Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your Computer Monitor is a Crystal Ball

Throughout the last few weeks, numerous posts about Isaiah Walton, UC Davis men's basketball's newest member, have appeared at As someone who follows Aggie basketball on a daily basis as its sports information contact, I am excited to see him in person once he graces Hamilton Court next year.

Especially if he makes plays like the one you are about to watch.

For now, Elyria High School's leading scorer, and one of the top guards in Ohio, continues to turn heads every time he steps on the floor.

To see Walton's latest awe-inspiring play, click here; while you are at it, select Walton's play as the best of the week ending Dec. 24, as the senior guard is one of five players vying for this weekly title. Our votes decide the winner, show your #AggiePride by taking two minutes out of your day to show some love to Isaiah Walton.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, debated whether he should include a hashtag in a blog post during an internal dialogue with himself while changing his one-year-old's diaper. Share your thoughts about the need for hashtags in a blog post, or lack thereof, in the comment section below. Either way, click the link and vote for Walton - that dunk was (as the kids say nowadays) sick.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Great Way to Enter the Break

This past week was a successful one for UC Davis men's basketball as members of the program experienced two victories in as many days.

On Saturday, the Aggies recorded an impressive 80-74 home victory, one that saw the team dominate the Air Force Falcons on each end of the court. Even though UC Davis trailed by four at the half, the team scored five of the final seven points scored before the break and continued its 15-4 scoring run throughout the initial minutes of the second half to take the lead for good.

Besides finishing with a 32-6 advantage in bench scoring, and recording all 15 fast break points earned by either team, UC Davis also scored 28 points off 15 Air Force turnovers to enter its holiday break on a positive note. 

Just over 24 hours later, another Aggie guided his team to victory, albeit from three time zones away. 

Responsible for his team's first 10 points, senior guard Isaiah Walton (a UC Davis NLI signee) scored Elyria High School's first 10 points, and finished with a team-high 29, to help the Pioneers capture a victory in their first appearance at the 10th-annual Steve Smith WQKT Holiday Hoops Classic at the College of Wooster.

By virtue of its 59-51 come-from-behind victory, Elyria handed Berlin Hiland its first loss of the season.

Click here to read the Tim Gebhardt's (The Chronicle-Telegram) recap of Elyria's latest victory and his take on Walton's performance.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, hopes everyone has an enjoyable holiday break with their family, friends and loved ones. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Big-time stage awaits Aggies at UConn

UConn's women's basketball game notes list only four probable starters for Thursday's matchup against UC Davis. Sure, eight national championships, 14 trips to the NCAA Final Four and victory margins the size of the Grand Canyon would give any team a lot of confidence. But playing with just four players? Isn't that a bit cocky?

I'm sure Aggie coach Jennifer Gross would think so. And then she'd probably tell UConn coach Geno Auriemma "thanks and we'll take it."

Former head coach Jorja Hoehn and current coach Jennifer
Grosswere part of one of the most successful eras of Aggie

A 40-minute power play isn't probably going to happen but Gross knows that while Thursday's game against the Huskies is a daunting task, it's also an an enormous opportunity. The Huskies have already beaten teams this season by 46, 55 and 58 points but a laundry list of schools would love to have the chance UC Davis has been handed.

The game, cemented by the head coaches while on the recruiting trail, is a prelude to next year's visit to The Pavilion by the Huskies - undoubtedly destined to be a sellout.

But first things first. If anything, UC Davis is catching UConn at the right time, if such a time exists Injuries have sidelined one of their four players on the watch list for national player of the year honors. Only seven scholarship players will suit up against the Aggies. 

But so far nothing has slowed the defending national champion and top-ranked Huskies this season. They're off to a 9-0 start and have beaten three ranked teams by at least 17 points each, including then No.1 Stanford by a 76-57 score, the same Cardinal team that beat UC Davis 66-48 in November.

But don't feel sorry for the Aggies and the lion's den they're walking into. Gross said the team is excited to play on the stage of the most dominant women's program over the past 20 years.

"These opportunities are fun because we get to challenge ourselves but they're also great because they're chances to do something special, and we're always looking at opportunities to give our players a chance to do something special," she said.

For those of us that have been around the Aggies' program for a long time - in my case, nearly 20 years - it's hard to fathom that when UConn won the first in their shopping cart full  of NCAA titles in 1995, UC Davis a was non-scholarship Div. II program playing conference foes the like of Notre Dame de Namur, Cal State Stanislaus and Cal State East Bay. In a way, the Aggies were the "UConn" of Div. II basketball on the west coach, beating teams by 50 points or more.

In fact, Gross was a star do-everything guard on UC Davis' teams between 1994-97, helping the team win 101 games. Looking back at the program then and then seeing how it plays the marquee name in the sport on Thursday brings her amazing perspective.

"When you think about it like that, it's pretty amazing to think how far we've come," she said. "It speaks volumes to this athletic department and how quickly we've been able to move things forward. I think our school has something so special to sell."

Of course, UC Davis has enjoyed its moments on its way to where it is now. It made Aggie history in 2011 when the Aggies won the Big West Championship and went to the NCAA Tournament in just their fourth year of Div. I. They've been to repeated WNIT postseason events and certainly haven't shied away from tough scheduling. Eleven ranked opponents since 2007 - including seven games against powerhouse Stanford - are evidence of that.

Oregon and Cal are the only other teams besides UC Davis that will face both UConn and Stanford during the 2013-14 regular season. 

