State of the State of Titan Athletics

With the 2015-16 athletics year now behind us, I thought I’d write another State of the State report for Titan athletics. Please understand that these are my opinions alone. I’m anxious to hear your opinions.

Men's Soccer

There’s no longer any point in discussing previous Men’s Soccer regimes.  They already seem like ancient history.  Coach Kuntz proved that 2014 was no fluke, and added another NCAA tournament appearance in 2015, as well as Big West regular season and tournament championships.

The players are smiling and so am I.  The team plays an exciting, skillful, attacking brand of soccer.  No more of the kick and chase tactics of what is contemptuously known as “Limey Long Ball.”

The turnaround in only two short seasons is nothing less than remarkable.  Coach Kuntz could be eligible for sainthood if he produces two more miracles.  (No card tricks, please).

With our unique soccer-only stadium, and all of the talent available in Southern California, I feel that the sky is the limit for our Men’s program.  The next step is to win a couple of games in the NCAA tourney.  Arriba Titans!!!

Men’s Soccer Grade:  A-

Women’s Soccer

is an established west coast power, and that can sometimes be taken for granted.  The Titans have gone to the NCAA tournament in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2014 and 2015.  After a sluggish start to this decade, head coach Demian Brown has more than found his sea legs, put his stamp on the program, and the good ship Titan is pretty effectively sailing along.

Those that witnessed our NCAA tourney match-up with USC saw a classic back-and-forth 3-3 gunfight that ended in a heartbreaking overtime penalty kick shoot-out loss for the Titans.  If that game could have been played at Titan Stadium or if we could have just gotten past the very talented Women of Troy, the Titans had the firepower to make a significant run in the tournament. 

The challenge for coach Brown in 2016 will be to replace the 30 goals scored by the sensational duo of Becca Wilson and Christina Burkenroad.  That will be no easy task.

Women’s Soccer Grade:  A-

Volleyball

New head coach Ashley Preston had every conceivable obstacle placed before her last season.  Many experienced players chose to transfer after finding out that Carolyn Zimmerman wouldn’t remain at the helm.  With limited time to recruit, the well was pretty dry for coach Preston’s inaugural season.

The results were even worse than feared… and they WERE feared.  Titan Volleyball went the entire season winless, and seemed to fold up in several fifth games where victories seemed possible.

But sometimes you need to get worse in order to get better.

The challenge for coach Preston to demonstrate that she can recruit talented players and get them to win here.  Southern California is a well-known volleyball hotbed.  Our program needs to get to the point where local players will want to choose Fullerton over Long Beach, Irvine, Northridge, LMU and Pepperdine.  I’m hoping that she can get it done.

Volleyball Grade:  Incomplete  (Let’s be fair)

Men's and Women's Basketball

I’m not going to sugar coat it.  2015-16 was a HOT MESS for our Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs.  Technically, neither won enough games to qualify for the Big West Tournament, although the Men backed in by virtue of CSUN disqualifying themselves for unnamed violations.  This undeserved reward was followed up by a 31-point spanking by Hawaii on day one of the league tourney at the Honda Center.

Head coaches Dedrique Taylor (men) and Daron Park (women) are entering the fourth years of their contracts.  Neither has any holdover players from previous coaching staffs.  Everyone in a Titan uniform is THEIR handpicked recruit.  Positive results are the expectation.

These are simply the cold, hard facts:  The ladies have not had a winning season in around 25 years.  Coach Park has previously been a winner at every stop that he has made in his career.  He needs to find that inner whatever that will make the 2016-17 Titans successful.

Titan fans will see a very different women’s squad next season: 

  • Two talented redshirt D-1 transfers will finally get their chance to show their skills on the court. 
  • There will be a COMPLETELY NEW assistant coaching staff.  One coach was not renewed, and the other two chose to pursue other opportunities.
  • Several players have opted not to return.  Freshman Michelle Berry was very good, and will be greatly missed.  The others were of varying, but lesser talent. 
  • With all of these changes, will it be addition by subtraction?  Or will it be further indication that the program is in a deep, dark place?  We’ll know more in November.  I’m sure rooting for coach Park!

