Saturday, December 17, 2011

Muscle Memory

Early in tonight's ESPN2 broadcast of the NCAA Division I women's volleyball championship match between UCLA and Illinois, the producers cut to the 63-second match point in the Illinois-USC semifinal. This back-and-forth battle made all the major highlight reels, and for good reason. At the close of the replay, announcer Beth Mowins informed us that the point consisted of 56 touches (including at least one by each of the 12 players on the floor) and that the ball cleared the net 22 times. She even thanked the production crew for taking the effort of "counting the number of times the ball crossed the net and the number of times someone got a touch on it."

Mowins probably doesn't realize it, but she just got a touch on what a volleyball statkeeper (like me, during UC Davis home matches) does in real time.

Just to offer a peek behind the curtain of the Aggie sports information media relations athletics communications world, what follows is a garden-variety example of what I type into the computer during a volleyball point. This is not the action of Illinois' winning point on Thursday, but rather one from the Aggies' November 12 home match against Long Beach State.

VV10 D05S09A15D15 O S05A13D10 S20A08C S20A01D13 S09O S20A08D05 S09A13K

Nope, those aren't NORAD launch codes. That is the exact sequence of characters I typed in to enter one point in the first set. This assumes I didn't miskey anything, in which case I found either the Esc key or the F10 key to cancel and retype the code. The spaces show where I likely had a split-second pause (e.g. the flight of the ball or a touched ball that I didn't have to key in).

Now, try typing that in without looking at your fingers. That's right, you hunt-and-peck typists -- volleyball statkeeping is not for you. Bring it on, Mavis Beacon.

So what does all that gibberish mean? Let's break it down:

VV10 - this is the serve (V) by visitor 10 (V10), Janisa Johnson.

D05S09A15 - these are the standard three touches on the Aggie side, specifically the pass by Caroline Mercado (D05), a set by Jenny Woolway (S09) and an attack by Betsy Sedlak (A15). Note the leading zeroes. The software wants a two-digit code for each uniform number. Thus, I'll type in zero-five or five-Enter.

Also, I enter a D05 for Mercado even though it's not technically a dig: by definition, a dig is a result of an opponent's attack. Fortunately, the software notices this and does not incorrectly credit a pass receive as a dig on the boxscore. So why enter it? Ah, yes... in 2009, the coaches' association began requiring us to enter this in order to better compare a team's primary passers on the stat reports.

D15O - a dig by LBSU Lauren Minkel (D15) followed by an overpass (O), which means the ball crossed over the net without intent to score a point (i.e. not an attack).

D05A13 - the first touch of an overpass is statistically insignificant (again, a player does not earn a dig unless her contact followed an opponent's attack.) However, sometimes I have to code it as an attempted assist. That happened here: the overpass was picked up by Mercado (D05) and was followed by an attack by Devon Damelio (A13). If Mercado's ball had not preceded an attack, I wouldn't have needed to enter it. Decisions, decisions.

D10S20A08C - Johnson dug Damelio's hit (D10), Erin Juley set it (S20) and Haleigh Hampton went for an attack (A08). The ball went into the Aggie block and bounced back to the LBSU side of the court (known as a zero block). The code for the zero block is "C."

S20A01 - Whoever first controls the ball after the zero block (known as "covering" the block) also has no official stat, so I don't enter anything there. The first statistical entity is Juley's set (S20) and Caitlin Ledoux's swing (A01).

D13S09O - Damelio dug the hit (D13) and Woolway set it (S09) but the ball must have crossed over the net as an overpass (O).

S20A08 - A 49er picked up the overpass (not coded), Juley set it (S20) and Hampton attacked (A08).

D05S09A13K - Mercado dug Hampton's hit (D05), Woolway set it (S09), Damelio swung (A13). The result? A kill for Damelio (K). Point UC Davis.

All that for one point of the 47 that took place in the first set in that November 12 Big West Conference tilt. That's one point out of 183 for the entire match. Some are shorter, others are longer, all involve a mastery of the NCAA statistician's manual, some fast typing and (in my case) a bottle of Diet Coke. It also helps to match numbers with faces right away (I try to do this during the national anthem and team introductions). I already know my players -- I don't need to look at the jerseys to know that Allison Whitson wears 6 or that Katie Denny wore 17 -- so it comes down to building a similar mental library for the opponent.

Anyway, you can see why I needed to keep my fingers busy while watching a volleyball match -- it's pure muscle memory.

Just now, UCLA scored the third-set winner on a hitting error by Illinois junior Erin Johnson. For a change, I could watch the point without having to type in VV11D04S11A12E.

Oh wait, I just did. Old habit, I guess.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, once combined the act of statkeeping with watching the NCAA women's volleyball championship. This was 2007, when Penn State clipped Stanford at nearby ARCO Arena. He hopes to do this again in a match involving UC Davis.

Monday, November 21, 2011

To Honor A Career

Before I move on to the business portion of this post, I must first extend heartfelt congratulations to my two fall sports for fine 2011 seasons.

Although the players might still feel some immediate disappointment following a one-goal loss at UC San Diego in Sunday's Western Water Polo Association title game, the men's water polo team deserves some props. The Aggies were selected third in the conference's preseason poll, yet they unseated four-time defending champions Loyola Marymount to advance to the championship game for the third time in five years. Furthermore, UC Davis won 22 games to tie the school record set four years ago. All in all, that's a season to be proud of.

The women's volleyball team ended its season on a high note, sweeping Pacific in three sets on Saturday. The victory was a proper sendoff for the program's two seniors, who combined for .567 hitting for the night. One senior, team co-captain Betsy Sedlak, even scored the winning point in each of the three sets. Although the Aggies suffered some losses they probably wish they could have back, they still enjoyed an outstanding year: 21 wins (the most since 1996) and five weeks of votes toward the AVCA Top 25 poll. I'll never stop singing the praises of head coach Jamie Holmes for the way she has transformed this program, and the 2011 year serves as another example of its turnaround.

Incidentally, if anyone wonders why I left the Causeway Classic football game midway through the fourth quarter, that's why. I listened to Colton Silveria's 66-yard run and Sean Kelley's game-sealing field goal while on Highway 50, grabbed the news of the water polo win as I arrived at my house in Davis, then worked the volleyball match that night. A good Saturday, I'd say.

So to seniors Luke Collins, Katie Denny, Walter Eggert, Ryan Hagens, Kevin Peat, Aaron Salit and Betsy Sedlak, congratulations both on your Aggie careers and for your great final seasons.

* * * * *

As always, I use the week of the Thanksgiving holiday to send out a reminder to the athletics staff and coaches that the nomination deadline for the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame is November 30. Of course, that email casts a relatively narrow net -- anyone is able and encouraged to submit nominations for the CAAHOF awards program.

First, here are a few links to have handy: 

The roster of CAAHOF enshrinees. Check out who has gone in during induction ceremonies past. Get an idea of the high bar required for induction, then think of others who you believe have cleared it.

The CAAHOF/Aggie Legacy selection criteria. You probably know the gist of the award; this link will provide the specifics. Some of the requirements can be a tad quirky, so I'll do my best to pick out some of the more confusing ones later in this blog post.

The CAAHOF nomination form. Fill out this form when submitting someone for the Student-Athlete, the Non-Participant (e.g. coaches, staff, administrators) or Special Recognition Awards (volunteer service to UC Davis athletics).

The Aggie Legacy Award nomination form. Use this form for submitting an individual for UC Davis athletics' newest honor. It's fairly similar to the CAAHOF form, only it focuses on the postcollegiate honors. The "main" Hall of Fame honors what a candidate did as an Aggie, with little bearing on what he/she has done since.

Year-by-year athletics recaps. I built this simple page of links a few years ago to help someone do a quick research project, but I've kept it since. These are the year-in-review reports that I create each June (then update as awards come in). If you're not sure exactly what your candidate accomplished, this is a fantastic resource. It lists major awards (e.g. All-America, conference MVP, Player of the Week) plus school records (game, season or career) and key milestones and achievements. The list goes back to 1999-2000, which was my first full year as a full-time sports information director. If you need information for a student-athlete who participated prior to 1999, either consult that sport's media guides or shoot me an email -- I can often point you in the right direction if I don't have such info immediately handy.

