Cal Poly

Top local sports stories of 2011: No. 1 — Cal Poly's volleyball coach relieved of his duties amid report of harassment

Cal Poly head volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his duties Sept. 1, 2011, after the university’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations became public.
Cal Poly head volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his duties Sept. 1, 2011, after the university’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations became public. The Tribune

1. COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS COST CAL POLY COACH STEVENSON HIS JOB

Former Cal Poly volleyball head coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his coaching duties by the university Sept. 1 after an investigation centered around allegations of sexual harassment became public, marring the tenure of one the most successful coaches in program history.

Stevenson first released details of his departure with the team on Twitter, saying on his account, “Watching the team that I built, trained, and prepared lose to inferior teams i.e. santa clara and university of utah (actually Utah Valley) but I have no access.”

University administrators then released an investigative report dated April 6, 2010, which detailed accusations that the coach once attempted to pull one player’s shorts down. It was also alleged he made comments about players’ bodies and would “say things like, ‘(Player B) is a crazy sex addict — all she wants to do is party,’ ” and once displayed a small Latina doll to several players and said, “This is to remind me never to interact with Latino women because they are such crazy bitches.”

The report detailed a road match after which Stevenson allegedly hugged a player, grabbed her face, kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”

Stevenson declined to comment to The Tribune about the allegations.

Upon receiving the findings of the investigation, then-Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone and Provost Robert Koob agreed to keep Stevenson as coach, subject to meeting a list of limitations.

But after a review, newly hired athletic director Don Oberhelman concluded that Stevenson should no longer remain as the Mustangs coach.

“This issue has very little to do with this report and has everything to do with my confidence in his leadership,” Oberhelman told The Tribune. “If you’re asking for an ‘a-ha moment,’ there’s no specific moment, no specific thing that did it. I would just say there’s me being on the job for five months, and I had just gotten to the point where I had seen enough.”

Cal Poly agreed to pay Stevenson $133,980 and honor 440 hours of vacation, as outlined in the separation agreement obtained by The Tribune, to part ways with the university. He is prohibited from initiating contact with any current players, their parents of any other Cal Poly coaches or Athletic Department personnel.

Third-year assistant coach Caroline Walters replaced the seventh-year coach on an interim basis.

The school has said it will conduct a nationwide search to find the next head volleyball coach.

— Brian De Los Santos

2. VENTURA GETS WHITE SOX JOB

In a stunning cap to what had been a hiring process full of speculation, the Chicago White Sox did something not many within the baseball world saw coming.

With former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona among numerous candidates available for the White Sox’s vacant managing position, the club turned to former Major League All-Star Robin Ventura — naming him as Chicago’s 39th manager on Oct. 6.

“You only go through one life,” Ventura told The Tribune after taking pictures with friends while working the barbecue grill at an Arroyo Grande High football game the day after he was hired by Chicago. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s with an organization I love. I know the people. It’s everything I’m comfortable with.”

Ventura, 44, had been a longtime star with the White Sox but had no Major League managing experience before accepting the position. In fact, Ventura’s credentials at the professional level only included being a special adviser to the director of player development for less than a year.

Nonetheless, the Arroyo Grande resident said he was excited to start in Chicago.

“This job is all about criticism,” Ventura said. “You just have to be strong enough to just put it aside. Your job is to do what you think is the best thing to do for your team in any situation and you can’t worry about what people are going to write about you or say about you. You have to stay true to yourself.”

—Brian De Los Santos

3. ARROYO GRANDE WINS FIRST FOOTBALL DIVISION TITLE SINCE 1998

What began with disappointment ended in euphoria.

That’s one way to describe Arroyo Grande High’s year. It’s football team opened the season with great expectations after advancing to the previous year’s CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship game only to fall to a Serra team loaded with college talent.

This year, the Eagles knew it could be different.

It just didn’t start that way, as they suffered a 38-28 reality check to Lompoc, the eventual two-time Northwest Division winners. That loss, however, sparked a dominant 13-game winning streak that ended Dec. 9, when Arroyo Grande captured its first division title since 1998 and fifth overall after a 42-14 win over Culver City.

The win was also San Luis Obispo County’s first section title since 2001, when the San Luis Obispo Tigers won it.

