UC Riverside's baseball team stumbled into good fortune last week.
Despite losing five of their last eight games to finish third in the California Collegiate Athletic Conference with an 18-12 record, the Highlanders are in the enviable position of playing host to the Division II NCAA West Regional starting Thursday.
Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo tied for first place at 19-11, but Dominguez Hills was awarded the title because of its 4-2 record against Cal Poly SLO this season.
As the CCAA champion, Dominguez Hills received an automatic invitation to the NCAA West Regional, which also includes the Northern California Athletic Conference champion (UC Davis), the CCAA champion and an at-large team--frequently the CCAA runner-up because of the conference's strength.
That didn't make the outlook promising for third-place UC Riverside, because Cal Poly SLO (32-20) seemed to have the inside track for the at-large berth. But the NCAA, considering UC Riverside's strong schedule and better overall record (38-18), chose the Highlanders instead.
The selection of UC Riverside ensured that the West Regional would be conducted by a Southern California school so that only one team would have to travel by air instead of two.
Dominguez Hills' field has a pleasant, park-like atmosphere, but the NCAA chose UC Riverside's stadium-like facility and higher financial bid.
So Dominguez Hills (38-17) will play top-seeded UC Davis (43-10) at 1 p.m. Thursday, and UC Riverside will meet the loser of that game at 7 p.m. The double-elimination tournament continues Friday with UC Riverside playing the winner of Thursday's first game. Then at 7, the two teams that have not lost twice will play. There will be a 1 p.m. game Saturday if needed.
Redlands won the first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women's water polo championship. It was also the first conference championship in the nation for the fledgling sport.
There are about 20 schools that offer women's water polo as a varsity sport--nine in California--but the SCIAC is the only conference that awards a title.
Five of the SCIAC's eight schools competed in the first season, with the championship being determined in a tournament two weeks ago. The other participating schools were Whittier, Occidental, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer. Redlands won all four tournament games to win the title.
"I am very pleased," Redlands Coach Tom Whittemore said. "But as gratifying as it is, hopefully it will have a longer impact in terms of organization and development."
According to Whittemore, who also coached the men's team to a conference championship this season, some SCIAC schools have been playing each other in women's water polo for close to two decades.
But because of the growing number of participants and the lobbying of Pomona-Pitzer Coach Penny Dean, the SCIAC decided to make it a varsity sport.
"Penny Dean has to get the credit--she spearheaded the whole thing," Whittemore said. "There are other factors: U.S. Water Polo sponsored the vast majority of games and tournaments, the history of our conference playing each other for so long at a club level, and lastly, the coaches were already established as men's coaches or swim coaches. It used to be, when I first started six years ago, that a player from the men's team might be coaching the women's club team. It's not like that at all now."
Whittemore said his recruiting tactics have changed from merely coming across female water polo players to now actively seeking them out.
There is some concern that Division I schools, such as Stanford, California and UCLA, will dilute the talent pool at the Division III level. UC San Diego also competes in Division III.
But Whittemore does not expect that to happen because of U.S. Water Polo's involvement in the growth of the sport.
"I think that we're getting to a point where there are more and more players," he said. "There is no doubt that some of the highly developed players are going to be offered scholarships (to Division I schools), so we'll have to adjust. Some of the Division I teams already had club programs, so we were kind of recruiting against them anyway. But I'm encouraged. I see more women in the pool."
College Division Notes
Westmont tied Point Loma Nazarene for the Golden State Athletic Conference baseball title and has been selected as the site of the NAIA District III tournament. If that sounds familiar, it's because Westmont has played host to every District III championship event this season that was not conducted at a neutral site--men's and women's soccer, women's volleyball, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field, and baseball. Men's and women's cross-country, and men's basketball were held at neutral sites. Westmont won at least a share of the District III championship in men's and women's soccer, women's tennis, men's basketball and women's cross-country.
Pomona-Pitzer freshman Claire Turchi won the NCAA Division III women's tennis title Monday at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. . . .Pomona-Pitzer sophomore Emiliano Escandon was selected as the SCIAC baseball player of the year. He is the first Pomona-Pitzer player and the first sophomore at any school to be voted the award. Escandon batted .484 with six home runs and 32 runs batted in.
Cal Lutheran won the SCIAC golf championship, and Redlands' Ron Stockton was voted the conference's player of the year. . . .Cal Lutheran took the SCIAC softball title with a 29-8 overall record, 23-1 in the conference, but was ranked sixth in the NCAA West Region and was not invited to the NCAA playoffs. . . .In track and field, the Claremont-Mudd men's team and the Occidental women's team were undefeated in conference dual meets and won the conference championship meet.
Cal State Los Angeles won the men's and women's track and field titles in the CCAA meet last Saturday.