If anything, facing Stanford so many times and having one player - Iowa State transfer Kelsey Harris - who went up against arguably the best women's collegiate player in Baylor's Brittany Grier, gives the team a shot of level-headed confidence.

"When we announced to our team that we were playing UConn, there wasn't one person in the room that had a look of nervousness or anxiety," Gross said. "Everybody stood up and cheered, 'let's go, let's do this.'"

The game will be played at the XL Center in Hartford and a crowd of several thousand diehard Husky fans will be waiting for the Aggies. Gross hasn't allowed herself to think too much about what will be going through her mind at the moment of tipoff or when she glances down the sideline and realizes she'll be matching strategies against legendary coach Geno Auriemma. 

"I think when I walk in there it'll hit me a little more," she said. "Right now, the emphasis is on getting our team ready to compete because that's what we can do. We're putting our team in a position where we get to show what we've got.

"We know if we bring less than 100 percent it's not going to be pretty," Gross added. "If we bring 100 percent, where do we measure up? That's our focus, making sure that we're going to run our offense beautifully. We're going to have confidence and step up and hit shots. We're going to be really, really alert and focused defensively and we're going to battle. Our coaches really want to see that effort."

And while no coach ever looks ahead to a future opponent - well, at least none of them ever admit to it - Gross makes no secret that she's fired up for next year's November visit by UConn. The Huskies make a trip out to play Stanford every other year and try to pick up another game beforehand. Pacific hosted them in 2010 and Oregon welcomed them last year.

Gross knows exactly what she wants to see on Hamilton Court in 2014.

"When I walked into The Pavilion for the men's game against Long Beach State (on ESPN 2 last season), the first thing that popped into my head was 'I think we can do this for UConn. I think we can get this environment,' " she said. "It was one of the most fun, electric environments that I've ever been a part of in a basketball arena.

"For our players to have an opportunity to play in that environment when it's a homecourt advantage, is something extremely special. It's something that most collegiate women's basketball players don't get to experience."

Thursday is another step in that experience.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director, communications at UC Davis and remembers some of those routs during the Div. II era, specifically one of them that had a 55-5 halftime score. When the other team was late coming back onto the court for the second half, Robles believed a staffer that said, "they left and went home." He later bought swamp land in Florida. He also reminds fans that the game will be available to watch online at or through the SNY Network. Robles will be watching the TV broadcast in his office and has seating for four (snacks not included).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Future Aggie Enjoys Strong Start to Season

Recent men's basketball NLI signee Isaiah Walton's final season at Elyria High School (Elyria, Ohio) began in an odd way when a fire alarm was triggered shortly before tipoff. Even though the game was delayed by more than 30 minutes when everyone in attendance was forced to evacuate the gym, Walton still dominated his team's season-opener once action began and led his team to a 71-59 victory.

Was the alarm a method of mentally distracting Walton and his teammates, or a prophetic sign of things to come? Either way, of the game-high 24 points scored by the newest member of UC Davis men's basketball, nine were earned during Elyria's 10-0, fourth quarter scoring run to push his team's lead to 17 with just a few minutes remaining.

Games like this highlight why the men's basketball coaching staff is excited to have Walton join their program next fall. Discover what they already know by following Walton's progress throughout his final year at Elyria through the eyes of two local reporters; included below are recaps from the Chronicle-Telegram's Tim Gebhardt and the Morning Journal's Paul Barney regarding Walton influence in helping his team secure a victory in its inaugural game of the season.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, once thought about tripping a fire alarm to postpone a chemistry test he was not prepared to take during his junior year in high school. Thanks to the blessing known as extra credit (thanks Mr. Falk!), he ended up earning an 'A' that quarter even though his results on that exam were slightly less than average.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

After the Final Whistle

As was the case as an undergraduate when given a chance to compete for UC Davis women’s soccer, Aggie alumna Stephanie Winkenweder continues to maximize every opportunity earned. Recently, the former defender returned from her overseas internship with Sports Camp of America (SCOA), Japan.

By providing Japanese children an opportunity to immerse themselves in an American camp experience, the only camp of its kind in the country, SCOA provides a unique cultural experience for both campers, and counselors each year.

Directed in English, the core principle of “teamwork” was integrated in all organized activities throughout the four camping sessions that ranged from two to three days.

At the start of each session, each counselor was assigned four or five campers; the group was then responsible to create a team name, chant, and banner. Throughout each camp, there were various competitions in which each team had a chance to win points with a champion crowned at the end of each session. In addition to head-to-head competitions between groups that included a water balloon toss, potato sack race, treasure hunt, limbo, cup stacking, soccer shootout, football and Frisbee throw, each team was required to create a skit in English for a camp-wide talent show.

In an effort to encourage all campers to participate in show, everyone was required to speak at least one phrase during their group’s performance.

“As head counselor, it was my duty to make announcements, organize and help create teams, direct games and activities, instruct soccer, maintain awareness of the needs of campers and counselors, communicate logistics to other counselors, manage the daily schedule, organize and prepare for activities, make sure everything is running on time, announce awards at the end of camp, and, most importantly, make sure all of the campers are safe and having a good time,” explained Winkenweder.

In addition to numerous group competitions, traditional camp activities also took place throughout each session. Campers and counselors spent time with one another playing card games, board games, working on various projects during blocks of time devoted to arts and crafts and participated in aquatic activities.

Everyone also enjoyed an American barbecue, sang songs around a campfire and partook in an important, and time-honored tradition — making and (more importantly) eating s’mores.

