Led by a strong senior class, the Cal Poly football team capped an impressive season in which it earned a share of the Big Sky Conference championship with its first trip to the NCAA FCS playoffs since 2008.
The Mustangs finished 9-2 in the regular season, winning their first seven games of the year, including the first win over an FBS opponent under head coach Tim Walsh when Cal Poly traveled to Wyoming and won 24-22 on Sept. 15.
But back-to-back road losses late in the season to Sacramento State and Eastern Washington marred what otherwise would have been a perfect season for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly rebounded with wins over Idaho State at home and Northern Arizona on the road, the latter of which clinched the Mustangs a share of the Big Sky title.
Cal Poly finished the season ranked No. 12 in the nation, and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Mustangs traveled to Huntsville, Texas, to take on Sam Houston State, and fell in a heartbreaker, losing to the Bearkats 18-16.
Cal Poly was down 18-9 with under two minutes to play when Mustangs receiver Ryan Taylor connected on a 50-yard reverse touchdown pass to Willie Tucker with 1:44 left in the game.
However, Cal Poly failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, and, just like that, the season was over.
“I don’t think they were better than us,” Mustangs wide receiver Willie Tucker said. “I didn’t think they were worse than us. It was just a good fight, and they were obviously the better team tonight coming out with the victory, but I definitely say we played 100 percent. I’ve never seen our defense play with that much tenacity. They just played awesome.”
Cal poly slot back Deonte Williams was named to the Associated Press FCS All-American second team after rushing for 1,506 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, the second-highest rushing total in Mustangs history.
Williams rushed for 100 or more yards in 10 of 12 games this season and had a program-record six-consecutive 100-yard games.
2. College Men’s Basketball: Mustangs top UCLA
Led by former Morro Bay High standout Dylan Royer, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to defeat then-No. 11 UCLA 70-68 in Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 25, marking the first-ever victory over a ranked opponent in school history.
The Mustangs trailed the Bruins 29-27 at halftime, and UCLA opened the second half with a 2-6 run to seemingly blow the game wide open.
But Cal Poly stormed back and took a 67-65 lead with 1:39 left and wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, ruining the home debut of highly-touted freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
“It’s an amazing place to be,” Royer said after the game. “The history here is incredible, and we have so much respect for this school, this program and this team. To be down was a little discouraging, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting.”
It was the second time in as many seasons that the Mustangs beat a Pac-12 opponent on the road. Cal Poly defeated USC the season before.
Royer tied a career-high with 18 points, Chris Eversley had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Kyle Odister scored 15 points off the bench, including two game-clinching free throws to break a 68-68 tie in the closing moments of the game.
Jordan Adams, who had 13 points for UCLA, missed a shot to tie it at the buzzer.
Freshman center Brian Bennett added a career-high 16 points for Cal Poly.
3. Prep Football: Mission Prep plays for a section title
The most successful season in the history of Mission Prep football came to an end in a heartbreaking 28-21 defeat against Rio Hondo Prep in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division championship game Nov. 30 in Arcadia.
The Royals held a 21-14 lead at halftime and had the ball on the Kares’ 30-yard line with less than six minutes remaining in the game, but a fumbled snap ended any chance of Mission Prep securing the first Southern Section title in school history.
Quarterback Tyler Baty threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and Joey Hall had 10 catches for 166 yards and two scores.
The Royals traveled to Rio Hondo on Aug. 31 and came away with a 47-14 win in their second game of the season.
Led by Baty, who threw for 2,979 yards and 45 touchdowns on the year, the Royals cruised to a 9-1 regular-season record and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Mission Prep, which plays an independent schedule, defeated five teams that won their league titles.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Royals coach Chad Henry said after the loss to Rio Hondo. “Last year we didn’t even get to the playoffs. The growth I’ve seen since I started as head coach 21⁄2 years ago is immeasurable. Our seniors left a great legacy and our younger players have a lot to look forward to.”
One such senior is wide receiver Joey Hall, who had 60 catches for 1,365 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season, including two touchdowns in the championship game.
