Before Rob Pearson took over the Southern California College tennis program three years ago, the Vanguards were a regular occupant of last place in the Golden State Athletic Conference.
SCC rarely even put up a good fight, usually losing 9-0 or 7-2 on a good day. But Pearson made progress his first season, although the Vanguards still won only one conference match.
Two players expected to be at the top of SCC's lineup last season were ineligible and the Vanguards suffered through a winless conference season.
Now everything has changed. SCC, a team that had \o7 two \f7 conference victories since 1988, won the GSAC dual-match title with a 9-1 record. The Vanguards finished 15-3 overall.
Today, SCC will start competing for the NAIA Far West Region title and a trip to the national tournament in Tulsa, Okla. The regional tournament runs through Saturday at the Costa Mesa Tennis Club in TeWinkle Park.
Now the rest of the teams are gunning for SCC.
"It's incredible. It's such a rush," Pearson said. "We only had one match this season where we didn't play to our potential. If the guys have an OK tournament, we should win it. If they struggle, that's the only way we will lose."
Pearson scored a recruiting coup when David Robbins, a first-team Times all-county selection from Sunny Hills in 1993, accepted a scholarship.
Robbins, who was 60-0 in singles as a Sunny Hills senior, redshirted last season because he didn't have a high enough SAT score, but he has bounced back strong.
Robbins, 13-3 in dual matches at No. 2 singles, is seeded fourth in the tournament. Teammate Mattias Johansson, who was 12-6 at No. 1 singles, is seeded third. Robbins and Johansson, 11-4 at No. 1 doubles, are the top-seeded doubles team.
Pearson said Robbins was recruited by Nevada Las Vegas among others, but Pearson, also a Sunny Hills graduate and a friend of Robbins' for years, was persistent.
Said Robbins: "I thought it would be nice to go to a small college rather than one of those big universities where it feels like you're in a different city."
Last hurrah: Jason Smith, a senior on the Chapman baseball team, finished his college career with a big hit. Smith hit his first collegiate home run leading off the bottom of the ninth with Chapman trailing Azusa Pacific by one run.
Smith, who played at Orange High, Cal Lutheran and Orange Coast College before transferring to Chapman last season, was five for five in the game, which the Panthers won, 7-6. Chapman, which struggled early in the season, won eight of its final 10 games for a 16-20 record.
The Chapman softball team, awaiting word on its NCAA Division III playoff bid, also finished the regular season strong. The Panthers, ranked No. 1 in the West Regional and No. 2 in the nation, beat Redlands, 5-0, 12-2, and Whittier, 12-0, 10-2, to raise their record to 37-5.
There was no shortage of fine offensive performances, but Lisa Cancilla had an extraordinary week. Cancilla, a junior transfer from West Valley College in Saratoga, had 10 hits in 13 at-bats with a home run and 12 runs batted in. She raised her average to .484. Junior Jennifer Martinez leads the team with a .487 average, two hits shy of .500.
The regional playoffs are May 11-14. The national championship tournament is May 18-21 at Storm Lake, Iowa.
Track and field: Southern California College freshman Brian Carlson won the Golden State Athletic Conference title in the high jump with a mark of 6 feet 10 inches Saturday at Point Loma Nazarene. Kevin Carlson, Brian's older brother, finished second at 6-4. Brian cleared 6-10 and then missed three times at 7-1, which would have been a personal record.
The brothers also competed in the long jump. Kevin, a junior, was fourth in 21-1 1/2; Brian was fifth (21-1). Hong Li of Azusa Pacific won the event (23-5 3/4).
The SCC men finished fourth with 54 points, 10 back of third-place Point Loma. Defending NAIA national champion Azusa Pacific won with 321.
Nikee Pool finished second in the 800 meters for the SCC women, who finished fifth in the team competition with 71 points.