Said Winkenweder, “There was no dull moment in this camp, and it was not impossible to communicate with someone who didn’t speak English. It took time, heart, and patience; whenever I felt like I communicated effectively with the kids, I was filled with joy.”

Comprised of college students and recent graduates, senior camp counselors who played sports, or participated in cheerleading at the high school or college level were encouraged to visit and apply for a summer internship.

In addition to Winkenweder, students and alums from UC Berkeley, Louisiana State University and Chico State were also invited to participate in this year’s slate of camps.

“Not only were many of the Japanese kids inspired to learn about our culture and language, I was equally inspired to learn theirs,” said Winkenweder.

The Japan Flag Football Organization, Japan Cheerdance Association, the U.S. Embassy in Japan and All Nippon Airlines supported SCOA and in its eighth-annual endeavor this year. 

-Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, wishes an opportunity like this existed when he was an undergraduate student in the late 90's and will encourage his one-year-old son to participate in programs like this one when he attends college. Since experience in college sports is required for the SCOA position, Eric's fingers are crossed that his son inherited his wife's athletic prowess and not his own.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Legend Comes Home

The UC Davis men's water polo team reported for the fall late last week, continuing a tough summer of workouts under new head coach Daniel Leyson (the Aggies may practice on a more limited basis prior to the reporting date). As of the start of this post, the players jumped into the waters of Schaal Aquatics Center for their 10th practice since Thursday. Oh the joys of double days.

Leyson, as Mike Robles summarized in the official May 22 announcement, brings enormous credentials as a coach and a player. He also brought with him one of the true legends of the sport, and a former Aggie: Dante Dettamanti, who has returned to his alma mater to serve as a volunteer assistant on Leyson's staff.

A two-sport All-Far Western Conference performer at UC Davis in the 1960s, Dettamanti enjoyed an outstanding 25-year career at the helm of the Stanford men's water polo program, plus successful stints at Occidental and UC Santa Barbara. His overall coaching record: 666-209-6. At the Farm, he went 570-148-6, guiding the Cardinal to eight NCAA titles (plus six second-place finishes) and garnering six national Coach of the Year awards.

That's right. Eight NCAA titles.

For a little reference, that matches the total won by Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. UConn's Geno Auriemma, who goes home-and-home with our own Aggie women's hoopsters during the next two years, has seven. Skip Bertman and Augie Garrido each have claimed five championships on the College World Series stage. (For what it's worth, John Wooden took home 10. North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance has 21, which means he has run out of fingers and toes for all those rings.) 

The new Aggie MWP braintrust: Leyson, Dettamanti and assistant coach Kevin Peat.

Dettamanti graduated from the then-new UC Davis College of Engineering back in 1965. His return to the campus also reunites him (if somewhat indirectly) with one of his former greats, Stanford goalkeeper and three-time All-American Larry Bercutt, who now serves as a volunteer assistant for the women's water polo team. Dettamanti has emerged from his retirement several times since his last year at Stanford, including stints at Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton.

His arrival also means UC Davis has two members of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame patrolling the Schaal deck. Dettamanti entered the Hall in 2002, eight years before women's coach Jamey Wright followed suit.

Getting to chitchat with Dante for even a brief moment was a genuine treat for me, as he has long ranked among my list of prominent Aggie athletics alumni. For the current players who will get to learn from him, I can only assume the privilege is even greater.

Anyway, welcome home, Coach.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, has seen a few notables serve as volunteer assistants in his time with the department. Not long after finishing his NFL career, Ken O'Brien returned to his old stomping grounds to help Coach Biggs in the mid-1990s. Former Cal track & field coach Erv Hunt served for four years under the Vochatzers, meaning UC Davis had both head coaches from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Speaking of the '96 games, Michele Granger was roughly a year removed from having won the gold medal contest at that Olympiad when she called the UC Davis softball office. So great was her name in the softball world that the Aggie staff first thought it was a prank call.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's A Small World

Even though field hockey assistant coaches Mary Kathryn Nielsen and Whit Ryan were hired just a handful of weeks before the start of the season, the two will have no problem working with one another and interim head coach Austin Pile.

“Whit remembers attending a tournament in Vancouver, Canada, where I participated as a member of a club team,” said Nielsen.

“I remember her playing because she stood out amongst all the players, especially her teammates,” recalls Ryan.

In addition to coaching goalkeepers at the club, high school and collegiate level during his time in Colorado, Ryan also served as an official at various field hockey tournaments and games. To prevent a conflict of interest, Ryan has focused his efforts throughout the last five years on sharpening his skills as a field hockey referee and makes every attempt to remove himself from officiating any game involving his club team and/or players.

“For tournaments like that one in Canada, teams will provide at least one coach each to participate as an umpire,” added Ryan.

In that event, it was Ryan that naturally stepped up to officiate as many games as needed; one of those events featured a now familiar face.

“I remember him as a referee for one of those tournament games that involved my club team,” said Nielsen.

When pressed for an assessment of each other’s performance in that game, the details provided by either Nielsen, or Ryan were vague, at best. However, the recent graduate from Duke, via British Columbia, and the player/coach/official from Colorado, with a stop in Europe in-between, recalled that event as a positive experience and proceeded to swap stories for the next 5-10 minutes in an interview that took place before the program held its inaugural fall practice.

Their next shared experience is scheduled to start on Aug. 30 when the Aggies face Missouri State, in their season opener, at Aggie Stadium.

