The truth is, Cal Poly could have given up on Faith Mimnaugh.
Although taking over a program in 1997-98 that was already beleaguered to begin with, the women’s basketball coach went 11 years without a winning season with the Mustangs, shouldering plenty of criticism along the way.
But Cal Poly has been more than rewarded for “keeping the Faith.” The coach has turned the program into a perennial Big West Conference contender and helped deliver its first NCAA Tournament berth last season when few were expecting it.
The Mustangs’ 63-49 triumph over Pacific in the conference tournament final, the first postseason championship for either the men’s or women’s basketball programs, was the highlight of the year in sports and serves as The Tribune’s top local sports story in 2013.
It was also a significant shattering of a ceiling that blemished the superstar career of former great Kristina Santiago, and Cal Poly did it with a roster that came into the season largely unheralded.
Since helping the Mustangs to a 21-11 record and their first winning season under Mimnaugh in 2008-09 — getting them all the way to the Big West tournament final — Santiago was twice the Big West Player of the Year and finished as the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder before embarking on a professional career overseas.
With Santiago leading the way, Cal Poly won its first Big West regular-season titles, and if anyone was going to take the Mustangs to their first NCAA berth, it figured to be her.
When that didn’t happen by the end of Santiago’s senior season in 2011-12, outside expectations took a precipitous drop.
In stepped 6-foot-5 junior center Molly Schlemer, however, and the former teammate of Santiago at both Righetti High and at Cal Poly registered career highs with 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. She also ranked 10th in the country shooting 54.2 percent from the floor, and became the Mustangs’ fourth straight conference player of the year.
Aside from Santiago, shooting guard Rachel Clancy was the other Mustang who earned conference player of the year honors, leading Cal Poly to a regular-season title and to the tournament title game while Santiago redshirted with a torn ACL in 2010-11.
Schlemer and diminutive guards Ariana Elegado and Jonae Ervin led a balanced team that saw plenty of bumps in the road.
Senior forward Brittany Woodard, one of the leading scorers and rebounders, was lost midseason with a torn ACL.
All-around senior leader Kayla Griffin tore ligaments in her knee in a dramatic display during the title game against Pacific and with the outcome still very much in doubt.
Fourteenth-seeded Cal Poly went on to fall 85-55 against No. 3 seed Penn State in the first round of the Baton Rouge Regional, but there’s at least a good chance the loss might not be the only NCAA action the program sees.
The trio of Schlemer, Elegado and Ervin are all back with Mimnaugh looking to make another run this season. The Mustangs are 6-6 in a difficult nonconference schedule this year but were picked to repeat as conference champions in the preseason poll.
2. Berwick signs with Florida State
Atascadero High basketball star and 2012-13 Tribune County Player of the Year Robbie Berwick signed a National Letter of Intent in November with Florida State for basketball.
Berwick averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game last year as a junior in leading Atascadero to a share of the PAC 7 title.
Berwick’s final choices were between Florida State, Texas-El Paso, Fresno State and Colorado State. He did have a Cal Poly hat in front of him as well at his news conference to announce his decision Nov. 2.
Florida State has made the NCAA Tournament four of the past five years, including winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in 2012. The Seminoles were invited to the NIT last year.
Florida State is coached by Leonard Hamilton, who formerly coached the Washington Wizards in the NBA and is the first coach to be named Big East Coach of the Year and ACC Coach of the Year. Hamilton also coached Oklahoma State and Miami.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Berwick has the size to play against conference foes such as Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. Defending national champion Louisville joins the conference next season.
Berwick will be the first local player to play for a major men’s college program in a power conference since Derrick Jasper played at Kentucky and then UNLV after graduating from Paso Robles High in 2006.
3. Mission Prep football falls in title game
For the second straight year, Mission Prep fell in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division championship game.
After losing 28-21 to Rio Hondo Prep in the 2012 championship game, the Royals lost 34-0 to Salesian, which avenged its 54-26 loss to the Royals in the 2012 semifinals.
Patrick Laird, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards and had 32 rushing touchdowns, twisted his ankle on Mission Prep’s first play from scrimmage and was held to a season-low 43 yards in the championship loss to Salesian. Quarterback Patrick Miller was 3-for-11 passing for 70 yards with two interceptions.
