UC Merced’s fall athletic teams have routinely been the school’s most competitive since the Bobcats started NAIA competition in 2011.
Despite all the success enjoyed by the men’s and women’s soccer programs and the women’s volleyball team, none have won a California Pacific Conference title or advanced to the NAIA Tournament.
It’s something all three programs will hope to rectify beginning Thursday as the Cal Pac Tournaments begin. The winners earn an automatic bid into the NAIA Tournament.
The men’s and women’s soccer teams enter the Cal Pac Tournament as No. 2 seeds, despite each losing just one conference game. The Bobcat men (10-6-1), who lost in overtime of last year’s Cal Pac final, have the added benefit of hosting. They’ll take on No. 3 Embry-Riddle (9-9) at 2 p.m. The Bobcat women (12-2-3), who lost the title game last year on penalty kicks, will square off with No. 3 Antelope Valley (12-5) down in Torrance. Both Merced squads won their head-to-head matchups with their opponents in the regular season.
The women’s volleyball team enters as the No. 3 and will take on No. 2 Benedictine-Mesa down in Riverside. Benedictine swept the season series, but the Bobcats enter the tourney having won six straight.
The semifinal winners will play in the championship games Saturday.
Loaded field – The Lady Devil Coca-Cola Classic has become one of Northern California’s top junior college basketball tournaments.
And while Barbara Huddleston, wife of Merced College women’s coach Allen Huddleston, deserves a good deal of credit for the food prepared in the hospitality room, it’s the level of competition that most likely has teams coming back year after year.
The 2016 version appears to be no different with five of the eight participants ranked in the NorCal or SoCal top 10. NorCal No. 3 Fresno City leads the field but will get competition from No. 4 Diablo Valley, No. 7s Foothill and Santa Rosa, and SoCal No. 7 Cypress.
The action runs Thursday through Saturday. Merced College (1-1) will play the nightcap against Santa Rosa at 7 p.m.
Fast start – The Merced College men’s basketball team has wasted no time matching last season’s win total.
The Blue Devils are 2-0 for the first time in more than a decade after wins over Hartnell and Gavilan in the Hartnell Tournament last weekend. The two wins already match MC’s total from each of the last three seasons.
With a veteran group of scorers like Jose Gonzalez, Deonta Woodard and Anthony Nolen and young size (Joshua Willingham), odds are the Blue Devils are just getting started with victories this season.