Eric Bankston is Assistant Director, Athletics Communications and is looking forward to his first season with the field hockey program. He's particularly excited for his first penalty corners, easily one of the most exciting plays in sports. Come out to a game and you'll understand why.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Aggie In The NBA

No, I am not referring to Preston Neumayr, who remains the lone Aggie drafted by an NBA team (8th round, Kansas City Kings, 1983). Nor is this about Dominic Calegari or Joe Harden, who were drafted by the D-League in 2011. I'm also not talking about Corey Hawkins, although I expect to revisit that conversation in a couple of years.

In this case, I refer to one Moira Niesman, an alumnua of our own UC Davis Dance Team, who looks for her second year on the Sacramento Kings Dancers. In fact, she is one of two from her Dance Team senior class to make the pros -- Gigi Ross made the Oakland Raiderettes squad last year.

The SKD puts its finalists up for public vote via Facebook. You can cast a vote on a daily basis here:

UC Davis dance team alum Moira Niesman in an publicity shot. (Photographer unknown)

Years ago, I was quoted in the California Aggie saying we had NBA-quality dancers in our Dance Team. It actually came from a random phone conversation with one of their writers. Next thing I knew, I saw my name in the paper, invoking our lesson to the student-athletes that nothing is truly "off the record" when talking to a reporter. Fortunately, I meant it then and I stand by it now. Looks like I knew of what I spoke.

Anyway, I always hear Kings fans grouse about who their team picks. Aggie Nation, give 'em some help... vote, vote, vote.

-Mark Honbo, athletics communications assistant director, can't dance at all. But he always roots for those who can.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Update: Red, White and Aggie Blue

The UC Davis campus remains in its quiet summer mode while most student-athletes continue in their offseason mode (if they're not traveling the world). However, a handful of Aggies continue to wear the colors at this time of year, even if they're not the usual blue and gold.

For starters, almost the entire baseball team (or so it seems) has taken to the various summer wood-bat leagues around the country. Joe Waltasti assembled a handy online headquarters on the main website to track those guys:

This supplements another cool Waltasti-penned page summarizing bios, stats and Twitter accounts for the various Aggie baseball players in the professional leagues: Note: this hereby counts as my obligatory Daniel Descalso update.

Assistant track and cross country coach Kim Conley continues to achieve on the world stage as she prepares for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. She posted a monster personal record of 8:47.95 in the 3,000-meter race at the Sainsbury's Anniversary Games last weekend, competing alongside two-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury and her fellow London 5K qualifier Molly Huddle.

Although her TRACKimmy blog has gone dormant for a year, Conley posts regular updates of her training on her Twitter (@KimConley). If nothing else, she reveals which recent Aggie trackster has turned pro as a member of Oiselle's Haute Volée team.

Davis High/UC Davis alum Tyler Raber claimed another tournament win on the amateur circuit with his victory at the Pacific Coast Amateur. He had captured the Silicon Valley Amateur in January, following a victory at the 2012 Trans-Mississippi event. Raber gave chase in defending his Trans-Miss title earlier this month, overcoming a relatively slow start by firing a 66 in the final round to finish in a tie for 18th.

Finally, UC Davis had not one, but two water polo representatives at the 19th Maccabiah Games, a competition for Jewish athletes. 2009 All-American Dakotah Sturla (formerly Mohr), who previously starred in Davis High's royal blue and UC Davis' Yale blue, returned to the tank to help captain the USA team past host Israel, 14-6, in the gold medal game. This completed an American sweep, as Mike Millstein and the men's team also defeated Israel, 9-3, to end a 12-year drought for the gold medal. So a hearty mazel tov to both of them.

(Photo credit: Stanford Schwimer)

That's about it for now. As we head into August, keep an eye out both on TOTB and the main site for featured content, perhaps most notably the new Jabari's Corner. Hopefully, we'll get volleyball player Holland Seymour to contribute more guest blogs. Also, swimmer Sarah Luibel and high jumper Mo Spikes look to join forces with AGTV in creating some video content in 2013-14. We'll keep you posted on what happens on that front and, of course, we'll crosslink their work on our site.
Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, has roughly a week left in his summer. The Aggie fall teams begin reporting next week, starting with women's soccer.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Welcome to Jabari's Corner

August 4 is circled with a big red pen on the calendars of 90 Aggie football players since that's the day they report back to campus for the start of fall camp. The countdown to the Aug. 31 opener at South Dakota is well underway but probably moving a little bit faster than new coach Ron Gould prefers.

For 15 Aggie, fall camp is nothing new since for most of them, it's their fifth time having nearly their entire days scripted from dawn to deep into the night. Pre-practice tapings, meetings, practice, meals, maybe another practice, more meetings, team activities. It's all a part of the routine they'll focus on for nearly four weeks.

The wrinkle, of course, is a new head coach. The players got a preview of him during spring practice but, as I'm sure Coach Gould would say, they haven't seen anything yet.

Those 15 players comprise the Aggies' senior class and over the next couple of weeks, you'll get a chance to learn a little about each one courtesy of Jabari Howard.

That's right, welcome to "Jabari's Corner."
Jabari Howard

Jabari is a junior cornerback for UC Davis (see what we did there? Cornerback? Jabari's Corner?) and he's sitting down with the seniors as they get set for the beginning of practice and doing a brief Q&A with each of them. What is one thing about them that no one else knows? How would they describe Coach Gould in one word? (my personal favorite question)

Jabari is a communication major from Valencia who came to our office and said he wanted to put into practice what he's studying. A little bit of brainstorming ensued and out of it came "Jabari's Corner."