And here are a few key points to know, mostly because they have been common sources of confusion in years past:

A student-athlete being submitted for the 2011-12 induction class must have completed in his/her final contest on or before November 30, 2006. The five-year rule is fairly standard for sports-related halls of fame. Thus, the seniors from the 2005-06 school year or the 2006 fall season are the newly eligible athletes.

A candidate for the Non-Participant who is no longer employed by the university is eligible immediately. Yes, the standard five-year rule applies to those still working for UC Davis in another capacity. But if a coach or administrator retires and separates (human resources jargon) from the university, he or she can be submitted right then and there. This is probably the most misunderstood rule of any.

A candidate need not have graduated from UC Davis to earn induction. While we of course would like all of our student-athletes to have earned their degrees, this is not a dealbreaker for CAAHOF induction so long as the student-athlete made meaningful progress toward a degree while enrolled at UC Davis. The purpose of this rule is to allow consideration for student-athletes who were certainly on their way to their degrees before unusual circumstances interrupted their education.

A CAAHOF nomination is good for a two-year period. This relatively new policy has streamlined the nomination process both for those submitting candidates and for the selection committee. To require fans to resubmit a candidate year after year seemed tedious, especially since the nominee's pertinent info does not change. On the other hand, for the committee to see the same name pop up for six straight years becomes equally laborious: a candidate who was far from the cut in 2004 is not likely to become a prime candidate five years later unless new information comes to light. Thus, a two-year rule provided a happy medium.

In short, it works like this: a nomination submitted by Nov. 30, 2011 puts a candidate up for consideration for the 2011-12 class. If the candidate doesn't make the cut, he/she is automatically resubmitted for the 2012-13 class. No further action is necessary by the original nominator. If the candidate does not earn induction in 2013, he/she must be resubmitted (i.e. the nominator fills out the form again) by November 30, 2013. Best yet, it encourages the nominator to round up some additional support that might help strengthen the candidate's case to the selection committee.

Anyway, the purpose of my email to the staff and coaches is to remind them that the November 30 deadline is coming up. I extend the invitation to anyone in Aggie Nation who wishes to honor a former UC Davis student-athlete, coach or contributor for their role in shaping our history.

In a way, the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the ultimate Senior Night.

-Mark Honbo, an assistant with the UC Davis athletics communications office, assures the Aggie faithful that his admiration for Stanford All-American and Naismith award winner Jennifer Azzi will not in any way affect the stat-keeping at Tuesday night's women's basketball game vs. USF. After all, he is first and foremost a Jennifer Gross fan.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We're In! Now What?

The UC Davis men's soccer team has officially punched its ticket to the postseason.

That's right, we're in. For the first time since 2008, the Aggies are playing in the Big West Tournament. The winner of that tournament earns the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

The top four teams were officially sealed after UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara each squeaked out wins on Tuesday night. Headed to the Big West postseason will be UC Irvine, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside.

So we know who's in. But who plays who and where and when and... let's try and break this down.

The first-place team will play the fourth-place team while No. 2 plays No. 3 next Wednesday. The higher-seeded teams will host the games. The winners play each other next Saturday with the highest-seeded team from THAT matchup hosting again.

Problem is, we don't quite know how the teams are seeded.

Here's what we do know:

1. Teams get 3 points for a win and 1 point for a tie.

2. UC Irvine is currently in first place with 19 points and their regular season is over.

3. UC Davis is in second with 16 points and play UC Riverside on Saturday in Riverside.

4. UC Santa Barbara moved into third place after their win on Tuesday and they still have a game on Friday.

5. UC Riverside clinched the last spot with 14 points. They play the Aggies on Saturday. See above.

So now we present - to the best of my ability - the scenarios:

Scenario 1: A UC Davis win on Saturday - regardless of what UCSB does in their game on Friday - would give the Aggies 19 points (it's 3 points for a win) and they would share the Big West regular season title with UC Irvine.  However, because UC Davis beat UC Irvine head-to-head in a pretty thrilling overtime game on Oct. 19, UC Davis would be the No. 1 seed, would play the No. 4 seed (which would probably be UC Riverside), and would host the first-round game next week.

Still with me?

Scenario 2: A UC Davis tie and a UC Santa Barbara loss would keep the Aggies as the No. 2 seed. The Aggies would host the first-round game and would play the No. 3 seed. At that point, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara would be tied in points, but UC Riverside would be the No. 3 seed because they beat the Gauchos in both matches this year. So Aggies vs. Highlanders in Davis.

A UC Davis tie and a UCSB win, however, would push the Gauchos into the No. 2 spot and we'd be third. Aggies vs. Gauchos in Santa Barbara.

Last one... I think.

Scenario 3: UC Davis loses. An Aggie loss and a UCSB loss would give UCR 17 points and bump UC Davis down to third. But an Aggie loss and a UC Santa Barbara win or tie would result in UC Davis ending up as the No. 4 seed. Aggies would play UC Irvine in Irvine.


It would be really exciting if UC Davis got to host the first-round game next Wednesday. And it would be an absolute blast to host the tournament championship if the soccer gods align it all that way.

But here's what it would also mean for UC Davis Athletics Communications.

If men's soccer ends up hosting the Big West Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday, Nov. 12 it would join men's water polo, football and women's volleyball on the list of home events for that day.

Normally there's four of us in the office. Normally. That weekend it happens that both men's and women's basketball will be out of town. The men will open their season at the Basketball Traveler's Tournament in San Diego while the women's team heads to the Pacific Northwest for their 2011-12 opening games.

Our esteemed leader Mike Robles will be on the road with Coach Les and our Aggie men's basketball team.

I have the privilege of joining the women's basketball team in Seattle as the Aggies start their quest back to the NCAA Tournament.

I am also the men's soccer media contact.

Needless to say, that's a scenario that we don't have a point system for.

- Amanda Piechowski is wondering if anyone knows how to get in touch with those scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep a few years ago. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Agony of Defeat and the Thrill of Victory

Hearing the legendary voice of Jim McKay say "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" during the opening montage of ABC's "Wide World of Sports" was an indelible part of my growing up. I don't recall the various scenes that made up the "thrill of victory" part but man-oh-man I can still see Vinko Bokataj - yes, that guy had a name - crash his way down the ski jump to define "the agony of defeat" for a generation of Americans. 

Over the span of about four hours on Sunday I experienced both parts of McKay's words, albeit in reverse. Because of scheduling, two of the teams I work with in this office were scheduled to play back-to-back - women's field hockey at 11 a.m. and women's soccer at 1 p.m. I planned on working field hockey before catching the end of soccer which was admirably covered for me by Amanda Piechowski. 

The great part of this profession is seeing hundreds of games and knowing that any one of them has the chance to be anything but routine. Sometimes you get an upset, sometimes you get a buzzer-beater finish, and sometimes there's an unbelievable highlight. But sometimes it just doesn't go your way.

Sunday, the Aggie women's field hockey team was providing me one of those major upsets. For 69 minutes and 2 seconds it stifled fourteenth-ranked Cal. Thanks to a pair of first-half goals by Emily Mecke, UC Davis enjoyed a 2-0 lead over the Golden Bears. And then they protected it. Each time Cal got an opportunity, they were turned away and it seemed like seniors Kristen Lopez and Sarah Schneider were going to get the best send-off ever.

The Aggie faithful was clearly enjoying it as well. The closer victory seemed, the louder the cheering got. The players seemed to be undaunted by the moment. But in the span of 28 seconds - all in the final minute of regulation - Cal took all of it away by doing what seemed impossible just a few seconds earlier, scoring two goals to tie a game it would eventually win in overtime.

I've seen so many games through the years that it's difficult to get emotionally invested in all of them but I couldn't help but share the Aggies' disappointment afterwards. I felt - I think we all felt - something magical was happening and for nearly 70 minutes it was. Yes, the ending was not what everyone wanted but the disappointment was caused because of the journey to get there. It was UC Davis that put Cal so far back on its heels that desperate times called for desperate measures and the Bears miraculously found a way.

The Aggie field hockey team, which regained varsity status in 2009, has already had some milestone moments; notably getting votes for the national top 20 poll this year despite having more losses than wins. It's a testament to a tough schedule and their competitiveness with that slate of games. Chalk up Sunday to a milestone moment. Yes, it wasn't a win. It can't always be about a win. But it can be about displaying heart and on Sunday that was on full display.