Salesian led 27-0 at halftime. Quarterback Blaise Booth was 9 for 11 for 179 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Royals were outgained 398 to 113 and finished the season 11-3.
Mission Prep won its three previous playoff games by a combined score of 141-58. The Royals lost their season opener 42-0 at Christian of El Cajon, then went on an eight-game winning streak before dropping their season finale to claim the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
4. QB controversy at Cal Poly contributes to 6-6 year
After making the FCS playoffs and winning a share of the Big Sky Conference title in its first year in the conference in 2012, the Cal Poly football team was picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll. The Mustangs finished the 2013 season in a tie for fourth with a 6-6 overall record and a 5-3 mark in the Big Sky.
After beating San Diego, the Mustangs fell to consecutive FBS opponents Fresno State and Colorado State. Starting quarterback Vince Moraga suffered a season-ending knee injury against Fresno State, which set up a season-long quarterback battle between Chris Brown and Dano Graves. Coach Tim Walsh rotated starting quarterbacks for the rest of the season after picking Moraga to start the opener following a four-man battle in spring and fall camps. Redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin was also in battle.
After a solid win at Portland State, Cal Poly suffered a big upset at home against Yale, which put the Mustangs’ playoff chances in jeopardy as they still had the toughest part of their schedule remaining.
The Mustangs rebounded by blanking Weber State 47-0, but lost to Montana in overtime after allowing the Grizzles to drive 85 yards and score the tying touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in regulation. Cal Poly then lost 17-13 at home to Northern Arizona, realistically ending any chance of a playoff berth.
Cal Poly won its next two games against rivals UC Davis and Sacramento State for the team’s only two-game winning streak of the year.
The Mustangs then lost at home to Eastern Washington before blowing out last-place Northern Colorado to end the season.
Kristaan Ivory had 1,113 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Brown had 685 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and threw for 836 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. On defense, Sullivan Grosz had 70 tackles and eight sacks, and was a consensus All-American as well as the Big Sky’s co-defensive player of the year.
5. Cal Poly baseball team in NCAA Tournament
The Cal Poly baseball team made its second NCAA appearance in program history this past spring and won its first postseason game since moving to Division I in 1995.
The Mustangs started the season 13-1 en route to a 40-19 season, which set a program record for wins.
Second baseman Denver Chavez led the Mustangs with a .357 average and 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Outfielder Nick Torres hit .333 with 49 RBI and had a .520 slugging percentage.
Joey Wagman was 13-3 with a Big West-leading 103 strikeouts and had a 2.96 ERA. Reed Reilly led the team with a 2.29 ERA and had 14 saves.
The Mustangs were the No. 2 seed in the Los Angeles regional along with San Diego, San Diego State and eventual national champion UCLA.
Cal Poly beat San Diego 9-2 in the double-elimination regional behind a home run and four RBI from Brian Mundell.
Cal Poly led UCLA 4-0, and starter Matt Imhof had a no-hitter through five innings, but UCLA scored four runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to win. Three runs came in the sixth after Torres lost a fly ball in the lights with the bases loaded and two outs. Cal Poly was eliminated after losing to San Diego 8-5 the next day.
6. Arroyo Grande tennis wins section titles
After clinching the PAC 7 title, including two wins over rival San Luis Obispo High, the Arroyo Grande boys tennis team faced off against the Tigers for the third time in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 final in the spring.
Arroyo Grande had beaten San Luis Obispo 9-9 with a 79-74 tiebreaker in games and won 12-6 the second time. The unseeded Tigers had previously upset the Nos. 1, 8 and 5 seeds in the playoffs to reach the final.
The Eagles won the section title by beating the Tigers 13-5 and swept all the singles sets. Eli Whittle and Sean Hollister each swept 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 to help clinch the school’s first section title in boys tennis.
Arroyo Grande lost in the first round of the CIF Southern Regionals, 5-2 to La Jolla.
Lori Hollister, who coaches the boys team, also coached the Arroyo Grande girls tennis team to a Southern Section Division 3 title in the fall.
The girls beat Murrieta Valley 9-9 with a 77-74 tiebreaker in games to clinch the school’s first section title in its third Southern Section championship appearance. Arroyo Grande lost in the finals in 1983, and lost 10-8 to Laguna Hills in 2012.