4. Prep Girls Basketball: Mission Prep falls in state title game
The Mission Prep girls basketball team’s second loss of the season came at the worst possible time: the state title game.
The Royals, after winning the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship, followed by the Southern California regional championship, fell 70-64 to Brookside Christian of Stockton on April 24 at Power Balance Arena in Sacramento.
Mission Prep trailed 62-47 early in the fourth quarter, but, thanks to a 17-7 run, the Royals found themselves down five with 46 seconds remaining in the game.
However, Brookside Christian made its free throws down the stretch and left Mission Prep winless in its seventh title game appearance, the most by any school without a championship.
Mission Prep was led by two seniors, point guard and Tribune County Player of the Year Jenna Dunbar and first team all-county forward Bri Harvey.
Dunbar had 17 points and eight rebounds in the championship game, and Harvey added 22 and nine.
“It’s tough knowing our season is over, that basketball is over for high school,” Dunbar said after the game. “We honestly focused on going out and having no regrets. We were so blessed to be in this position, and we gave it all we had. It’s still amazing to be coming here. We’re upset that we lost and let some people down, but we’re also proud of what we accomplished.”
5. Prep Girls Basketball: Eagles win first title
Thanks to big performances from first team all-county players Heather Madrigal and Lindsey Wolf, the Arroyo Grande High girls basketball team defeated Rio Mesa 45-32 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA championship game at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 2.
Wolf scored 17 points, and Madrigal, now redshirting at Cal Poly, had 12 points and 10 rebounds while shooting a perfect 10 for 10 from the foul line.
It marked the first section title in program history for the Eagles, who capped a 25-5 season with a dominant run through the Southern Section playoffs.
Alexa Wetmore had eight points and five assists, and Brianna Flood added seven steals for Arroyo Grande.
The 13-point margin of victory against the Spartans was the closest spread in any of the Eagles’ five Southern Section postseason games.
Arroyo Grande held a 13-11 advantage after the first quarter and proceeded to outscore Rio Mesa 12-0 in the second to pull away.
The Eagles advanced as far as the semifinals of the Southern California Regional Division 3 playoffs, where they fell 66-43 to Mission Bay on March 13.
6. Olympics: Three athletes with local ties compete in London
Stephanie Brown Trafton, an Arroyo Grande High and Cal Poly graduate, placed eighth in women’s discus on Aug. 4 at the London Olympics, failing to defend her gold-medal run from 2008.
Sharon Day, another Cal Poly graduate, placed 16th in the heptathlon.
Trafton’s first throw was her best at 206 feet, 8 inches. In Beijing in 2008, her first throw of 212-5 gave her the gold.
“I’m not necessarily happy with the results today,” Trafton said. “But as a season overall, I can’t complain about being at the Olympic final, making it to the top eight. I’d love to walk out with a medal, but it just didn’t happen today.”
Day struggled on the first day of the heptathlon in her strongest event, the high jump, and finished in 18th place with 3,740 points.
She turned things around the second day, finishing in 16th with 6,232 points, including a time of 2 minutes, 11.31 seconds in the 800, a javelin best of 144-0 and a long jump best of 19-21⁄2. Her 800 was a personal best by more than a second.
“I feel good about the 800,” Day said. “It was a roller coaster ride; there were definitely some lows, definitely some highs, but good overall. Sometimes you have expectations and you don’t always meet those, but with every event, you have to put them behind you and move on.”
Jeff Powers, a San Luis Obispo High graduate, scored five goals for the men’s water polo team, which fell 8-2 to Croatia in the quarterfinals four years after earning the silver medal in Beijing.
7. College Cross Country: Hasay leads Oregon
Former Mission Prep standout Jordan Hasay led the University of Oregon to national championships in both cross country and indoor track and field.
The Ducks won both titles despite Hasay finishing lower than she had in previous events.