As I walked off the field, computer and printer in arms, leave it to an UC Davis player to thank me for my efforts on Sunday. The Aggies were the ones that needed to be thanked.

Not too far away at Aggie Soccer Field, the women's soccer team was battling UC Santa Barbara in a key Big West match. UC Davis was picked to finish seventh in the conference but has been racking up wins like I rack up calories. Four straight entering Saturday (wins, not calories unless you're counting in the thousands). 

UCSB had lost five of its last six and was at the bottom of the standings but the Gauchos were giving the Aggies - tied for second as of today - all they could handle. UC Davis needed the win. UCSB needed something good to happen. The Aggies got both.

With the match scoreless after more than 80 minutes, overtime seemed the likely destination. Then again defeat could've been just a strange, unpredictable bounce away as well. But, as head coach Maryclaire Robinson said afterwards, patience and discipline won out when Kiele Argente lofted a beautiful ball from the far right corner along the goal line.

From my vantage point atop the cooler holding sodas and water for the staff and officials, I could see Ashley Edwards perfectly positioned near the far post. The ball traveled to Edwards like she was pulling it toward her with a string. It arrived just like it was supposed to and she headed into the goal, setting off an Aggie celebration on the sidelines and in the stands where, yes, members of the field hockey team had come by to cheer.

Rachel Kahn, one of nine seniors playing their last regular-season home game, put the icing on the cake a few minutes later with a goal of her own. UC Davis then finished off the Gauchos, picked up three points in the standings and continued its surprising march through the Big West. (Folks, this team is 11-4-1 and if it ends up hosting a Big West Tournament game next week, you need to find a way to get out to Aggie Soccer Field.)

It was one day and "the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat" each part of it. Two games and two hard-fought efforts that deserved the same result. But sometimes it's not always about the result, it's about the journey.

- Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Communications and while he does not have an extensive field hockey background, believes the penalty corner is one of the most exciting plays in sports. And a soccer ball lofted from the corner that's headed in by an Aggies is pretty exciting too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

News, Notes and a New Bandwagoner

Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals.  

Not only did the Cards advance to the World Series and take the first game from the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, but - thanks to one Daniel Descalso - they've also got themselves a brand new fan: yours truly.

It's only my third year on the Athletics Communications staff here at UC Davis, so I didn't actually get to see Descalso play in an Aggie uniform. But I've heard the stories and I've seen the record books and, probably the biggest influence of all, I work with the current UC Davis baseball team.

To hear these guys talk about "Scals" and what he's accomplished as he moved through the ranks and into the pros is nothing short of listening to me talking about Lea Michele's latest performance on "Glee". That is, he's a bona fide celebrity in their eyes. You can hear the admiration and, most of all, the pride in their voices whenever they talk about him.  He was exactly where they are right now only four or five short years ago and now he's in the biggest show of all. How's that for some motivation?

Go get 'em Danny!

Your Newest Fan

Speaking of winners, UC Davis men's soccer is currently tied for first place in the Big West Conference after taking down UC Irvine - who was ranked seventh in the country - by a 2-1 score last night in yes, you guessed it, overtime.

Last night was the ninth time this season that the Aggies have played in overtime.  That's over twice as many as any other team in the Big West.  And with four games left, if UC Davis can go to extra time only two more times, they'll tie an NCAA Division I record.  In 2003, Saint Louis played 11 overtime games in a single season and in 2009 San Diego State matched that with 11 OT matches of their own.

Right now the Aggies are 6-6-2 overall and 4-3-2 in overtime games.

If you haven't checked out the squad yet, come out on Saturday as Cal Poly comes to visit. It's the Battle of the Golden Horseshoe: Futbol Edition.  Just make sure you budget a little extra time to hang out at Aggie Soccer Field. In all fairness, we did warn you ahead of time about the overtime.

- Amanda Piechowski, Assistant Director of Athletics Communications, won't even hold it against the Cardinals or Descalso that Glee has been postponed for three weeks because of the World Series being shown on FOX. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Two Aggies And A Trophy

Not one, but two Aggie grads have made the 2011 World Series, which begins Wednesday night.

The photo at left features Cardinals quantitative analyst Sig Mejdal and rookie infielder Daniel Descalso, hoisting the National League Championship Series trophy in Milwaukee.

By now, any Aggie fan who follows this blog (or doesn't, for that matter) knows about Descalso. In fact, you might know that Game 1 of the St. Louis-Texas series coincides with Descalso's 25th birthday, and you may even know that the 2007 ABCA All-West Region pick appeared on the KNBR radio show Murph and Mac Wednesday morning.

Unless you read my UC Davis Magazine piece a year ago, fewer of you are familiar with Sig Mejdal. However, you should be: the hit Bennett Miller movie Moneyball opened strong last month, so the adaptation of the fine Michael Lewis book has reopened the eyes of baseball fans to these behind-the-scenes mathematical masterminds. In essence, Mejdal is a real-life version of Jonah Hill's Peter Brand character (who, in turn, was based on the actual A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta). He creates computerized models to help predict how well a baseball prospect's previous performance will translate to major league success.

But while both the fictional Brand and real DePodesta honed their respective analytical skills at Ivy League schools, Mejdal combined his life-long love of baseball with an education received in the shadow of our university's iconic water towers. He graduated from UC Davis in 1989 with a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

In fact, Mejdal cites Lewis' bestseller for inspiring him to leave his beloved NASA research to enter the baseball industry: "It was definitely Moneyball. I was involved with the research but I had no idea that the A's were using it up north from me. It never entered my mind that teams were interested in this or using this until Moneyball," said Mejdal in his interview for the UC Davis Magazine story.

As a front-office staffer whose work has more to do with future Cardinals than present ones, Mejdal does not typically travel with the team. However, he made sure not to miss Game 5 of the NLDS series in Philadelphia, and he surely wasn't about to skip out on Game 6 at Miller Park.

When Descalso ended up on the Cardinals' wish list (he ended up going to St. Louis in the third round of the 2007 draft), Mejdal says he took some good-natured needling from his colleagues. "I was excited to get a UC Davis guy but I have to remain objective at all times," he said. "Some of the scouts were kidding me, saying 'you love him because you're from Davis, right?'"

Descalso's Aggie roots may not have appeared on Mejdal's spreadsheets, but it certainly showed up in this photo (which Mejdal sent to me this morning) As both a UC Davis grad and a baseball fan, I'm glad they got to share this moment.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Nice Scoop.

First of all, thanks to Aggie superfan John Patella for letting me know I missed this moment -- a show of slick fielding in front of the man whose name is synonymous with slick fielding.

In the past few days, I've been asked a few times if Daniel Descalso -- should he enter a game during this fall classic -- will become the first Aggie to play in the World Series. The easy answer is yes: before last September, only Steve Brown laid claim to being a former UC Davis player in the bigs. Brown, who pitched for the Angels in the early 1980s, never took the mound in the postseason.

As for other major professional sports championships*, we've had some representation over the years, mostly in football. Rich Martini (1980 Raiders), Kevin Daft (1999 Titans) and Elliot Vallejo (2008 Cardinals) all played for teams that made the Super Bowl, with Martini's Raiders claiming the Lombardi Trophy with a 27-10 win over the Eagles. Right now, a part of me roots for the Denver Broncos, for whom Daniel Fells has started every game at tight end this year.

Extend football to a few of its popular variants, and we find quarterbacks Mark Grieb and Khari Jones. Grieb's San Jose SaberCats team has made four ArenaBowls during his career. The former UC Davis genetics major earned Offensive Player of the Game in 2004, then captured the overall game MVP nod three years later.

Head north of the border to find Khari Jones, now the QBs coach for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Yes, this is the same Tiger-Cats squad for which Bakari Grant has caught 27 passes for 347 yards thus far.) In 2001, Jones earned the league's Most Outstanding Player, leading Winnipeg to the Grey Cup. The Blue Bombers lost to Calgary in a massive upset, but the man once known for his gold-painted shoes helped rally Winnipeg to two second-half TDs after a rough first two quarters.

If you include what the rest of the world calls football, Quincy Amarikwa was traded to the Colorado Rapids in 2010, the year they won the MLS Cup. Amarikwa didn't play in the title game, although he did make one postseason appearance.