It'll begin with the senior introductions - the first one will be posted at on Friday - and will also likely include blogs with Jabari's experiences during preseason camp and other interesting items as well.

His enthusiasm for his current project is great and so is his motivation.

"These are my brothers and my best friends," he said. "I want to send them out the right way and let people get to know them, support them and send them out on a high note."

Well said. 

It's almost time for football ---- here we go!



The annual Big Sky Kickoff - a combination of meetings and media interviews with the conference's players and coaches - took place in scenic Park City, Utah, last week. While the area is a winter's playground for skiers and snowboarders, it's an outdoor person's dream this time of year. Beautiful.

I was fortunate to travel with senior Jimmy Kunkel who had to endure my stories of "I remember when....." while I got a chance to learn about how he grew up along the base of Mt. Shasta and how Park City reminded him a lot of home. I learned how Jimmy loves kid's movies, how he once had a dog that he swears was part wolf, and that he's striving for a career where he can work with and be a mentor towards youth. He wants to provide them with the same encouragement those around him - mainly his high school football coach - passed along.

In other words, it was interesting and fun, even if was decidely uncool for Jimmy to be seen with the sports information director.

Each of the 13 schools brought a player but none of them had Jimmy Kunkel who was very popular among the assembled media, mainly because in a room filled with All-America quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and defensive players, he was the only lineman.  He and I joked about how their bios took up nearly a full page while his said" "Started all 11 games at right guard."

Such is the life of a lineman.

Jimmy represented UC Davis very well. He said one of the biggest surprises came with how easily he made friends with the other players, particularly linebacker Todd Davis of Sacramento State and defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz of Cal Poly,two guys from the Aggies' two biggest rivals.
Jimmy Kunkel and Cal Poly's
Sullivan Grosz

Jimmy said it'll be nice to battle them on hard on the field and then be able to shake their hand after the game knowing they shared a unique experience.

The players ate a few meals together and hung out with each other when not answering media questions. Most of them also played in the Big Sky Kickoff Golf Tournament at nearby Soldier's Hollow Golf Course. Jimmy's golf experience consisted of three rounds but that didn't hold him back from teeing it up, even if a five-wood became a broken victim of his swing during the day.

Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias and Southern Utah wide receiver Fatu Moala were in my foursome and were a lot of fun to play with. Justin swung for the fences off every tee and usually found the fence even if it was far off to the right. But he could crush the ball something fierce. Fatu had never picked up a club in his life but still managed to put a shot four-feet from the pin on a par-3. Athletes.

As for me, well, I was minus-5. Yep, I found five less balls than I lost.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director and a lousy golfer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A New Look for

Every so often you have to move the couch and the TV to different places in the family room, if for no other reason than to give the room a fresh look. When it comes to, well, we've done just that.

If you haven't been over to the athletics website lately, then take a minute and give it a look. We hope you like what you see. That's because for the past few months we've been moving around the furniture, bringing a few new pieces in and giving our "room" a new look. Thanks to our partners at CBS Collegiate Sports, the website launched earlier today.

We think it's got a cleaner and crisper look. We've added better accessibility for our social media efforts, made it easier for fans to navigate to our 23 teams' homepages, rosters, news, schedules and social media. We've improved the schedule on our main page to give us better opportunities to post links to results, live audio and live video. 

The new website
With the re-launch, we plan to build on some of the bells and whistles you see. We're putting more emphasis on social media, plan to incorporate more multimedia and enhance all the other areas you've come to rely on for the latest in UC Davis Aggies news.

From a practical standpoint, those of us in the athletics communications office are happy for some not-so-apparent reasons. One of the big ones involves the main photos on each page. The "old" website had a built-in gradient on the left side which meant we had to post photos that were oriented more on the right. That chore is gone.

Overall we're happy with the site and hope you are too. We've been partners with CBS College Sports for more than a decade. CBS manages websites for many of the major athletics programs in the country such as those at USC, UCLA, Stanford and others. We like that association.

We're still tinkering with things and will undoubtedly be fine-tuning areas as we see them. The process began in early March with a conference call between our office, our designers and the CBS design crew. Mockups followed a few weeks later and then it became a process of exchanging ideas, changes, etc. We signed off on the final design a few weeks ago and since then CBS has been building the site with today's launch date as the deadline. We've spent most of today making last-minute adjustments. 

We're not done yet but we hope you like what you see right now.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director for athletics communications. Thank you to his staff of Mark Honbo, Eric Bankston and Joe Waltasti for their help in the redesign. Big thanks to designer extraordinare Cameron Hughes from UC Davis Athletics and also Scott Brayton, assistant athletics director for marketing and promotions. Many thanks to all the great folks at CBS College Sports as well.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Aggie Idol: View from a Performer

By Holland Seymour
UC Davis Women's Volleyball

If you happened to walk past the Memorial Union (MU) around 7:30 p.m. on May 15, you may have noticed groups of people nervously practicing a dance or song outside of Freeborn Hall.  Despite how well they danced or how well they could sing, these people were not professionals!  They were UC Davis varsity student-athletes who had practiced their acts for weeks all for the long-awaited Aggie Idol! 

Holland Seymour
For those of you who have never heard of Aggie Idol, it is a charity event in which UC Davis student-athletes perform various talents. This year, Team Davis received the proceeds.  According to its website, "Team Davis is an all volunteer, non-profit organization established to help enrich the lives of children and adults with developmental, cognitive and/or physical disabilities living in or close to Davis, California.  They sponsor athletic, social, cultural and recreational activities that help build physical skills, a sense of camaraderie, and a more fully integrated connection with the Davis community for our participants and their families and support staff."  If you want to get involved, you can visit its website at:  After watching them perform at Aggie Idol, I would love to get to know every single one of them.

