner with them,” said Newland, now 85, laughing. The “old man” is the legendary UC Irvine water polo coach who compiled 714 victories over 39 seasons from 1966 to 2004 – the winningest coach in NCAA water polo history. He often sits across from the youngest at the table, UC Irvine junior Alan Robertson, who is the fifth and last of Newland’s grandsons to play for UCI. (READ FULL STORY HERE)