Sophie Whittle, Eli’s sister, swept in the finals 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 to improve her record to 58-0 at that point. Lauren Hayashi won 6-0, 6-2, 6-0 to improve to 61-5.
Arroyo Grande lost to Torrey Pines 6-1 in the regional playoffs. Sophie Whittle finished her season in the round of 16 at the Southern Section Individual Girls Championships.
7. Hasay ends college career, makes World Championships
Former Mission Prep star Jordan Hasay went to Oregon after graduating from high school in 2009. Hasay decided to become a Duck after running at Hayward Field for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Hasay finished her career at Oregon as the most decorated female runner in the long history of Oregon athletics after winning 15 All-America awards between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
Hasay set the school record and fourth-fastest time in NCAA history with a time of 32 minutes, 6.64 seconds in the 10K. Her other school record is 9:03.95 in the indoor 3K.
Hasay was part of the women’s team that won the NCAA team title in cross country her senior season and won the indoor track team title all four years she competed. The Ducks finished fourth in the outdoor NCAA track meet in 2013.
Hasay finished her college career in the women’s 5,000 meters at the NCAA Championships at Hayward Field. Hasay led with 500 meters to go, but was passed by Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino, who won in 15:43.68. Hasay finished third in 15:50.78, ending her career without an outdoor individual title.
In her first professional meet, Hasay finished second in the 10K at the U.S. Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in 32:17.34. She later qualified for the World Championships by running the B-standard time of 31:46.4 in July.
Hasay finished 12th at the World Championships in Moscow, Russia, in the 10K in 32:17.93.
8. Cal Poly men’s basketball reaches CIT
After losing by two points in the Big West tournament semifinals to eventual champion Pacific, Cal Poly was selected to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament for the program’s first Division I postseason appearance.
The CollegeInsider.com Tournament is for 32 teams that were not selected to the NCAA Tournament, the NIT or the College Basketball Invitational.
Cal Poly’s last postseason appearance was the 1986 Division II tournament.
Cal Poly lost on the road to Weber State 85-43, which lost in the Big Sky finals and ended up losing to East Carolina in the CIT final. Entering the game, the Wildcats were 26-6, which was the most wins and fewest losses of any team in the tournament.
Cal Poly finished the season 18-14. The 18 wins for Cal Poly were the second-most at the Division I level in school history.
9. Stevens shines in pool, signs with Cal
Zach Stevens had a hand in setting four school records for Arroyo Grande High boys swimming in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals in May in Riverside. Two of the records were in individual races, and the other two were in relays.
Stevens broke his own section record he set the day before in qualifying and became the first individual section champion in school history when he won the 100-meter breaststroke in 55.15 seconds. He also placed sixth in the 200 individual medley in 1:54.09.
The 200 medley relay team consisting of Stevens, Hissam El-Effendi, David Malouf and Tyler Gamble finished fifth in 1:37.97. The 200 freestyle relay of Stevens, El-Effendi, Gamble and Zach Georgii finished sixth in 1:26.9.
Stevens helped lead the Eagles to a third-place team finish, the best in school history.
In November, Stevens signed a National Letter of Intent to swim collegiately at Cal. The Golden Bears won the NCAA team titles in 2011 and 2012, and were second in 2013. Stevens also had offers from Northwestern, Arizona and Michigan.
10. Dome wraps up college tennis career
Andre Dome finished his amateur career on the Central Coast by advancing to the round of 16 at the NCAA Individual Men’s Tennis Championships in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., in May to gain All-America status.
Dome was the first four-time PAC 7 boys individual champion at Arroyo Grande High.
Dome’s team season ended when Cal Poly lost 4-3 to Pacific in the Big West semifinals. Dome won his singles sets in straight sets.
Dome entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 30 in the ITA collegiate poll after winning 19 straight singles matches after starting the season 2-2.
Dome beat Georgia Tech’s Juan Spir in the first round, becoming the first player in program history to advance out of the first round. Spir had beaten Dome during the 2012 fall season.
In the second round, Dome upset No. 4 seed Anthony Rossi of Kentucky 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3. Dome then lost to Michigan’s Evan King 6-3, 6-4.
Dome was named Big West Men’s Player of the Year for the second straight year. He was honored in June as Cal Poly’s Male Athlete of the Year.