But enough of the football and futbol greats, this post is about baseball. As a Red Sox fan, I should not be rooting for the Cardinals. Older diehards of the Nation still wear the scars of Slaughter's Mad Dash or Gibson spoiling of the Impossible Dream, and no amount of replays of Foulke's flip to Mientkiewicz will exorcise those demons. I refuse to be that bull-headed, but I also acknowledge that Red Sox fans can be a stubborn lot, which explains why they can still tolerate repeated plays of "Sweet Caroline" after all these years.

In the end, I'm all about the grand ol' game. It's October, it's the World Series, and I'll cross my fingers to see Daniel take the field for the Birds this week.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, apologizes to any Aggies he might have missed in recalling UC Davis alumni who have competed in their league's biggest show.

*I do mean "professional" here. Several former UC Davis student-athletes have figured in collegiate championships at other schools, perhaps most notably Dante Dettamanti, who led Stanford to eight NCAA water polo titles. And if you extend this list to include the Olympic Games, you have all manners of Aggie athletes, ranging from our first Olympian (rugby player Babe Slater) to our most recent (bobsledder Emily Azevedo), plus three multiple gold medalists who attended UC Davis after achieving Olympic glory (track & field's Peter Snell, swimmers Cathy Carr and Debbie Meyer).

Furthermore, it's worth using this space to give a few quick honorable mentions to such NFL figures as John Herrera (Raiders exec), Jerry Attaway (49ers strength coach) and Myrel Moore (Broncos assistant coach) who all played significant roles in their respective teams' Super Bowl appearances over the decades.

Friday, October 14, 2011


First of all, women's volleyball (18-3, 4-2) has moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Big West Conference race, thanks to Cal Poly's five-set victory over UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

So the Gauchos, the Long Beach State and your Aggies share a crowded perch atop the Big West mountain. And with UC Davis competing in at the Walter Pyramid tonight, one team will emerge as the lone leader by this evening. Fans not heading to the 562 area code can (and should) follow the Aggie-49er volleyball action on CBS GameTracker. Match time is 7 p.m.

* * * * *

Two of my sports have opted to use the Homecoming Week to bring their respective alumni back to campus. The women's lacrosse team hosts its Alumnae game tonight (Friday) under the lights of Aggie Stadium, while men's water polo will hold their version the following morning out at Schaal Aquatics Center. In both cases, the games provide a chance to celebrate recent accomplishments: women's lacrosse will hold a mini-ceremony honoring its NCAA statistical title (the Aggies led the nation in draw controls last spring), while men's water polo has brought back the nucleus of its 22-7 team from four years ago. That 2007 team was the last UC Davis men's water polo squad to reach the national top 10 until this year. In either case, former student-athletes may still attend their respective events by contacting the head coach.

Or if you want to watch past Aggies meet up with present ones, admission is free for both games. Quite often, I find it entertaining to see who still has some game. Now that I'm reaching the back end of my thirties, I take pride in seeing one of my contemporaries keeping up with the current whippersnappers.

* * * * *

A handful of nominations for the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame have arrived in my mailbox during the last month or so. Although I am not at liberty to divulge who they are,  it's worth taking a moment to remind Aggie fans how the process works and to offer a few resources with which to fill out nominations.

For starters, you can find the roster of past CAAHOF inductees, plus links to the online nomination form and selection critera at the official site here:

Secondly, when an individual is submitted in any category, the nomination is good for a two-year span. So a nominee submitted this fall will earn consideration for the 2011-12 induction class. If he/she does not earn induction in June, the nominee is automatically resubmitted for the 2012-13 nomination pool. No further action is necessary, unless someone wishes to provide more supporting materials. If that nominee does not earn induction in 2012-13, he/she must be renominated by the fall of 2013 to return to the pool of candidates.

In the Student-Athlete category, a nominee must be at least five years removed from his/her last collegiate competition, using the Nov. 30 nomination deadline as the precise border (i.e. for this year's pool a UC Davis student-athlete must have last competed as an Aggie on or before Nov. 30, 2006). The seniors from the 2005-06 athletics year or the 2006 fall sports are the newly eligible candidates.

For the Non-Participant category (e.g. coaches, administrators or other support roles), the eligibility window varies. If an individual leaves employment from UC Davis, he/she is eligible immediately. If an individual still works for the university in any capacity, he/she must wait five years until being honored for whatever capacity warrants Hall of Fame consideration.

Admittedly, this is a confusing piece of policy. I'll give some hypothetical examples to (hopefully) clarify how it works, and I'll do so in the language used by many of the rulebooks I consult for my job:

(1) Mr. Abbott serves as a head coach for 12 years. After the 2014-15 season, he retires from coaching to assume a post as an associate A.D. for UC Davis athletics. Still a university employee, Abbott may not be nominated for his coaching career until 2020. (2) After two years in this associate A.D. role, Abbott then decides to leave for a job in the private sector in 2017. No longer employed by the university, Abbott is immediately eligible for Hall of Fame consideration.

(3) Mrs. Bennett serves as an athletics administrator for 24 years, then retires from the university after the 2012-13 school year. Bennett is eligible for nomination immediately beginning with the Nov. 2013 deadline. (4) In 2014, after a year of retirement, Bennett is rehired to serve as a consultant for the UC Davis university relations office. Now an employee again, the five-year rule takes effect, and Bennett must wait until 2018 before she may be honored for her athletics career.

(5) Ms. Campbell coaches at UC Davis for eight years, leading her program to the NCAA title in 2015. In the summer after winning this championship, she is hired as the head coach in the same sport at UCLA. Even though she is still in the profession at another UC school, Campbell is eligible for CAAHOF consideration immediately, as she is no longer a UC Davis employee.

(6) Mr. Downing coaches a team at UC Davis for 20 years. Then in 2015, he assumes the role as a head coach in a different Aggie sport for 10 more years before retiring for good in 2025. Downing may be considered for the Hall of Fame beginning in 2020, but only for his coaching achievements in the first sport. Effective 2026, however, Downing may be considered for his coaching career in both sports.

If you're still confused, just shoot me a line and I'll let you know if a potential non-participant is on or off the table. Or just submit the name anyway. If the person is eligible, he/she goes into the pool. If not, we'll let you know.

As many already have heard, UC Davis also has a new honor called the Aggie Legacy Award. To put things briefly, this honors Aggie student-athletes not for their sports-related achivements during college (that's what the CAAHOF is for) but for what they've done since college. While most of our student-athletes go on to other fields, some remain in the athletics arena and a few go on to national prestige in those areas. Until the Legacy Award, our department had no formal way of honoring these individuals.

Or, to put it more succinctly, we never got to officially brag about who some of our former Aggies are.

In my opinion, the inaugural winner was about as good as we could have asked for: Boise State football coach Chris Petersen. Not only has he led his Bronco team to amazing success, but he has done so with a reminder that he once roamed Toomey Field: his UC Davis roots are often mentioned during national television broadcasts or in major news outlets.

More importantly, Coach Pete has set a high bar for the expectations we envisioned for the award when the idea was floated years ago. There are other Aggies whose national profile is comparable to Petersen; I hope our fans will take a few minutes to submit those names and make their cases for our celebrated UC Davis alums.

Finally, a few nominators have indicated (either in words or by the lack of information in their forms) that they don't know some of the awards or achievements an individual had at UC Davis. My short answer: do the best you can. Truthfully, my office can usually fill in most of the blanks. However, there are some large gaps in our records -- particularly for athletes who competed in the 1980s -- so relying on the athletics communications staff is a gamble. If you don't fill out that section, and we don't have records for that person, you will have effectively submitted a blank nomination that has little chance of earning induction.

To help fill out nominations for those who competed in the last decade or so, I'll point you to the Year-by-Year Athletics Recaps page on the website. This provides PDF versions of the year-in-review documents since 1999 (the year I returned to the then-Sports Information office). No, these reports don't show everything an individual has done, nor does it list every student-athlete from any given year. But the types of honors and achievements that warrant inclusion in those reports generally coincide with the level of accomplishment one needs to enter the Hall.

Anyway, it's Homecoming Week... 'tis the time of year to welcome back our past Aggies. We have two alumni games, the Pajamarino event at the train station tonight, and the football game against UTSA on Saturday.

And while we greet our alumni this weekend, I hope a few of you will take some time to honor them as well.