Women’s Basketball Grade:  F

Even with very modest expectations, the 2015-16 Men were disappointing, and often painful to watch.  Second half leads drifted away like the players penciled in on the roster before the start of the school year.  Those defections are well documented, and there is no particularly good reason for another frustrating look backwards.

Looking forward, the Titans return talented guards Tre’ Coggins, Khalil Ahmad and Kyle Allman, Jr.  Starting point guard Lionheart Leslie will return as well.  Tim Myles is, however, our only returning post player. 

At least EIGHT new Titans will compete for playing time.  Ayala High School point guard Austen Awosika, forward Davon Clare, and Wisconsin transfer Riley Dearring are the most noteworthy of the newcomers.

Kudos to coach Taylor and his staff for finding that many players, and for filling in the obvious holes left in the post by the graduations of Kennedy Esume and Malcolm Henderson, and the departure of Jamar Akoh.

Bottom line:  Coach Taylor is a very nice guy who is in the fourth year of a presumably four-year contract.  Nice guy aside, he will need to win, win, win this season in order for him to receive a contract extension.  I SINCERELY wish him the best of luck in the coming season.  As always, I’ll be in Section K, and in selected cities on the road, rooting the team on.

Men’s Basketball Grade:  F

Softball

After two seasons of demonstrating great progress, Coach Ford was able to bash through the wall in 2016, winning the Big West Conference with a 4-game lead, with 3 games to play.

Our pitching finally caught up with our hitting, and the result was our first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.  Unfortunately, we landed in the UCLA Regional, where we went 2-2, losing both times to the nationally-ranked Bruins.

Coach Ford, in my opinion, now has a place in the Titan cadre of elite coaches, like Rick Vanderhook, George Kuntz, and Demian Brown.  It might not be too long before Dianne Mattias joins that group.

The challenge for 2017 is to keep the momentum going, and to effectively replace a senior-laden lineup.

Softball Grade:  A-  (I gave the same grade as the soccer programs)

Baseball

Let’s be clear:  Titan Baseball is THE marquee sport at Cal State Fullerton.  All other sports pale in comparison.  But, they also lack the immense pressure of continual high expectations.  What other CSUF sport has the MINIMUM EXPECTATION of being among the NCAA’s elite field of 64 EVERY SINGLE YEAR?!

The good news is that for the 25th consecutive year we qualified for the NCAA tournament, and received the automatic bid as Big West champions.  Looking around southern California, it is noteworthy that several teams that have demonstrated college baseball success in the past, all stayed home in June:  USC, UCLA, UC Irvine, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, San Diego State and USD.

Unfortunately, 1-2 in the Regional will please no one.  Lest of all Vanderhook.  The postgame press conference footage showed a profoundly disappointed coach from a team that largely underperformed.

Be honest.  How many looked at our February roster, laden with undrafted seniors, and expected a long run in the tournament?  The thing I heard over and over in the stands was: “Our pitching looks great, but our hitting is suspect.”  Unfortunately, that flaw got exposed in Starkville.

Naturally, we all hope that our incoming recruits will be of the caliber that we have come to depend upon over these many, many years.  We can anticipate seeing a lot of new faces on the diamond in 2017.

Grade:  B  (In Hook I Still Trust)

M & W Track & Field, M & W Cross Country, M & W Golf, W Tennis

These would be collectively referred to as the “minor” sports at CSUF.  This is most certainly not meant as an insult.

Student funding has begun coming in, and the scholarship levels have increased.  With increased funding will naturally come increased expectations.  The results have been mainly encouraging.

The Men’s and Women’s Golf programs made a couple of splashes in 2013-14, as many of the players who laid the cornerstones for those programs became seniors.  The past two seasons have resulted in middle-of-the-pack finishes as the programs have had to rebuild with younger players for the first time.  In the grand scheme of things, both programs are still very new.