Arroyo Grande’s season will be remembered for boasting four FBS scholarship players in quarterback Brent VanderVeen, all-purpose player Garrett Owens, linebacker Seth Jacobs and lineman Garrett Weinreich, but the season ended with a big-time performance by one of the smallest guys on the team. Gabe Deleon, who was perhaps generously listed as a 5-foot-7, 145-pound running back, rushed for 153 yards and three second-half touchdowns in the championship win over Culver City.

— Chhun Sun

4. CAL POLY NAMES NEW ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

Former San Diego State associate athletic director Don Oberhelman was introduced March 14 as Cal Poly’s new athletic director, succeeding the retired Alison Cone — who held the position since 2004.

He was one of three publicly announced finalists, beating out Portland State athletic director Torre Chisholm and Indiana State athletic director Ron Prettyman for his first job as A.D.

Oberhelman had been the interim athletic director at San Diego State for four months prior to accepting the position at Cal Poly, helping the school deal with the loss of its former A.D. after a misappropriation scandal.

He was also the senior associate athletic director at Southern Mississippi and also held positions at Florida State and Texas A&M.

Cal Poly rewarded that experience generously, giving him a $182,496 annual salary that ranks in the top four amongst peers in both the Big West and Big Sky conferences.

It didn’t take long for Oberhelman to start making moves. In his first quarter on campus, Cal Poly signed a three-year sponsorship agreement with KSBY to broadcast three home football games in 2011. A Cal Poly football game hadn’t been broadcast since 1980.

— Brian De Los Santos

5. POLY WOMEN PLAY FOR BIG WEST HOOPS TITLE

The Cal Poly women’s basketball team had a chance at accomplishing many firsts in 2010-11, riding a huge hot streak that propelled the Mustangs to the Big West Tournament championship game.

Against UC Davis, though, Cal Poly’s try at making history fell short.

In a contest that the Mustangs never led, Cal Poly fell to UC Davis 66-49 in just its second trip to the tournament championship.

It ended a year-long run in which the Mustangs seemed to defy odds, playing without reigning Big West Player of the Year Kristina Santiago after she tore her ACL two minutes into the season.

The Mustangs wouldn’t let up, finishing the year with an 18-13 (12-4 Big West) record to earn the first regular season Big West title in program history.

Senior guard Rachel Clancy played a huge part in the success, averaging a conference-best 16.9 points per game — two more than the next closest scorer — en route to Big West Player of the Year honors.

She finished her Cal Poly career seven points shy of scoring 1,000 in her three years at Cal Poly, posting a game-high 21 points in a 74-60 loss to Cal in the first round of the WNIT — the Mustangs’ first ever step past the conference tournament.

— Brian De Los Santos

6. HASAY CONTINUES COLLEGE RUNNING SUCCESS

Jordan Hasay began 2011 with a bang and concluded it with a strong showing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

It was another big year for the Oregon Duck and former Mission Prep star who still calls Arroyo Grande home.

Hasay led the Ducks to their second straight indoor track NCAA championship by becoming an individual NCAA champion for the first time.

On the final day of the NCAA meet, Hasay won the women’s mile on 4 minutes, 33.01 seconds to set a school record by 25-hundredths of the a second. Nearly 95 minutes later, Hasay came back to win the 3,000 meters in 9:13.71, outkicking Villanova’s Sheila Reid to win the race. The previous day, Reid had outkicked Hasay to give her team the win over Hasay’s Ducks in the distance medley relay.

During the outdoor track season, Hasay led Oregon to another Pac-10 team championship while winning the 1,500- and 5,000-meter runs. Hasay then attempted to become the first woman to ever win both events at the NCAA outdoor meet. But, instead, it was Reid who pulled off the double victory as Hasay struggled to a fourth-place finish in the 5,000 and an eighth-place finish in the 1,500.

Hasay later went on to finish ninth in the 1,500 at the U.S. national meet before returning for her junior season of cross country.

In cross country, Hasay finished third at the Pac-12 meet, won the NCAA west regional for the second straight year and finished second to Reid at the NCAA Championships.

Hasay picked up a number of awards during the season as she was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national indoor Women’s Track Athlete of the Year, won her second consecutive USTFCCCA Women’s West Region Athlete of the Year and second straight Pac-12 Conference Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year award and was named the national Academic All-American of the Year for women’s cross country and track and field by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

— Ashley Conklin

7. POLY’S NOVACHKOV TAKES 2ND

Boris Novachkov came closer than any other Cal Poly wrestler in the past 35 years to winning an elusive NCAA title but was stopped just short in the 141-pound championship bout in March in Philadelphia.