-Mark Honbo, athletics communications director, will miss the Pajamarino event due to a photo assignment. However, he hopes to see a few people at the new Our House spot at 808 Second Street in downtown Davis.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Aggie Makes The Postseason

After shooting Wednesday's men's soccer game against Cal State Northridge, I decided to give myself the evening off, head to the Davis Graduate and watch some baseball.

Anyone remotely interested in the MLB season knows how the playoff picture shook out, so I don't need to go into too much detail about it. For you folks, September 28, 2011 will go down as one of the most dramatic single days in baseball history. Thus, you may skip the next segment.

For those who don't follow it, here's the short version: Tampa Bay and Boston were tied heading into the regular-season finale for the wild card spot. This is the same Boston team that some had considered the favorite for the World Series earlier in the summer, that led the AL East for 56 days during the season, and that had held a nine-game cushion to make the playoffs to start the month. (Of course, this is the same Boston team whose penchant for coming up just shy of glory hogged up an inordinate portion of Ken Burns' 10-volume documentary, which means we Red Sox fans braced ourselves for a September collapse sometime during Spring Training.) A Boston loss combined with a Tampa Bay win would push the Red Sox out of the postseason.

Meanwhile, in the senior circuit, the Cardinals looked to complete an equally improbable task as the Rays: overcoming what had been a 10.5-game deficit to snipe a postseason spot from Atlanta. St. Louis had won 23 of 30 games heading into the final day. A Cardinal win combined with a Braves loss would finish this amazing comeback, putting St. Louis in the postseason for a 24th year.

So Boston-Baltimore played on the south end of the Grad, along the wall that contains the front door and the patio access. New York-Tampa Bay appeared on three screens at the bar. St. Louis-Houston played on two screens near the restrooms, and Atlanta-Philly took up the two screens closest to the grill. The dance floor is the middle of all this, which allowed me to pace back and forth between the two American League games.

And in my pacing, I'm pretty sure I burned off the entire Grad burger and pitcher of Aggie Lager.

Ah, so there IS a UC Davis connection to this blog post.

In a place only partially occupied by dinner guests, bar regulars and a smattering of actual sports fans, a trio of young women watching the Cardinals-Astros made more noise than anyone else. (Given that a Red Wings-Blackhawks preseason NHL game held the attention of yet another group, that is no easy feat.) I peeked in on the two NL games on occasion, mostly to see if UC Davis alum Daniel Descalso was playing.

Hey, another connection!

When Boston-Baltimore went into a rain delay, I directed my attention to Tropicana Field. New York's seven-run lead had diminished to one, thanks in large part to a three-run home run by Evan Longoria, the Long Beach State alumnus who once played against UC Davis at our own Dobbins Stadium.

Now you're reaching, Honbo.

The Cardinals made relatively easy work of the Astros, behind their steady hitting and Chris Carpenter's right arm. The women made even more noise when Descalso entered the game as a defensive sub. He hauled in a harmless pop-up in the eighth then drove a single through the middle in the ninth. I caught both moments on replay, alerted from my post at the bar by the cheers and squeals from the center table.

By the time play resumed at Camden Yards, the three Cards fans had relocated to become ad hoc Phillies fans. At this point, Philadelphia had tied Atlanta with a run off Braves stopper Craig Kimbrel. Even more rowdiness and cheering.

During a break, I finally went over to the table and asked, "Do you all know Descalso or are you just big Cardinal fans?"

Two of them motioned to the apparent table captain, who replied, "I'm his sister."

I explained my interest: I work for the athletics department, I saw Daniel play for UC Davis, I wrote the UC Davis magazine article on Descalso and Cardinal quantitative analyst Sig Mejdal, etc.

The younger Descalso continued to exchange text messages with her brother, who sat in the Minute Maid Park visitors' clubhouse with the rest of the Birds. Two thousand miles apart, they hung on every pitch of the same broadcast together, the way two friends might remotely enjoy the same episode of Glee. On the next screen was the shot of the visiting locker room in Houston, readying for the potential Cardinal celebration.

When Philadelphia took down the win in the 13th, thus locking up a playoff spot for St. Louis, Stephanie and her friends erupted in celebration. On the screen above them, Daniel and his friends erupted in celebration. From my seat, they might as well have been in the same room (only we had better beer).

Three college-aged men sat an adjacent table, startled by this scene. Sensing their confusion, I explained: "Her brother is a rookie on the Cardinals. He just made the playoffs. She's pretty happy about it." Impressed by this connection, they each went up to offer their congratulations. I'm not sure they were baseball enthusiasts, or if I'd inadvertently given an opening to introduce themselves to three young women, but they gave their wishes either way.

But here's the thing: I grew up thinking major leaguers were larger than life, almost superhuman, as if they existed in an alternate universe that doesn't connect with the rest of us. The older generation probably doesn't share that feeling; we've heard the stories of New Yorkers who remember chit-chatting with Whitey Ford or Billy Martin on the subway car to Yankee Stadium. The salaries of professional athletes had not separated the players from the fans to the degree they have since. The younger fans might not feel the same way, given how social media like Twitter and tell-all media outlets provide glimpses into athletes' personal lives in a way only Jim Bouton's Ball Four could do. But for me, major leaguers seem to exist in their own little world, one that hashtags and high-definition fail to bring closer.

Even now, at an age at which I'm older than 95 percent of current MLB players, and having worked my 12th season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats – one step away from the big clubs – I still feel those guys extricate themselves from the "normal" world the moment they earn their major league calls. I distinctly remember sitting next to Nick Swisher in the Raley Field press box, talking to him about his father (also a major leaguer). Now he's married to Joanna Garcia from my beloved Freaks And Geeks TV series. Hardly seems like the same guy, even though he is.

Seeing Stephanie on the phone with her brother, then celebrating the moment as it both transpired in front of my eyes and as it took place on Fox Sports, blurred that distinction and quite literally brought the game and its players back home. This was not some fan, celebrating a win by throwing drunken high fives to strangers on the rail. This a genuine moment between a sister and a brother, one who followed in the other's footsteps by attending this very university. At least one major leaguer became quite human, with one very proud family.

And, for what it's worth, Daniel... your Aggie family is quite proud of you, too.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, got so caught up in the scene described above that he missed Robert Andino's game-winning single to beat his Red Sox. So Slaughter outrunning Pesky's throw, Gibson besting a fatigued Lonborg, Perez' shot off the Spaceman, Dent vs. Torrez, Mookie's elusive ground ball, Clemens' ejection and Boone vs. Wake -- these moments collectively gained a new housemate.

He is further glad that the NCAA will not allow him to gamble on sports: watching those games was nerve-wracking enough that having to follow them on a daily basis with money on the line could only cause a rare medical condition known as "brain boilage."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fan Of The Week

UC Davis women's volleyball has launched its own promotion on the team's Facebook page. Essentially, fans who follow the page should keep an eye out for a call for Fan of the Week. Then the coaching staff keeps track of who "Likes" or comments on the post. They have a randomly chosen secret number for which response is the winner -- you know, sort of like radio shows that award prizes to the 13th caller. The Fan of the Week gets a free admission to that week's upcoming match, a shout on the Facebook site and (I would imagine) some recognition at the match.

The first winner of this promotion turned out to be Tori Hooper, who played middle blocker and outside hitter for UC Davis from 2006-09. I wrote a Spotlight Aggie feature on Tori for the football game program two years ago, since her upbringing in Cameron Park helped instill a love for a flight. We reposted the article on the athletics website here.

By the way, as stated in the Spotlight feature, Tori has begun training at nearby Travis AFB on the KC-10 Extender, a craft best known for refueling other planes while in flight. I know in-air fueling has existed for a while, but it still blows me away. In my college days, some friends and I took two cars on a little road trip to Santa Cruz. Somewhere along I-80, I positioned my car such that one of my passengers could lean out a side window and pass a plate of cookies to the other vehicle. That was nerve-wracking enough: I can't imagine doing the same thing in mid-air, replacing baked goods with highly flammable jet fuel. Kids, don't try either at home.

For what it's worth, though, back then I drove a Cadillac Fleetwood -- roughly the same size as a KC-10.

Anyway, congrats to Tori, good luck to the volleyball tomorrow night and here's to hoping the Aggie coaching staff has to set its secret number high because of the onslaught of fans who hope to become the next winner.

- Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, already has a courtside seat for Aggie volleyball. But that didn't stop him from vying for the Fan of the Week title.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fall Quarter

Tomorrow is the first day of instruction for the UC Davis undergraduates. Yep, a Thursday. Not many schools start a term on a Thursday, but we do. We're talking 25,000-plus people suddenly populating the campus. A third of them are new and relatively unfamiliar to the university's geography. The other two-thirds haven't seen each other in months, which means they'll stop in inopportune locations to greet each other.

In other words, I'll steer clear of the Coffee House for a few days.

But for me, the fall quarter has been going for the better part of a month. And my 2011-12 school year is off to a fine start, mostly because the two fall teams for which I serve as the primary media contact -- men's water polo and women's volleyball -- are on track to enjoy their best-ever seasons.

Men's water polo holds an 8-3 overall record and a 5-0 mark against its leaguemates in the Western Water Polo Association. Oddly, two games from the loss column may be more impressive than any of the eight Ws: the Aggies fell to then-No. 5 Pacific in an 8-7 squeaker on September 3, and battled No. 6 Pepperdine to a 14-10 loss last weekend at the NorCal Invitational.

Every year, the top four teams in the CWPA Men's Varsity Poll comprises some order of Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA, the four schools that traditionally play in the Pac-12. In the last four years, only two of the other 39 NCAA programs have managed to break up that superfecta. They were -- oh yes -- Pepperdine and Pacific.

Pacific did it during November of 2010, leapfrogging from sixth to fourth and pushing Stanford down to No. 5 for two weeks. For Pepperdine, it's a more distant memory -- the Waves finished the 2008 season at No. 2, with Cal nudged down to No. 6. Yet in the 2009 preseason poll, the regular crew ruled the perch: USC, Stanford, UCLA and Cal, in order.

Bottom line: cracking the top four is a rare achievement. Pepperdine and Pacific have done it, and appear in position to challenge again this year, holding No. 5 and No. 6. That UC Davis has played two of its best games against those teams -- even though the final outcome might not have been favorable -- speaks volumes about what this year's team can do.

Head coach Steve Doten set two goals for the 2011 team. One is to crack into the top 10, which his program last did in 2007. The other is to win the WWPA title, which earns a trip to the NCAA Championship.  He now has accomplished the first, with the Aggies moving up to No. 9 in Wednesday's poll. The second? Check back in November.

Fans can catch a glimpse of this team this weekend, with UC Davis hosting the eight-team Aggie Shootout tournament at Schaal Aquatics Center., starting with Friday's contest against 17th-ranked Cal Baptist. First sprint is 6 p.m.

* * * * *

Aggie fans, go check out a women's volleyball match this year. There simply is no other way to say it.

Some brief history: UC Davis went 11-72 during the final three years of the Division I transition period (the Aggies still played a mostly D-II schedule during the first), then went 4-24 with a 1-15 conference mark in 2007. By many accounts, volleyball arguably had the toughest path to success -- the Big West has long been a highly successful conference in the sport, boasting six national champions and 14 Final Four participants in its history. When the Aggies began facing Division I teams in 2004, six members of the conference had made the NCAA tournament the year before. (To illustrate, consider that four members of the ACC made the NCAA basketball tournament in 2011.)

Enter Jamie Holmes, now in her fourth year as head coach.

UC Davis went 12-16 in Holmes' rookie season of 2008, a seemingly miraculous jump. The following year, the Aggies went 20-10 – the first 20-win season since 1996 - and finished second in the conference. Last year's team challenged for the conference title until an injury bug struck in the final weeks.

This year, UC Davis enters conference play with a 14-1 mark, setting a record for the best start in program history, and has received votes toward the AVCA Top 25 poll first the first time in the Division I era. Among the 14 victories: Tulsa, which went 31-2 and won the Conference USA title in 2010; Missouri, which advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last year; and Northern Colorado, tabbed to win the Big Sky Conference championship this season.

The next great challenge will be the Big West, a league that fielded three 20-match winners last year. Leading contenders Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and Pacific compare quite favorably overall with the vanquished Tulsa and Mizzou on the Rich Kern RPI and Pablo Rankings (two empirical ranking systems followed by volleyball's more astute followers).

But alas, the matches are not played on paper, as the saying goes. The Aggies will use the next eight weeks to show whether or not they truly belong with the conference's elite and, by extension, in the NCAA tournament. Can they do it? Is this the year UC Davis women's volleyball achieves something that seemed almost impossible just five years ago?

The Big West slate starts with a road match at Pacific within hours after this post, written Wednesday, Sept. 21. If you catch this too late, or you don't want to drive down to Stockton, come out to the Pavilion on Saturday. UC Davis takes on UC Irvine, a program that ranked in the Top 25 last than two years ago (before getting knocked out by your very own Aggies).

So there it is... check out a women's volleyball match this year. There simply is no other way to say it.

* * * * *

On a serious note, it was with great regret that I could not attend the memorial service for John Hardie, an event held last Saturday at the Davis Community Church. I feel a double kinship to Hardie, who passed away on Sept. 1 and who earned a touching mention in Mike Robles' last blog entry for his contributions as a timekeeper at UC Davis football games.

For starters, he once was effectively an SID for the athletics department during his early days of service on campus. Before Jim Doan became the first full-time "sports publicist" for the Aggies, the position reported to ASUCD, not the athletics director. Hardie, among many other duties in his role as business manager, wrote press releases and compiled records for UC Davis athletics.

On a more personal note, John's son Doug is one of my best friends in the world. We both graduated from Davis High 21 years ago and have remained close ever since. In the week following John's passing, Doug enlisted my photographic skills to capture an image of the Weier Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum, one of his father's treasured locations on campus. The photo would adorn the cover of the program at John's service.

I took several shots, all using a technique called "long exposure," in which the camera shutter is held open for unusually long durations. If the shutter speed is too fast, the image will be too dark and you lose detail. If it's too slow, brighter details like the sky or the sunlit foliage get washed out. Thus, getting the final image comes down to finding just the correct number of seconds to hold the shutter doors open.

Ah yes, 'twas as if John himself insisted that my timekeeping was as precise as his.

- Mark Honbo, Assistant Athletics Communications Director

Once An Aggie, Always An Aggie

While we get media requests from all over the country, our ears do perk up when the caller says "Hi, I'm calling from Sports Illustrated and need some assistance." That was the case about a month ago when a photo editor at the magazine asked if we had some photos for a piece they were planning on TCU head football coach Gary Patterson.

The UC Davis connection? Patterson coached the Aggie linebackers in 1986, another in the long line of football coaches during the Jim Sochor era that have gone on to build amazing resumès coaching college programs. Patterson, like the others, still holds our program in high regard. We sent SI several black-and-white photos, mostly the kind of posed team shots that parents purchase as keepsakes. 

I didn't know what kind of story SI was working on, let alone how big it would be, until I opened my Sept. 12 issue and saw an eight-page spread chronicling Patterson's career written by S.L. Price. Price is a writer for the magazine and was his roommate in Davis. There is prominent mention of the UC Davis football program, its influence on Patterson and its uniqueness during its Division II era.

And our photo? It's right there on pages 62-63. Pretty cool. We even got our obiligatory "Courtesy of Athletic Communications" in about 1-point type right there on the spine below the photo. A high-powered telescope is all I need to see it.

An interesting sidenote is the issue's cover which features Boise State. The coach of the Broncos, as Aggie fans are aware, is Chris Petersen, the quarterback on the 1986 team that also featured Patterson.

As for the story, you can read it here.


Several staff members and coaches met for lunch on Tuesday to bid a fond farewell to Byron Talley whose last day as director of the track and field and cross country programs is today. Byron and his family are moving to Dallas, Texas, and will be closer to both of their families. He's a quality coach who I've had the chance see evolve from a talented student-athlete to an assistant coach to - most recently - the programs' director. 

Byron is a pretty reserved guy but his passion for UC Davis - particularly his student-athletes - has always been evident and is what I'll miss the most. Even as he said his goodbyes yesterday it was pretty clear he's someone who will never be too far from the Aggie Athletics program. 

He was given a lot of responsibility as an assistant coach in organizing home meets and that's how he and I interacted the most. It's no easy task because mixing hundreds of student-athletes, a few dozen officials and tons of races is a recipe for disaster if it's not done right. He and I worked closely with entries and seeding in the week leading up to a meet. But I was able to hand off my share on Saturdays to the timers while Byron had to help make sure the meet was run properly and smoothly - and he succeeded.

