Roger Guardia played basketball at Cuesta College to score a scholarship. For Kelly Barmann, the cross country team was a way to make friends.
Though their motives and the roads that led them from afar differed — Guardia an international student from Spain and Barmann an out-of-state student from New Mexico — they ended up on the same stage Tuesday.
Guardia and Barmann were respectively named the Cougars’ male and female Outstanding Athletes of the Year at an on-campus luncheon after Guardia received all-state recognition and Barmann finished second at the state championships.
Guardia is one of several international students who have recently flocked to Cuesta in search of basketball opportunities. He spent two years paying his own way at the school in search of a scholarship that would help him finish his education and boost his marketability as a professional in Europe.
“I am excited,” said Guardia, a sophomore who signed to play with Cal State Fullerton next season.“This is the end, but it’s such a good end.
“It’s like a dream come true.”
Barmann was an unrecruited runner who came to Cuesta because she fell in love with San Luis Obispo on a family trip. A former state championship runner as an eighth-grader, Barmann’s running career was derailed by a hunting accident.
She hadn’t run competitively since accidentally shooting herself in the leg in high school, and her main reason for joining the Cuesta team two races late was so she could make some new friends in an unfamiliar town.
The freshman went on to win three races, finish second in three more and take a Western State Conference title, becoming the first Cougar to do so since Marit Koch in 1988.
“It speaks very highly of the coaches that they make the time investment to keep us around,” said Barmann, who is set to join the Cal Poly cross country team in the fall. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have done the sport or even kept doing it.
“It’s always about the people you meet through the sport. That’s been the best part of it definitely.”
For men’s basketball head coach Rusty Blair, it’s his second consecutive player to receive the honor. Blair, the back-to-back Western State Conference North Coach of the Year, watched Luxembourg native Tom Schumacher pick up the award last year.
“I’m very thrilled for the athletes that are getting that recognition to be named athlete of the year,” Blair said. “Both guys performed at a high level, and not only that, they ended up being good role models for the school.
“If your program wins, you’re going to get more recognition.”
Blair’s program has won three conference titles in the past four years, and this past season reached a Southern California regional final for the first time since 1998.
Guardia, a two-year starter, was a major cog for the 26-6 team. He led Cuesta with 15.8 points per game, was second in rebounds (6.5), assists (2.2) and steals (1.7) and joined Schumacher as the conference’s only unanimous WSC Northern Division Player of the Year picks.
“When you see that the team goes far and we make the playoffs, we get first in our conference, that’s a good sign,” said Guardia, who became the third Cuesta player in four years to sign a Division I scholarship, “and when you see athletes of the year coming from the program, it’s always a good sign.”
Barmann also had scholarship offers. New Mexico urged her to return home and a few others were bidding for her services. But college running scholarships also come with commitments to compete in both cross country and track.
Barmann said she does not have the same love for circling the track as she does for running the cross country terrain. She’s opting to walk on at Cal Poly for an improving Mustangs women’s team in lieu of committing to track.
Cal Poly track and field coordinator and head cross country coach Mark Conover could still try to convince Barmann to run track, but even if he does not, the Mustangs will be getting one of the best the Cougars have ever sent across Highway 1.
“She’s very unassuming and shy,” Cuesta head coach Brian Locher said, “but I think in terms of women’s cross country, we’ve never had a better athlete come onto the campus.
“It’s really tough to have a scholarship be offered to you and to turn it down. I think it will really work out well for her. She’s going to get a chance to run, and Cal Poly’s going to get a really good athlete. Mark’s stoked. He’s been fighting for her for a long time, and everything’s going to work out.”