Novachkov, who had a 31-1 record entering the championship match and was the No. 3 seed, fell to Michigan’s Kellen Russell, the top seed, 3-2 in a rematch of Novachkov’s only previous defeat during the season.

He became the third Mustang in four seasons to reach a championship final, but none of those matches were as close as Novachkov’s decision loss.

In June, former Columbia head coach Brendan Buckley was named Cal Poly’s new head coach, replacing John Azevedo, who retired after spending 10 seasons with the Mustangs, and former co-head coach Mark Perry, who left Cal Poly for an associate head coaching job at Illinois in April. Azevedo coached nine All- Americans and nine individual Pac-10 champions in his tenure with the Mustangs.

— Mitchell Carroll

8. COAST UNION SOFTBALL SETS NATIONAL RECORD

The Coast Union High softball team gained national recognition when it fell to Cuyama Valley 48-47 on May 10 in what is believed to be a record-setting game for most combined runs scored in national prep history.

The 95 runs scored was one more than the previous record set on April 28, 1983, when East Machias Washington Academy (Mass.) defeated in-state opponent Lubec 88-6.

This Coast Valley League game was no blowout however. The 0-15 Broncos entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 47-35 lead, but after two hits, 13 walks and five wild pitches, the Bears’ Emily Araujo scored the walk-off run on a bases loaded walk to Chelsea Hollingsworth, securing the national record and the dramatic victory for Cuyama Valley.

“We were up, we were down, we came back, went into the bottom of the seventh winning, and we gave it up,” Coast Union coach Rocky Fordyce said. “We battled back and we never gave up. We had fun. The girls were very positive about it.”

The Broncos’ Morgan May hit for the cycle, finishing 6 for 7 with 14 RBI in the game, setting a CIF state record for most RBI in a game.

The game was mentioned in the closing moments of that night’s episode of ESPN’s SportsCenter, and the story was picked up by several national news outlets, including USA Today and Yahoo! Sports, among others.

— Mitchell Carroll

9. UP AND DOWN YEAR FOR CAL POLY TENNIS TEAM

The year was a mixed bag for the Cal Poly men’s tennis team.

Led by former Arroyo Grande High star Andre Dome, the Mustangs made their first-ever Division I NCAA Tournament appearance, losing 4-0 to Washington in May.

Cal Poly was 14-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big West Conference.

The doubles team of Dome and Alexander Sonesson became the first Mustangs duo to earn an at-large berth to the Division I tournament before falling in the first round to a team from Texas.

But things weren’t great off the court for the Mustangs.

In July, head coach Justin McGrath, who had led Cal Poly since 2007, resigned amid an NCAA investigation into rule-breaking and allegations of unethical conduct.

McGrath denied that was why he stepped down, citing a desire to pursue other coaching interests.

Five sources within the program told The Tribune that an NCAA enforcement investigator interviewed members of the team via teleconference in June. At the heart of the questioning were allegations that McGrath tampered with official scholarship documents and that the university did not provide athletes a chance to appeal after having their scholarships reduced by the coach.

Five current players told The Tribune that immediately before the NCAA interviews, they met with new Cal Poly athletic director Don Oberhelman to say that they did not want McGrath as their coach for the 2011-12 school year.

In September, former Cal Poly player and Pepperdine assistant coach Nick Carless was hired to replace McGrath.

— Ashley Conklin

10. ATASCADERO’S NORRIS SHINES IN BASKETBALL

What the Atascadero High boys basketball team did in its 2010-11 season might go unmatched for years, especially with Troy Norris no longer in a Greyhounds uniform. In his final year of high school, the versatile point guard — he could shoot, drive, dunk, pass and defend — guided the Greyhounds to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA semifinals, something the program hadn’t done in eight years.

It was there that Atascadero finally submitted to top seed Orange Lutheran, which won the semifinal meeting 72-63 and advanced to a second consecutive appearance in the division title game.

Though the Greyhounds ended their season in heartbreak, they also racked up plenty of memories, including finishing with a 25-4 overall record and 12-0 in the PAC 7 — the first time a league team went undefeated since 2006 — and had a 15-game winning streak.

In the playoffs, Norris put up 16 and 23 points against South El Monte and Chaminade, respectively, before exploding for a 24-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in a 60-47 quarterfinal win over St. John Bosco.

After winning the Tribune’s County Player of the Year twice in a row, Norris is now playing for the College of Sequoias in Visalia, mainly to build his physique in hopes of earning a Division I scholarship.

— Chhun Sun

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