Ask any track coach and they'll say any meet that finishes on time is a good meet, and our meets always finished on time due in large part to Byron.

Oh yeah, during meets he also had to try and coach his team, a mostly secondary role to being the meet director. But he succeeded in that area as well. He had the difficult task of filling the enormous footprint left by legendary coaches Jon and Dee Vochatzer who retired in 2010. But he did so admirably and led the Aggie teams to their best combined finish at the Big West Championships last May.

Drew Wartenburg, the head cross country coach, is the new director of track and field and cross country and will do a great job as well. And I know our meets will still finish on time.


We're barely a month into this year's Causeway Cup race but the Aggies are already off to a great start thanks to wins by women's soccer (1-0 on Aug. 21) and women's volleyball (3-2 on Sept. 13). They've given us a great 15-0 lead but more points are on the line this weekend and some of the competition takes place on campus.

UC Davis is already making noise in the race and men's soccer wants fans to make some on its behalf when it hosts Sacramento State on Friday at 4 p.m. at Aggie Soccer Field. That's right, bring your noisemakers - just not airhorns or whistles - and help the Aggies try to keep the early momentum going. 

This is the last year this will be a nonconference game, by the way. Next year, Sac State joins the Big West but only in the sport of men's soccer. 

Here's a plea from men's soccer for you to come out on Friday.

Ten more points will be up for grabs on Saturday at the Stanford Invitational as the men's and women's cross country teams from both schools square off. The teams have already met twice this year but Stanford is when teams traditionally put their best lineups, well, on the line and the local rivals have decided to designate that meet as the Causeway Cup showdown. 

Lots of points hanging in the balance this weekend and lots of Aggie student-athletes ready to put them in the bag.

- Mike Robles, Assistant Athletics Director
  Athletics Communications

Friday, September 16, 2011

Looking Back

It's not always the games at UC Davis that stand out, it's the people behind the scenes that often make the most impact and the Aggie family has lost a couple of great ones recently with the passing of John Hardie and Brian Thompson.

John passed away on Sept. 1 and is being remembered by many people for his contributions to the community and to UC Davis - especially starting almost 50 years ago when the campus really began to grow. But I'll remember him as the official timekeeper at Aggie football games. He and I combined for more than 50 years of service at Toomey Field, although his 46 years are a big chunk of that. I kept stats on the top floor and John ran the clock, directly to my left. We both had prime seats, not so much for the games, but for the sideshow of having two sets of coaches barking instructions - and other "fun" words - from each side of us.

I didn't know John in his campus roles. I mainly knew him as our timekeeper and the friendly face he brought to every game and his love of the Aggies. I'm always amazed how many former administrators have volunteered their time to run our clocks, serve on the chain crew or help in any variety of ways at our games. They are one of a kind and John is at the top of the list.

Brian, who passed away on Thursday, was someone I got to know a lot better, mainly because I saw him at just about every Aggie game and event that we had on campus. And a lot that were on the road too. It was always fun to be on some far away roadtrip and see B.T. in the hotel ready to chat and talk about whatever game was coming up. He and his wife Audrey were Aggie loyalists through and through. That's funny in itself because while his kids, Tip and Pam, are UC Davis alums, B.T. went to UC Berkeley. You'd never know it by his allegiance though. Heck, he even played in the UC Davis alumni band. 

How strong was his devotion to UC Davis Athletics? He'd constantly make the drive from Castroville so that he could see the Aggies. Then he'd go home and the next thing you know, he'd be back on campus for another game. I can barely make it from Natomas sometimes.

John and B.T. were both honored with Special Recognition Awards at UC Davis for the longtime volunteer service to Aggie Athletics. B.T. even received the College Division Volunteer of the Year in 2000 from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). Both men were well-deserving recipients of their honors.

Again, it's not the games you remember, it's the people, and John and B.T. will be missed.


I started following college women's volleyball in the mid-1980's when I was at Cal Poly. We had pretty good teams when I was there and it was a given that we'd be ranked in the top 20.  But in those days, unless your school resided on the west coast - or Hawaii - you could forget about getting any kind of respect in the volleyball world. It was the west coast and then everyone else. But then Texas won it all in 1988 and the rest of the country started catching up.

Nebraska and Penn State became mainstays at the NCAA Final Four, other schools like Wisconsin and Minnesota made appearances, and while the west coast still dominated the titles, it was clear the power was being distributed throughout the country. Recently, it's been Penn State that's been the dominant program with four straight NCAA titles.

So when you think about how competitive college volleyball currently is, getting mentioned among the country's best is a great accomplishment. Kudos to the Aggie team which has already beaten two NCAA Tournament teams from last year - including Missouri which went to the Sweet 16 - and as of Friday afternoon was off to an amazing 11-1 start. 

And a Causeway Classic win over Sacramento State on Tuesday has already sweetened a great start to the season.

UC Davis is home this weekend with the Aggie Invitational so take some time and check out their great play.


I was getting set to write the recap this week of the women's golf team triumphant start to their season and I was trying to figure the most notable part of their win at the Ptarmigan Ram Fall Classic at Colorado State. Was it winning by two shots over Colorado and Illinois? Maybe it was Demi Runas taking medalist honors by three strokes? Or perhaps it was that UC Davis took down 18 other teams with a lineup that featured two players who haven't stepped in their first college classroom.

That's what they call a "good problem to have." 

I didn't know what to expect when the Aggies took off for their trip. Three returners - Runas, Amy Simanton and Jessica Chulya - formed the core but I really didn't know what to expect from the freshmen Blair Lewis and Beverly Vatananugulkit. It didn't help that I kept misspelling Vatana, Vatananag, um, it didn't help that I kept misspelling Beverly's name. But they came through, as coach Anne Walker said, like veterans, both with top-30 placings

All five players contributed and UC Davis opened the season the best way possible. The Aggies will return to Colorado in a few days for the Golfweek Challenge and look to do it all over again.

- Mike Robles, Assistant Athletics Director
  Athletics Communications

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Name Game

Among my memories from the Aggies' last football trip to Montana State in 2006 - besides a 45-0 win - was finding the No. 1 ranking on my unofficial "incorrect UC Davis reference" list. I'm not sure it will ever be dethroned.

That's right, please say hello to "U.C.-David". 

There is so much wrong with that that I still cringe when I see it. Periods and hyphens that shouldn't even exist. And don't even get me started on the use of "David"... "David"?

I'm not sure who exactly put the name into use but it was on a luggage tag after my bags arrived in Bozeman a day after me. I'm guessing either a baggage handler not familiar with our school or someone involved with some Causeway Classic trickery was the source. 

Either way, the moniker automatically vaulted to the top of my list and has held onto its position for five years now. I can't imagine a more incorrect way to refer to UC Davis so I'm sure it's going to be there for a while.

While the reference was surprising, the fact that it was incorrect wasn't. For years my staff and I have been vigilantes when it comes to how the media and other schools refer, and even spell, "UC Davis." It's like trying to kill an ant though. You get rid of one of them but more just take its place.

We see "Cal-Davis" a lot. That hurts to say, let alone read. "U.C. Davis", "UC-Davis", "Davis State" and "Cal State Davis" are also on my list - in more ways than one. 

We'll play schools and tell their media relations folks that "It's 'UC Davis'. You spell that 'U', 'C', space, then 'Davis'. There are no hyphens, there are no periods." In fact, I tell them, we're anti-hyphen and periods aren't far behind.

For that instance and for that game, it's solved. Then we start over again the next week. More ants to kill.

I hope someday our name carries the same recognition of, say, UCLA. Do you think anyone calls it "UC-Los Angeles" or "Cal-Los Angeles"? Some people have never even heard of our campus but gain some familiarity when I say we're in the same university system as UCLA.

My favorite memory on this topic occured at the 1997 NCAA Div. II Women's Basketball Elite Eight in Fargo, N.D. as I peered at the scoreboard long before tipoff and saw "Cal-Davis" in digital lights.

ME: "Umm, excuse me. But can I get that name fixed on the scoreboard so that it says 'UC Davis.' 'Cal-Davis' is incorrect and we're kind of pretentious about our name."


Upon returning to the floor a few minutes later, I see "U.C.-Davis".

ME: "Umm, I'm sorry to be a pest, but it's still not right. It's just 'UC Davis'. No hyphens, no periods."