At the NCAA Indoor Track & Field championships in Nampa, Idaho on March 10, Hasay third in the mile at 4:40.09 and fourth in the 3,000-meter run in 9:16.42 after relinquishing the lead in both races in the final 200 meters.
Hasay won both events the year before.
Oregon placed first with 49 points. Kansas was second with 30 and LSU placed third with 27.
At the cross country championships in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 17, Hasay finished third in 19:28.6, less than a second behind champion Betsy Saina of Iowa State (19:27.9) and Abby D’Agostino of Dartmouth (19:28.6).
Hasay finished second in her junior season, and fell just short of the championship in her final race of her collegiate cross country career.
“I gave it my all,” Hasay said after the race. “It’s disappointing. It was my last chance.”
While Hasay finished third, the Ducks took home the team title with 114 points.
“Jordan cared a lot more about winning the team title than the individual title,” Oregon head coach Mauricia Powell said. “She leads by example, getting things done.”
8. College Cross Country: Hollander shines for Cal Poly
Laura Hollander, an unheralded freshman from Orange County, burst onto the collegiate scene with a season that will go down in Cal Poly cross country history as the best the school has ever seen.
Her first win came at the prestigious Wisconsin Adidas Invitational in Madison, Wis., where she set a course and meet record in 19 minutes, 33 seconds, two seconds ahead of Iowa State senior Betsy Saina, who was the eventual NCAA individual champion.
Hollander set a course record while winning the season-opening UCSB Lagoon Open and then, weeks later, won the Pac-12 preview hosted by UCLA.
She capped off the season by winning the Big West Championship in 19:12, demolishing the previous record by 45 seconds.
“It doesn’t happen often,” Cal Poly track and field and cross country director Mark Conover said of Hollander’s immediate success. “Where she’s at with her training, I’ve never experienced that personally before, but I certainly understand it.
“If you just look at her serious commitment to her training and her race results, then certainly you could say she’s already proved she can compete at the very top level.”
In the postseason, Hollander finished second in the West regional behind former Mission Prep standout Jordan Hasay of Oregon. It was Hollander’s first race of her collegiate career that she did not place first.
At the NCAA championships, Hollander finished ninth and Hasay finished third.
9. Summer Collegiate Baseball: Blues reach World Series in Kansas
The San Luis Obispo Blues baseball team won a share of the California Collegiate League title for the second-consecutive year and traveled to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. for the first time since 2006.
The Blues split the championship with the Santa Barbara Foresters, the defending NBC World Series winners and league champions since 2002.
At the World Series, San Luis Obispo opened with a 6-5 win over the Wichita Prospects, but fell 1-0 to the Greeley Grays of Colorado and 5-1 to Impact Sports of Colorado in their subsequent games, eliminating the team from contention.
10. NFL: Jackson, Long taken in Draft
Jerome Long and Asa Jackson, two players with strong ties to the Central Coast, had their dreams realized when they were selected in the NFL Draft on April 28.
Jackson, a FCS All-America cornerback for Cal Poly, was taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the 169th overall pick in the fifth round.
The Kansas City Chiefs took Long, a former Morro Bay High star and defensive lineman for San Diego State, with the 218th overall pick in the seventh round.
The Atlanta Falcons seemed enamored with Jackson throughout the process and reached out to the former Sacramento Christian Brothers High star as their second of two fifth-round picks.
“This whole process, I thought it was going to be Atlanta,” Jackson said. “Atlanta called me and told me they were going to draft me a couple picks before that pick.
“They really called me and told me, ‘We’re about to make you a Falcon. Are you ready?’ I was outside at the time. When I walked back inside and looked at the screen, they picked Jonathan Massaquoi, the defensive end from Troy State.”
The Ravens took Jackson five picks later.
Long was the first San Luis Obispo County product to be drafted into the NFL since Oregon State linebacker Bryan Jones of Arroyo Grande was drafted in the fifth round by the Dolphins in 1999.
“It’s awesome,” Long said of being a drafted local high school player. “I don’t really think of it from that aspect much, but just to imagine coming back home, it would be quite an experience.”