Aggie Idol is not a small-scale talent show. All bias aside (I was one of the performers this year), it is no wonder we are able to raise so much because the talents of the Aggie athletes run far and wide!  Said the California Aggie in 2011, “Student-athletes of UC Davis want to make one thing clear: their talents aren’t restricted to the field.”

On attending the show, one could immediately disprove the “dumb jock” theory.  Of the 18 acts, every single one included an element of creativity and talent. The rápido conversación of Ramon Del Campo (soccer) drove us to laughter.  The beautiful playing of the violin by Bridget Bugbee (swimming & diving) gave us chills.  The soft ukulele played by Clint Bozner (basketball) made us feel as if we were on the island of Hawaii sitting on the sand.  Each group of Aggies contributed something special to the show.  Michelle Roppeau, our Director of Athletics Academic Advising, said it best in 2011 to the California Aggie:

“High-ability students at UC Davis often have multiple talents, interests and abilities that extend beyond the walls of the classroom, and our student-athletes are no different,” Roppeau said. “It’s easy to recruit performers because we have student-athletes with various talents as well as student-athletes blessed with creativity and a great sense of humor.”
Holland Seymour (far left) performs with her Aggie volleyball teams
at Aggie Idol on May 15.

From the perspective of an Aggie Idol performer, let me tell you, it was quite an experience! As a volleyball player here at UC Davis, my teammates and I decided to join in the fun this year and create an act. Due to the fact that we were all very busy and found it difficult to meet up so we could all practice together, we decided to do something that would be easy to learn on our own.  The idea of combining country line dances to some of Justin Timberlake’s hits was born!  Though we met and practiced the combined dances about four times, we managed to be able to perform it perfectly by the time Aggie Idol came around.  This must have been due to the fact that we practiced on our own everywhere we went!  We practiced in the kitchen, in our rooms, outside, in the middle of practice, and in our dreams.

Of course, no one takes stage fright into account.  Our act was second on the long-awaited night and as we waited backstage and listened to Megan Heneghan’s (tennis) stunning cover of Turning Tables by Adele, we began to get nervous.  Finally, we ran out behind the closed curtain to get into our places.  Nothing creates a more lasting memory than that of freaking out behind the curtain with your teammates!  We were so full of adrenaline and excitement that we could have easily run a few sets of sprints right there on the stage!  Well maybe not that full of adrenaline.

When that curtain opens and you see the crowd full of people, many of them people that you have grown to know and love and who begin to cheer for you, your brain shuts off and your body automatically knows what to do…it’s time to perform!  Almost like serving the first ball in game 1 of a volleyball match.  

When your act is over and you resume your seat, it is such a good feeling knowing that you helped contribute to the show and helped raise funds and support for such a great group of amazing people like those of Team Davis, whose act, by the way, was amazing.  They sang the classic “Hey Jude” by The Beatles accompanied by only a simple and beautiful guitar.  Clearly, they had put a lot of effort into their act and the passion and character that they had as they sang really got the crowd going.  The crowd began to wave their arms and sing along which in turn made the performers on stage sing louder and with more passion!  It was really something. 

All bias aside, Aggie Idol is incredible and each year everyone is always pleasantly surprised by the creativity, talent and passion that goes into each performance.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check it out next year when May rolls around!  Or even better consider joining the show or Team Davis itself!  You definitely won’t regret it!

Holland Seymour is a redshirt freshman on the UC Davis women's volleyball team who enjoys reading, writing and dancing. She and her Aggie teammates hope to take their Aggie Idol act to Broadway -- after volleyball season, that is.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Farm vs. Farm, Redux

Those who chose to skip Thursday night's episode of Community or forgo the Freeborn Hall appearance of electronic music wunderkind Porter Robinson in favor of the UC Davis women's lacrosse season finale against Stanford certainly appreciate their decision.

For the official recap of the game, head to the main athletics website. You can read the basic blow-by-blow here. The shorter version is that the Aggies gave their senior class the ultimate sendoff with a 15-14 overtime upset of 14th-ranked Stanford. The win ended a streak of more than 13 years and 19 Cardinal series victories. The last time UC Davis had beaten Stanford in women's lacrosse was on April 2, 2000.

For some context, among the events in April 2000 was the custody battle for Elian Gonzalez, the opening of AT&T Park and Metallica's lawsuit against Napster.

It also continued what has become an interesting matchup against Stanford across all of our sports. I'd argue that a victory over the Cardinal feels more satisfying than one over our "official" rival Sacramento State. Part of it is Stanford's relative stature: it's an exemplary athletics department who fields successful teams while maintaining the highest academic standards (perhaps to their own detriment at time). Their coaches still teach P.E. classes, just like ours. Whether we want to admit it or not, UC Davis looks to Stanford as a role model as it continues to grow its Division I athletics program -- they are what we aspire to be.

Plus, they're just damn good. It's the proverbial David & Goliath story. You know, if David used a yellow ball and a Harrow Sports stick instead of a stone and a sling.

* * * * *

Any Aggie win over the Cardinal harkens back to the 2005-06 school year, when UC Davis defeated Stanford six times in five different sports. For those who need a refresher on that, here's how it went:

MEN'S SOCCER: UC Davis 1, Stanford 0 (Sept. 4) 
Dan Campbell scored the match's lone goal 29 seconds after entering the game for an injury substitution

FOOTBALL: UC Davis 20, Stanford 17 (Sept. 17)
Jon Grant orchestrated an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ended on a three-yard TD strike to Blaise Smith with eight seconds remaining.