Third-year head coach Dianne Matias completed the most successful season in Women’s Tennis history, finishing 6-2 in league, and 17-6 overall.  Matias was rightfully named Big West Coach of the Year.

Long-time head coach John Elders has the Herculean job of managing the Men’s & Women’s Track and Field teams, the Men’s & Women’s Cross Country teams and the Women’s Indoor Track team.

Success has always been hard to quantify for our running teams, but I was very impressed that our Men are Big West Champions and new record-holders in my favorite event, the 4x100 meter relay.

Bottom line:  As I have previously mentioned, over the years there have been few, if any, expectations for these programs.  Knowing the lack of scholarships and underfunding, I often said about these teams: “I don’t care how they finish, as long as the kids continue to get good grades.” 

These “minor” sports have often had some really outstanding students involved in their programs, and their academic scores have helped to raise the bar for the entire department.  I have always been grateful for that.

Grade:  Pass  (On a unique pass / fail grading system)

Facilities

With the new Student Success fee money coming in, the results have been noticeable:

  • Lighting in the intramural (Rugby) fields.
  • Video board in Titan Stadium and 1,400 feet of windscreens.
  • Weed abatement in Titan Stadium.
  • Dramatic graphics throughout all of the athletic areas.
  • Areas of Titan Stadium have been painted for the first time since 1992.

Yes, I understand that we don’t even have plans for an arena, and that our Gym was built under Pat Brown, and not Jerry Brown 1 or 2. 

With that said, who has a soccer stadium?  Not USC.  And who has nicer baseball and softball stadiums than we do?  Practically no one.  Track & Field even received additional bleacher seating.

I’m sure that many other upgrades are planned.  Perhaps A.D. Jim Donovan can elaborate on the official website?

Fundraising

Greg Paules and company have very quietly done an absolutely bang-up job at fundraising since arriving at Titan Tech.  Last year they pulled in a record $1.6 million for athletics.  Similar numbers are anticipated for this fiscal year.

With the help of Athletics Development, and at the direction of A.D. Jim Donovan, all of our programs are at least dipping their toes into implementing their own fundraising and booster activities.  Clearly, some programs are far ahead of others, but everyone seems to be doing something.  Men’s Basketball had an inaugural dinner featuring Cedric Ceballos, and the program netted around $30,000.  Women’s Soccer, Volleyball, Softball, Track & Field, and Women’s Basketball all had fundraising events.

Special recognition must again go to coach Vanderhook.  Unlike any of our previous Baseball head coaches, he has really seized the opportunity in terms of fundraising.  Under his leadership and encouragement, Dinner with the Titans has grown exponentially, and has outgrown the Yorba Linda Country Club and three venues within the Phoenix Club! 

Moving the event to the Irvine Marriott allowed the program to capitalize on the appearance of alumnus Kevin Costner.  Over 700 seats were sold, and a record haul of over $160,000 was made.

Administration

To throw out as many clichés as I possibly can:  I am lock, stock and barrel, shoulder-to-shoulder, in 100% support of our A.D., Jim Donovan.  He has proven to me again and again that he has been an outstanding choice to lead our beloved athletic programs.

Without firing anyone, his administrative staff has undergone an almost complete transformation.  There’s a lot more energy now, and there’s a lot more “can do” spirit. 

The student-athletes selling and taking tickets are a welcome, friendly sight.  A trained, professional security company is in place, and there are no more fan complaints about overzealous or selective enforcement. 

The only area that I still find lacking is our Sports Information department.  While there has been some noticeable recent improvement, Titan-related news, specifically with regard to signings and transfers has all too often been deficient.  At the time of this writing, the men’s and women’s soccer schedules have not been posted.  Our first matched will be in late August. 

Summary

With the notable exceptions of our Volleyball, and Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs, I think we’re in a pretty good place as we head off into our summer hiatus.  I can’t wait until August!

null