WMSO: "Ah geez. Gotcha. I'm really sorry. I'll get right on that."

A quick visit to the media room and back out to the floor to see 'U C Davis' now glaring down at me.

ME: "Excuse me. Again, I really, really hate to bother you but it's still not exactly correct. You see, it's just 'U', 'C' with no space between them but then a space before 'Davis' "

WMSO: "Oh wow. I really apologize. Let me fix it again."

The third time was the charm because the problem was solved after that. At least for that instance and for that game. 

We're still on patrol and still see bad references plenty of times. When we play out of state, a quick walk through a pressbox talking to radio and tv announcers, a mention in our game notes, and a few emails to the host school has really helped reduce the instances. 

It's going to happen and I'm sure you see it. Most times we notice it too and if we do, rest assured we're on it. It'll just keep on coming. 

There's always ants to be dealt with.

- Mike Robles, Assistant Athletics Director

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday In The... Office?

Ryan Burns, the assistant athletics communications director at UC Davis and my officemate, works tirelessly in the desk to my left. Now that football season has begun, Ryan will likely be on the job on most Saturdays and Sundays for the next 11-plus weeks, but this is more activity than usual. With the 2011 opener taking place on a Thursday, today is effectively a Monday in the weekly routine leading up to a game. If he gets too disoriented with this odd schedule, Ryan will mistakenly set his DVR to record Modern Family on Monday, thinking it's Wednesday.

What am I doing here? UC Davis volleyball won its morning match against UNLV (3-0 sweep) and takes on tournament host Northern Colorado this evening, so I figured I would use the time between to play catch-up in the office. Consider this post a break from the usual routine of pecking away at media guides in order to furnish some loose thoughts from the Aggie backstage.

* * * * *

Steve Megargee of wrote a nice article on first-year men's basketball coach Jim Les, focusing on the experience of coaching his son Tyler. Given that Jim played seven years in the NBA and enjoyed coaching success at the professional and D-I collegiate levels, someone asked me if Tyler Les is the Aggie with the most famous father in school history. I don't think Tyler is the Aggie basketball player with the most famous father in the last decade: Justin Stearns (2000-05) is the son of John Stearns, a four-time MLB All-Star.

So who gets that title? Of all the men and women who have played an intercollegiate sport at UC Davis, who has the most famous parent?

I have to give that nod to UC Davis football alum Bob Warren. His father was Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the previous governor of California. Bob enrolled at UC Davis in 1954, months after his dad handed down the unanimous decision in a case called Brown vs. Board Of Education. Bob continues to volunteer on the "chain gang" at Aggie football games. With that DNA, I assume he doesn't get many disputes. I also can't imagine I'll get many for this choice, either.

* * * * *

As of this Saturday afternoon, the outer bands of Hurricane Irene have clipped the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Of course, I offer my well wishes for safety to those living in those areas, and the states to the north that continue to brace themselves.

In terms of an Aggie connection, I'm curious to see if the field hockey team bangs its trip (or parts of it) to New England this upcoming week. UC Davis is slated to face Providence (Monday), Holy Cross (Wednesday) and Bryant (Friday). According to the NOAA website, Irene will be over the Gulf of St. Lawrence by Monday, but already the system has grounded more than 1,000 flights this weekend. Keep your eyes posted on the UC Davis site for updates as the weather affects the Aggies' travel plans.

Update 9 p.m. on August 27: indeed, the field hockey trip has been postponed, with new games, dates and times to be announced shortly. So again, keep an eye on the team's home page here.

* * * * *

Women's soccer launches the 2011-12 Causeway Cup race with Sunday's game against the Hornets (1 p.m. at Aggie Soccer Stadium). The full schedule and scoreboard for the eighth-annual UC Davis-Sac State competition will not go up for a while as teams continue to iron out their schedules. However, we do know many of the matchups for the remainder of this calendar year (with sites in parentheses). At the very least, mark your calendars -- or your PDA equivalent -- with the following:

Aug. 28 - Women's Soccer (Davis)
Sept. 13 - Women's Volleyball (Sacramento)
Sept. 23 - Men's Soccer (Davis)
Sept. 24 - Men's/Women's Cross Country (Stanford)
Nov. 19 - Football (Sacramento)
Nov. 22 - Men's Basketball (Davis)
Dec. 4 - Women's Basketball (Davis)

* * * * *

Finally, two heartfelt albeit belated congratulations to recent Aggie basketball star Mark Payne. The two-time All-Big West Conference honoree signed a professional contract with CB Granada, a member of Adecco Oro of the Liga Española de Baloncesto. Payne posted the good news on his Facebook wall about a week ago, but in my profession, we generally look for official statements before saying anything. A headline reading "Mark Payne se une al proyecto del CB Granada" on the team's website solidified it for me.

Two congrats, you ask?

Yes, Payne's signing with pro ball came less than a month after his engagement to volleyball standout Melanie Adams. As I've said elsewhere, I had no interest in the Royal Wedding last spring, but I would watch every minute of this one if it ever were to take the airwaves -- Mark and Mel truly are two of my all-time favorite Aggies.

Yeah, yeah... I'm generally a junkie for knowing the stats and school records around here. But in the end, I'm all about the rings.

- Mark Honbo, Assistant Athletics Communications Director

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

 A potpourri of activity from throughout UC Davis Athletics:

• Creative fun, some good-natured men's soccer players and Aggie Stadium were the ingredients Monday for making a promo video for the team. We can't divulge what was produced quite yet - it should debut on the and our YouTube channel later Tuesday - but suffice to say we had a lot of fun pretending to be actors and directors. I mean, at one point I even had to do a double-take when Assistant Athletics Communications Director Mark Honbo - our sound man whose sound we didn't end up needing - said "Give me a 'roll sound' before you start." Roll sound? I wasn't even yelling "Action!" half the time, instead opting for a rather subdued "Go." Now, if he had said "Roll Tide" I would've had a better chance of understanding him.

The players (Tommy Sirgusa, Alex Henry, Ethan Shawlee, Dan Reese, Lance Patterson) were great and special thanks to Asst. A.D. Scott Brayton for stepping in after one of our "stars" was a no-show for non-contractual reasons. Hopefully the video will bring some attention to the men's program which has an early-season showdown with No. 2 UCLA on Sept. 4 at Aggie Soccer Field.

If you go, tell 'em the video sent you.

BTW, we're working on more videos for other teams. Those of us in the business refer to it as "pre-production.".... or maybe it's "Roll Tide."

• With cross country and men's water polo reporting for practice over the past few days, we now have eight of our 23 teams up and running. Hickey Gym has gone from "library-quiet" to "where did all the primo parking go?" in just a matter of a few weeks. But it's a good thing because it means the 2011-12 year is underway and lots of chances to get out and support the Aggies.

One way you can do that is through desktop wallpaper for your computer. Just go here on the athletics website and download background wallpaper for Aggie football, field hockey, volleyball, men's soccer and women's soccer. We'll be adding more sports as they get produced. 

• For those of you old enough to remember (and maybe I'm just talking to myself here), do you recall having to wait until the 'late local news' to get your scores? Or the morning paper? Nowadays, it almost seems impossible not to be able to follow every game on some sort of smart phone or computer, or at least get the score from some social media outlet within minutes after it's over.

We try and do the same for Aggie fans. Once again, we'll have live stats for many home games throughout the year, post stat links when they're available for road contests, and have live audio and live video as much as we can.

And we want to make sure you have all the scores as soon as possible. If you'd like to receive an email or text for any Aggie score (you can choose which sports you want or pick 'em all), then we invite you to use e-Score. As soon as we get the score, you'll get the score - wherever you are. The score will also find its way to our Twitter feed and, of course, we'll have a recap on our website just as soon as possible after that.

Whatever method you choose, rest assured you'll know the score!

• "Being grateful" was theme for the football team last week when it visited Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento. The Aggies make a trip to the hospital during preseason camp each year, interacting with patients and their families. Sometimes it's hard to tell who's having more fun, the players or the kids. 

Either way, the Aggies come away with an appreciation for all that they have but, more importantly, are glad they are able to spread some cheer to some very deserving kids. 

Assistant Athletics Communications Director Ryan Burns joined the team on Aug. 16 and put together a wonderful recap you can watch on our All-AGcess or YouTube sites.

- Mike Robles, Assistant Athletics Director