MEN'S BASKETBALL: UC Davis 64, Stanford 58 (Dec. 4)
Phil Rasmussen had 18 points and nine rebounds and Kyle Brucculeri hit two key three-pointers to lead the Aggies to their first win of the season in front of a crowd of 5,386.

WRESTLING: UC Davis 38, Stanford 6 (Jan. 27)
In the one sport where UC Davis was arguably the favorite, Aggies won all seven bouts contested, including a third-round pin by 141-pounder Derek Moore. The only Cardinal team points came from an injury forfeit.

BASEBALL: UC Davis 3, Stanford 0 (May 26); UC Davis 8, Stanford 3 (May 27).
Senior Michael Potter fired a three-hit shutout to beat the Cardinal at Sunken Diamond on a Friday night game. The following day, this time at UC Davis' Dobbins Stadium, Vince DeCoito went 8.2 innings and Aaron Hanke launched a three-run shot in the third to lead the Aggies to an 8-3 victory and the team's only series win of the year.

The last time UC Davis beat a ranked Stanford team was a little more than a year ago, when softball sniped a 2-1 win over the then-No. 8 Cardinal. JJ Wagoner hit a one-out triple in the seventh, then freshman Cassie Ginnis knocked in the walk-off RBI single on the next at-bat.

The Aggie softball team nearly took a second upset from Stanford later that year. Justine Vela had a no-hitter going into the fourth when rain halted the game before it could count as an official contest. Trailing 2-0 at the stoppage, the 19th-ranked Cardinal escaped a season sweep a la baseball seven years earlier. Perhaps that tree mascot started frantically doing a rain dance over on Galvez after Kelly Harman hit her two-run homer in the first inning.

* * * * *

But back to lacrosse.

That the upset took place on Senior Night is hardly a coincidence: besides the obvious emotional boost that surrounds such an event, the five seniors all played huge roles in the victory. The win was just as much because of them as it was for them.

#27 Elizabeth Datino: The UC Davis career assist leader and No. 2 all-time scorer did what she does best, she scored goals. Five of them, in fact. Her final goal in a UC Davis uniform was the game-winner with 2.5 seconds left in overtime. Datino is a future Aggie Hall of Famer who scored 149 career goals. None will be more memorable to her than the last one.

#13 Hannah Mirza: The Aggies' all-time leader in draw controls added a team-high five of that stat to her total, bringing it to 170. She also scored the equalizer with less than two minutes in regulation, forcing the overtime; then had the huge ground ball pickup that became an assist to Meghan Jordan to retie the game at 14-14 with a minute left in OT. When Stanford took possession at that point, all the Cardinal had to do was protect the ball and kill the clock. Mirza's hustle gave UC Davis one more chance.

#8 Tess Alekna: Two ground balls and a caused turnover, including one of each on a blocked pass in the second three-minute overtime. She also beat out a couple of Stanford attackers to win the loose ball caused by Mary Doyle's stick check late in regulation. With the Cardinal beginning to click on offense down the stretch, these plays proved to be huge momentum-changers.

#23 Stephanie Guercio: Like Alekna, her contributions did not appear on the boxscore quite like those of her more attack-oriented teammates, although two draw controls and two ground balls marks a solid game any way you look at it. However, she literally infuriated Stanford players with her relentlessly aggressive play. Every sport has a sizable mental aspect. Though it does not show up on the stat sheet, I'd bet no Aggie got into the Cardinal players' heads like my favorite Long Islander.

#6 Anna Geissbuhler: Okay, I'll admit a real soft spot for her finale. A three-year starter and one of the program's career assists leaders, Anna had seen relatively little action as a senior. Nonetheless, she got the start and made the most of it. No, Geissbuhler didn't add to her career offensive totals, but she came up huge in that final minute. After Jordan's goal made it 14-14 with 53 seconds left, whichever team won the next draw would get the lone remaining opportunity to win the game before a sudden-victory period. Lacrosse has no shot clock, meaning a team with possession in its attacking third can take the maximum amount of time to set up for one shot and one shot only.

The ball bounced around like in a pinball machine as both teams battled for that last chance. Geissbuhler came from almost out of nowhere to control the draw, then immediately crossed into the attacking end to allow the Aggies to set up on offense.

Did I say one shot only? Correction: because of Geissbuhler, it was two. Mirza took what should have been the final shot, and missed wide. Like a basketball team crashing the offensive boards, Geissbuhler rounded up the ground ball and delivered to Datino, whose second-chance shot split the pipes for the GW.

When head coach Kate Henwood addressed the players and families at the postgame reception in the Bruce Edwards Club Room, she summed it up by saying, "You can't write a better story." Believe me, I know. As she said this, I was working on the official recap, trying to do it justice while clinging to a "just the facts" level of objectivity. I knew I couldn't do it justice. Even now, with this blog allowing me another crack at it, I still can't do it.

May 1 update: UC Davis softball continued the Farm vs. Farm ’13 run with a 5-4 victory at LaRue Field. This marks three straight victories, all in the final dramatic moments of the contest, for Aggie teams against Stanford in a span of about five weeks. Nick Lynch rapped a two-out RBI single in the ninth to lead UC Davis baseball to a 2-1 victory on March 26, Datino had the game-winner in lacrosse's April 25 season finale, then shortstop Christa Castello delivered a two-run, bases-loaded single to cap a three-run seventh.

Let the mad scramble begin for fall-sports coaches to become the next team to host Stanford. There's some good mojo going, and the streak is still alive.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, serves as the primary contact for five sports: men's water polo, women's volleyball, women's gymnastics, women's lacrosse and women's water polo. His senior classes have included some of the very best UC Davis careers in their respective sports: Allison Whitson finished as volleyball's No. 2 leader in kills, gymnast Katie Yamamura set the school all-around and vault records... twice each, Jessica Dunn and Carmen Eggert rank among water polo's top three all-time scorers, and Riane Woods will finish second in career saves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Who is Ken O'Brien?"

The query above is not a Jeopardy question - at least not to UC Davis football fans - but to former NFL quarterback Dan Marino, it was one of the first things he uttered after finding out that O'Brien, and not himself, was the New York Jets' first-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Marino wasn't a happy camper and there were more than a few groans as well from the Jets faithful who crowded into the New York Sheraton waiting to hear Marino's name as the 24th pick. Marino went to Miami three picks later and I heard had an alright pro career. 

Marino recalls that moment as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" ("From Elway to Marino") documentary series that that looks back at a draft celebrated for its six quarterbacks taken in the first round. It airs at 5 p.m. (Pacific) but check, as they say, your local listings.

It's a class that saw John Elway (Stanford), Todd Blackledge (Penn State), Jim Kelly (Miami), Tony Eason (Illinois), O'Brien, and Marino (Pittsburgh) make history. Super Bowls, Pro Bowls and Hall of Fame careers were spawned on Apr. 26, 1983, and 30 years later, the celebrated draft returns to football fans' consciousness just as this year's NFL Draft takes center stage.

Ken O'Brien - BEFORE
O'Brien enjoyed a three-year UC Davis career (1980-82) that, to that point, was the best in school history. He threw for 6,637 yards, 44 touchdowns and still remains entrenched on six all-time Aggie passing charts. 

His 413 passing yards against Cal State Northridge in 1982 stood as the school record until current Aggie offensive coordinator Kevin Daft broke it (482 vs. New Haven) in 1997. 

O'Brien was a household name throughout the Division II ranks and was certainly on the draft boards of many NFL teams. Elway went with the first pick to the Baltimore Colts and was followed by Blackledge (Chiefs), Jim Kelly (Bills) and Eason (Patriots) before former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped to the podium, and with a wry smile, announced a name that sent many fans scurrying for information.

In fact, one reporter even called him "Ken Davis" before correcting himself twice and calling him "Ken O'Brien". And then there's that matter of Rozelle calling the school "California-Davis".
Ken O'Brien - AFTER

While not wildly known at draft time, O'Brien did go on and stake out a successful NFL run. He threw for more than 25,000 yards during a 10-year career - all but one year with the Jets - tossed for 128 touchdowns and made it to a pair of Pro Bowls in 1985 and 1991. His 96.2 passer rating led the NFL in 1986.

O'Brien currently lives in Manhattan Beach and enjoys a successful real estate career. He's a frequent visitor to campus and alumni gatherings and remains engaged to the Aggie program.

Eason, by the way, also enjoys a UC Davis connection. His brother, Bo, was a defensive back for the Aggies while O'Brien was quarterback and now travels and performs his acclaimed play "Runt of the Litter".

By the way, who is John Elway? 



Maybe it's just me, but I think any time NFL Films contacts someone, one of the following has to happen:

1) The legendary voice of the late John Facenda needs to come on and say, "Hi, this is John Facenda of NFL Films. Please hold for (insert dubbed name here)."


2) There needs to be the unmistakenable music of "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath the call or as an email attachment. (pause and click the link, please) Memories of Facenda narrating Super Bowl highlights with that song in the background is an indelible part of my growing up.

I'm sure I'd get goosebumps before it was my turn to talk. Then I'd probably stand up and run through a wall ready to sack a quarterback.

But, alas, that's not the way it goes. Instead, I was copied on a non-descript email in December as NFL Films looked to interview one "Kenneth O'Brien." We later sent them a photo as well. Just recently, the company got a hold of us again to approve some footage used in Tuesday's "30 for 30" episode looking back at the famed quarterback class of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Maybe I'll record myself reading the email with "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath.



UC Davis Football has a distinguished history from a lot of different angles. Former head coach Jim Sochor is in the College Football Hall of Fame. The program enjoyed nearly 40 consecutive winning seasons. The list of accomplished college coaches who either got their starts with the Aggies or stopped through for more experience is notable on its own.

But while USC may be known as "Tailback U", when it came to Div. II, the Aggies were definitely "Quarterback U".

Kevin Daft
No less than six UC Davis signal-callers were drafted into the NFL during the Aggies' Div. II era, a product of the program's pro-style offense that featured a potent passing attack.

Mike Moroski (Falcons, 1979), Ken O'Brien (Jets, 1983), Scott Barry (San Francisco, 1985), Jeff Bridewell (St. Louis, 1991) Kevin Daft (Tennessee, 1999) and J.T. O'Sullivan (New Orleans, 2002) each heard their names called on draft day.

Khari Jones (1991-93) staked out a prolific and MVP career in the Canadian Football League while Mark Grieb (1994-96) rewrote Arena Football League recordbooks with his impressive play.

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director, Communications and will be looking for a "Photo courtesy of UC Davis Athletics" in the end credits of the "30 for 30" episode.